How Difficult is Sailing? A Beginner’s Introduction

Sailing is easy to learn if you are willing to put the time and effort in. As with any other skill, time spent equals eventual mastery. You can learn to sail in a short amount of time if you are dedicated, willing to learn, and have expert guidance to help right your path along the way, such as a professional instructor or sailing school.

Sailing is an age-old skill that’s become an expression of self-sufficiency, freedom, and grants sailors the ultimate getaway from the hectic day-to-day grind that we all face.

There’s a ton of reasons to get into sailing, and this beginner’s guide is going to prime you for everything you need to know on getting started.

Sailing doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does demand your focus and dedication to do it effectively, get the most out of it, and master it with time and practice.

First thing’s first: understand what you would like to sail. We have plenty of articles discussing sailing at length, which will help you determine exactly what’s right for you.

You need to develop and practice three basic skills: detecting wind speed and direction, recognize sail trimming, and learn how to steer.

On paper, these sound like simple things to master, but they take some time.

Can You Teach Yourself to Sail?

Woman Tying Rope On Boat

You absolutely can teach yourself to sail, but it’s going to require some research and understanding some terminology before you head out.

It’s recommended to at least take an online course on sailing before you take to the open waters (and you know, having a boat would also be good).

At least if it’s your boat, then you’re not paying for rentals or held liable for damage if inexperience gets the best of you.

Online courses are an excellent utility to have.

While sailing is a fully hands-on skill to master, this still gives you some fundamental knowledge about buoyancy, the anatomy of a boat, and what keeps you afloat while you’re out on the open water.

If you are teaching yourself to sail while on an actual boat, it’s recommended to bring a shadow with you—someone who knows what they’re doing, but will stand back and let you make your own mistakes, so long as they aren’t going to damage the boat or put you in harm’s way.

Is Sailing Difficult to Learn?

Without making it sound overly simple, sailing is not a wildly difficult thing to learn.

All it takes is one day out on the boat to get the terminology down pat, feel comfortable making adjustments to the mainsails, and managing the tiller/motor.

One day out, and you’ll be filled with the vigor to continue to learn.

When you truly want to learn about something or master a skill, dedication is more than half the battle.

Dedication will keep you sharp, hungry for knowledge, and constantly trying to improve yourself.

Learning to sail can be easy, but learning how to sail like a pro can get very tricky.

Recreational sailing in open waters with the shoreline in close vision is an entirely different ballgame than trying to recourse famous sailing races, circumnavigate islands, or even cross from one country’s coast to another.

How Long Does it Take to Learn to Sail?

Sailing On Sunny Day

It’s not just about learning the way of the wind, but learning how to wander the waters safely.

You have to take a fundamental approach to everything and learn it in segments.

It can take a weekend of hands-on practice to get familiar with sailing and learn how to steer the boat, the skill comes in when conditions suddenly change and you’ve found yourself in a less-than-desirable situation.

A great sailor can get out of nearly any situation with their own bravado and skill. Before changing from beginner to master, focus on these three things.

Determine Wind Speed and Direction

A basic understanding of the geographic area that you are at, coupled with the ability to accurately determine wind speed and direction is a powerful combination in the hands of an experienced skipper.

There are plenty of technological gadgets that can help you with determining wind direction, but eventually, you should be able to test this out for yourself by simply standing on deck and feeling everything around you.

Accurate Steering

Whether a wheel or a tiller, you need to learn how to accurately steer a sailboat.

It sounds easier than it actually is because you have to determine wind direction first and use that information alongside your tiller steering direction.

Smaller sailboats that are designed for leisure or racing have tillers instead of motors, and are inverted to the direction that the boat actually turns. If you turn left, it goes right, and vice versa.

Trim Sailing

This is the trickiest of the three: trim sailing.

When you cut the sails in a certain direction and angle, you’re able to achieve maximum wind power without sacrificing handling or stability.

There are plenty of instances where you could go full sail when it isn’t advised and lose slight control of your sailboat, but trim sailing effectively is how you make the most out of every wind that blows.

How Long to Become a Pro Sailor?

Sailing On The Sea

The truth is, you’ll always have something to learn from a new experience.

If you define a pro sailor/skipper as someone who has rock-solid confidence and resolve at every point of their voyage, and someone who has the stamina to sail for days on end, then there is something you can do to achieve that.

Dedicate Yourself

Nobody ever became a professional at something by mere happenstance.

It’s no accident that the best competitive sailors in the world have spent their 10,000+ hours sailing: it’s what they love, what calls to them, and what excites them.

Dedicate yourself fully if you want the chance of becoming one of the greats.

If you have the time to even take the boat out for a couple hours a week in between work days, make it happen. Look for every opportunity to sail, and take the most viable ones.

We say the most viable ones because another aspect of becoming a professional is humbly assessing a situation and matching your skill level against the set of variables in your way.

If you’re not feeling in peak condition, then you shouldn’t be sailing during hurricane season. If your equipment doesn’t fully check out okay, then you’re not going out to sea.

A good skipper doesn’t let the raw desire to sail come before the knowledge that they should do it safely.

Build Confidence

No matter where you hang your head in life, confidence is achievable by absolutely anybody.

If you want something, you won’t get it by being meek and standing to the sides: you have to go for it.

Having a solid state of confidence while out on the boat is paramount to your long-term success if you ever wish to view yourself as a professional sailor.

You will understand every aspect of your boat’s anatomy, you will determine the best decision in every extreme weather condition, and you will move steadfastly towards the best possible outcome in every sailing situation.

Confidence isn’t something that you can ask someone else to gauge for you; if you don’t feel it on your own, then you haven’t reached the desired level yet.

Learn How to Fix Everything

Man Fixing A Sailboat

It’s good that you know what the different parts of your boat are, but what are you going to do if one of those parts is not operating the way that they are supposed to?

You need to be a Jack of all trades when it comes to maintaining your boat, both offshore and on land.

If you’re planning on spending several days at sea at a time (and you really should consider it), you’ll be miles away from any source of help if someone on your boat goes wrong.

Have the necessary tools and the know-how to take care of everything on your own for the sake of preparation.

Maintain Your Physical Fitness

Sailing isn’t exactly a lightweight thing to be doing, and it requires constant adjustments, movement, and exertion of strength in certain areas.

You need to maintain your current physical fitness or elevate it to a point where stamina will no longer be an issue.

The best sailing trips are ones that take days (or weeks) of nothing but you and the open ocean. Your fitness will dictate fatigue and your metabolism, both of which need to be in check.

You’ll be working out a lot of back and arm muscles during all aspects of sailing.

If you aren’t at peak performance and you incur an injury, it’s going to be one heck of a time trying to get back to land. Constant exercise will help to prevent injuries from happening.

It’s Time to Get Started

We have plenty of information on understanding your boat, beating seasickness, and a list of reasons why you might need to start with some full-fledged sailing lessons.

Everyone learns and excels differently, but nobody gets to be the best without putting the work in.

Every journey has to start somewhere, so spend your time reading up on what to expect during your beginner days, and most importantly, get out there and get those feet wet.

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