5 Sailing Mistakes for First-Timers to Avoid

Every year I learn a bit of sailing all over again in my family’s 4th of July sailboat race. These regattas have been happening for years, for most of my life, but I still have a long way to go to be a great sailor.

If you are going out this summer for your first few goes with smaller sailboats, here are a few things to avoid:

1. Losing rudder control. This seems obvious, but’s easier said than done. If you’re trying to manage your sheetrope and centerboard and ducking under a swinging boom on a turn, you can easily lose control of your rudder. This puts you in great danger of flipping, crashing, or stalling out.

2. Turning too slowly. A key piece of advice I received from my father was to turn with speed into the diagonal “tacking” across and against the wind. Without speed behind your turns in a sailboat, you will stall out and be caught in a bad direction.

3. Aiming too high. If you’re in a sailboat race, it can be easy to be over-ambitious when tacking against the wind. You can aim too far at too sharp a diagonal against the wind. This also increases your risk of stalling out.

4. Being fancy. There are things you can do to go faster in a sailboat, like removing your centerboard when you’re sailing with the wind at your back. I wouldn’t recommend that you rush to try these non-essentials. They can easily distract you and cause you to lose control (see #1) of your boat.

5. Losing cool. When you catch a great wind, your sail is going to get full and your boat is going to start moving really fast. You’re going to feel like your boat is going to flip. This is exactly where you need to be. Let your sail out and let the wind push you quickly across the water, then turn into another tack. Don’t let a temporary speed boost freak you out.


James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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