For someone new to boating, it may seem a bit intimidating at first to learn how to sail.  Learning the proper words for things on a sailboat is a separate vocabulary itself!  However, don’t let that stop you from trying something new that may become a lifelong hobby. Learning to sail takes a lot less time than you may imagine. Most would-be sailors can pick up essential skills in just a few weeks, with help from sailing lessons. Some lucky individuals are natural-born sailors with an intuitive nature on how to steer the boat. Those who don’t know the difference between port or starboard can still learn the basics within a relatively short amount of time.

Understand the Basics of a Sailboat

On a sailboat, there are several moving parts. You’ll need to learn a few terms to familiarize yourself with the vessel in order to properly identify these parts and understand the operation of the boat. It’s always a good idea to educate yourself on basic boating vocabulary before you take the helm so that you are able to understand how these parts function in relation to sailing as well as being able to properly communicate with your instructor and others onboard.

For those with no sailing experience (or those who have been off the water for a long time), we highly recommend taking a course with a professional instructor. They will walk you through the basics as well as teach you important safety protocols necessary for a fun and safe time on the water. By the end of the course you will know the basics of sailing which will greatly boost your confidence onboard. Remember that sailing is a never-ending educational process. Your learning curve will depend on several variables: previous sailing experience, geography, and learning style.

Sailing Experience

Those with previous experience usually pick up the basics of sailing pretty quickly, however, that doesn’t mean inexperienced sailors will have a more challenging time! Even if you’ve never actually been behind the helm, time spent onboard a boat seeing how things work and paying attention to how the boat is handled can go a long way in learning how to sail.

If you need help connecting with a qualified instructor, or are interested in helping to crew on a sailboat to gain experience, give us a call! While we mainly focus on selling and buying boats, we know professionals in the industry.  


How long it takes to learn to sail depends on the location where you are practicing. Areas with high winds, choppy waters, and strong currents are going to be more difficult conditions to learn in than a calm bay.  Most sailing instructors will take their students to practice in protected waters so they can learn the basics before being introduced to more advanced conditions.  Waters with strong currents or tidal swings require you to time your arrivals and departures. Areas with heavy traffic require a good understanding of navigation and the right of way in order to keep everyone’s safety in mind. Remember the old saying about smooth seas never making a skilled sailor? Before taking on the seas, make sure you can perform basic maneuvers with the boat. At the very least, you should be able to enter and exit the marina without any issues. Learning to sail in a more challenging environment does take time. As an upside, you will become a more proficient sailor due to those learning experiences.

Learning Style

Everyone learns differently. Learning style is critical to determine whether a person will pick up the basics quickly or may require a bit more time to understand. Some people can read a book and understand basic techniques without hitting the water. Others require a more hands-on approach and need to learn in a real-life setting for it to sink in. Inexperienced sailors may prefer to learn with the guidance of a professional instructor and not from their partner or friend.

No matter your learning style, anyone can learn to sail, it just takes some time and practice.

Your learning style also depends on your specific goals. Think about what you want to achieve. Are you a leisurely day sailor or are you hoping to become a professional captain one day?  Each scenario requires different education as well as experience on the water.

Essential Tips for Sailing a Boat

Maximize your learning by using a few tips. By setting realistic goals and starting small, you can achieve your dreams of sailing. Think about how you learned to drive a car.  You needed to understand the basic operation of the car first then spend time in the drivers seat in real world conditions. Learning to sail is a similar concept.

First, always practice in calm water. Don’t be tempted to learn in a busy marina. Take the boat out when it is not too windy, and there is little traffic. This allows you to focus on the basics first before you introduce other factors that may impact your experience (and confidence too). Would you attempt your first driving lesson on the freeway at rush hour?  Probably not. You might want to start with a smaller boat first and work your way up to something larger. Often times it’s actually more difficult learning on a smaller basic boat because there are limited systems that help aid you so you’ll need to know how to handle everything yourself without the help of additional equipment.

After mastering the basics, step up your game and take the boat out in less than ideal conditions. Still, watch the water and make sure you don’t sail when there are high winds that can overpower your boat and land you in a compromising situation. Safety is key. Always tell someone when you head out. If you need help, that person can direct the proper authorities to your location. Don’t forget the appropriate safety gear, including flotation and signaling devices. You always want to know how to swim in case of the unexpected.

Understand how everything works. You need to know what every piece of equipment does and how to work it, from the bilge pump to the anchor. Not knowing these parts is like driving a car blindfolded. You need to be in control at all times.

Sailing is an exceptional hobby, but you must know how to operate the boat first. You can keep yourself and everyone else on the waters safe by learning the basics. Reach out to your local yacht broker. These professionals will put you in touch with the best resources for sailing. Once you understand boating mechanics and are ready for a boat of your own, engage them to find a suitable boat to meet your skills and goals.

Let Us Help With Your Yachting Journey

At Yacht Brokers of Annapolis, we have the experience to find the right yacht for you. Your satisfaction is our top priority. Schedule a consultation by calling 410-206-2755.