How to start your sailing adventure

‘Sailing’s for everyone – all ages, couples, even families.’

Yachts sailing in the Round the Island race

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

So says Jeanne Socrates who currently holds the record for being the oldest woman (70) to solo circumnavigate the world. She's originally from Ealing, London, but these days you’re more likely to find her in Mexico, or New Zealand, exploring the world, cruising in her 12m yacht Nereida.

So how do you get started?

Jeanne Socrates standing on her boat
An amazing record: Jeanne Socrates currently holds the title for the oldest woman to sail solo non-stop around the world

It’s never too late

There’s hope for all of us – Jeanne was a latecomer to sailing, having taken it up when she was nearing retirement. Age isn’t a barrier, as long as you’re reasonably fit, well and up for a challenge.

Jeanne got hooked on cruising at an RYA Competent Crew course in the Solent. ‘There was so much more to sailing than I thought. So many things to learn. I was really taken.’

Enjoy the training

Whether you’ve never set foot in a yacht before, whether you’re a lapsed sailor or a day tripper, Jeanne recommends that a competent crew course is a good place to start. The hands-on training gives you the experience of living onboard for 5 days. You’ll also meet up with crew from different backgrounds.

Start off close to home

The UK and the Republic of Ireland are fantastic places for learning to sail, with super training courses and miles and miles of coastline to explore. ‘What’s more,’ adds Jeanne, ‘we’ve got all the hazards – tides, rocks, shipping lanes – all the skills you need to learn for going further afield.’

If you’re miles from the coast, there are plenty of clubs that sail on lakes, to give it a try.

Sailing boats passing the Needles on the Round the Island Race

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Look no further than the British and Irish coastlines when you’re learning to sail – they have everything you need to perfect your cruising skills

Keep within your budget

If you thought the cruising lifestyle is beyond your budget, you may be surprised. You can hire foul weather gear rather than buy it, or search second hand shops for bargains.

If you do love it and decide you want a boat, there are options, as Jeanne stresses: ‘It doesn’t have to be brand spanking new. A lot of people buy a second hand boat and do it up, bit by bit.’

When Jeanne was learning, she took advantage of cheaper weekend sessions in Winter. If you haven’t got a boat, the good news is that those with yachts are often looking for crew.

Don’t give up the day job

Make the most of long holidays with cruising holidays – with or without kids – or see if a sabbatical is an option. Jeanne even meets some people who manage to hold down a job, working remotely online.

If this isn’t an option, be aware that you won’t meet many cruisers around the world who regret escaping the rat race.

What you need to give it a go

A cute dog wearing a lifejacket

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Don’t forget your lifejacket! As this dog from Dungeness Lifeboat Station demonstrates, they’re safe and stylish.
  • Training - try the Royal Yachting Association or the Irish Sailing Association.
  • A safety plan. Find out the boat’s man overboard recovery plan and practise it. In Jeanne’s words: ‘Think of the worst possible scenario and be ready for it.’
  • Correct safety equipment - including a lifejacket with harness (keep it on for tendering) and a means of calling for help.
  • Weather forecast checks and tide times. Look before you go but make sure you know how to get up to date information while you are afloat as well.
  • Someone ashore who knows where you are going and who to call if you don’t return on time.

Feeling inspired to take up sailing as your new hobby? Take a look at our sailing safety advice to make sure you stay safe out on the water. #RespectTheWater