How to get into sailing

Sailing is a great sport for anyone, of any ability, to get onboard with – but you’ll need to have a basic skillset under your belt before setting sail on your own adventure.

Whether you’re learning how to cruise your own sailing boat or wondering where to join a sailing club, our beginners guide is here to help you.

The Solent is a famous sailing hotspot in the UK

Photo: RNLI/Andrew Parish

The Solent is a famous sailing hotspot in the UK 

Why go sailing?

Whether you want to try your hand at racing, discover somewhere new or simply make the most out of the water on your doorstep, sailing is a great way to explore.

It exercises your concentration and coordination skills. Plus, being out in the open air can help to reduce stress and enhance your overall wellbeing.

Once you feel ready, there are countless hotspots around the UK and Ireland to go sailing, so you can turn your new hobby into an exciting adventure.

Can anybody go sailing? 

Sailing is one of the few sports in which everyone, at any age and ability, can get involved. You can do it alone, as a family, with friends or join a club. 

How do I get started?

Make sure you’ve taken a training course before heading out. The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) and Irish Sailing Association (ISA) offer courses all around the UK and Ireland, with plenty of clubs and watersports centres based near lakes if you don’t live by the coast.

What’s the difference between yacht sailing and dinghy sailing?

Yacht sailing is carried out on a leisure craft where the sails are the main driving force. A yacht can vary from around 6m–70m in length, making it ideal for sailing with a crew or in a group, and out in open sea.

A dinghy is a much smaller sailing boat (and a great option for beginners, young sailors or those craving speed for sailing!). Dinghies are also great for sailing on inland waters like lakes or reservoirs, as they are typically 3–5m long.

Where can I sail?

There are countless sailing hotspots around the UK and Ireland – from lakes and reservoirs to wide open seas and sailing on the coast. 

Find your closest sailing school or club through the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) or the Irish Sailing Association (ISA).

Do you have to join a club?

Sailing clubs are a great, affordable way to get into sailing and equip yourself with the training you need to get out on the water.

The RYA and the ISA can point you towards plenty of clubs and centres around your community to introduce you into it. 

Once you feel confident enough to head out to sail, get familiar with checking the weather and tides before every journey – we can introduce you to a selection of apps and services to help plan your day. 

When can I go sailing?

Sailing doesn’t just have to be a summer activity – you can sail all-year-round as your confidence and experience grows. But whenever and wherever you choose to head out, always check the weather and tide conditions are favourable.   

Is it expensive?

Getting into sailing doesn’t have to be expensive. Dinghy sailing is one of the most cost-efficient ways to get started with many watersports centres offering dinghies available for hire. Clubs also provide equipment for sailing that members can use. 

Do you need to be fit to sail?

You don’t need to be physically fit to get started, but you should be comfortable with being in the water. Dingy sailing tends to be a bit more physical, so pick a craft to suit your skills and fitness levels. No matter what your fitness levels are, we recommend always wearing a lifejacket or buoyancy aid (PDF 5.3MB).  

What kit do I need?

Your sailing equipment should always include a lifejacket or buoyancy aid. You should also prepare for all weathers by bringing multiple layers of clothing – including a hat – as conditions can change very quickly. 

You don’t need your own boat to get started – clubs often allow their members to hire vessels, and many sailors are always looking for people to join their crew. We always recommend that each vessel carry a means for calling for help.  

Is sailing family-friendly?

Sailing is a great way to take up an activity outdoors as a family – you could sign up to a group sailing course and learn the skills together. Children (from 8 years old) can take a UK training course and, in Ireland, children (from 6 years old) can learn basic sailing skills.

Is there a disabled option with sailing?

One of the great things about this sport is that able-bodied and disabled sailors can get involved on equal terms. Sailability is a not-for-profit organisation working with both the RYA and Irish Sailing to help every sailor progress their individual sailing skills and even become competitive.

Young sailor Natasha Lambert has cerebral palsy and sails a specially adapted sailboat using a sip-puff system (a single-straw that is used to control the boat’s steering and sails by breath).

Ready to go sailing?

Got your lifejacket? Completed your training? Checked the tide times? You’re off to a great start! Let us help you keep you and your crew safe with the remaining essential advice you need – from boat safety to how to call for help.