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Don’t Be A Drifter – Learn To Sail This Summer

Nicola Elam ©

February 10,  2018

Are you looking for a new hobby or feeling motivated to take up a challenge? As we cruise into the warmer weather your new adventure should be learning to sail


Most people expect they can have a bash at windsurfing or even the new trend of paddle-boarding, because they are less intimidating watersports than navigating a whole boat – but sailing is an accessible sport for all and very absorbing.

If you are thinking superyacht, gin-palace or speedboating with Ken Masters, keep these images firmly in your head; you will need a sanguine approach to the reality of boating  –  which is usually the weather!

As far as physically active hobbies go, sailing offers a lot of value for very little outlay and there is plenty to keep you occupied in the sport regardless of the forecast.

No matter where you live in the UK you are not far from an inland or coastal sailing club – even urban areas have venues. You can find a club near you on the Royal Yachting Association’s (RYA) website

The sailing fraternity are a helpful bunch and your local sailing club will welcome new recruits or point you to one that does. You also do not need to be ultra fit, just being mobile and agile will get you started.

Being able to swim is usually a prerequisite, but for people with disabilities there are dedicated facilities. The RYA website has a list of clubs who offer specialist boats for a range of disabilities – under the helm of their ‘Sailability’ network. See the website address at the bottom of this article to find your nearest venue.

So how easy is it to get on the water? Surprisingly, you do not need to own a boat, fancy equipment or even have nautical knowledge to get started. You can turn up at a participating club during the month of May and start sailing.

Hundreds of clubs around the UK sign up for the RYA’s ‘Push The Boat Out’ campaign, which is designed to introduce sailing – and other watersports – to complete beginners.


Clubs are always keen for new members so you will get a warm and hospitable welcome on open days. You will also be surrounded by other novices, so ask any questions you like without fear of being told to ‘walk the plank’. If you decide to join a club you can be assured of a good first season of action, camaraderie and other social events for your fees.

Initially many clubs will allow you use of their boats as part of your membership – you will most likely start in a small boat called a dinghy, which is the same as a sailing yacht but suitable for lakes and learning the basics.

Most venues have a store of buoyancy aids so you will only need to fork-out extra for a personal wetsuit, but even these can be hired. Sailing club memberships are excellent value for families and fees can be as low as £250 for the year (individuals are even cheaper). Prices are dependent on location, facilities and your time of joining – if you are lucky enough to live nearby a couple of clubs be sure to compare.

If club membership does not sound energetic enough for you, remember a lifetime of learning and skills can be obtained from sailing. Some people are happy enough tacking – the zig-zag direction a boat takes to cross water – others are eager to participate in club racing calendars. Look up Volvo Ocean Race and Americas Cup if you’re after an adrenalin rush. The scope for challenge is limitless.

Sailing is a family-friendly hobby, you can get kids fully onboard at your local club and if they want to engage in the wider marine experience consider your local Sea Cadets Unit or Sea Scouts. These organisations will instil good seamanship as well as give young people insight into our nation’s sea faring history – both are affiliated to the Royal Navy.


For reluctant teenagers, there are sailing accounts on Youtube owned by young people making sailing a way of life, look up: ‘Sailing La Vagabonde’ and ‘Wicked Salty’.

If you are eager to find out more about sailing before the season kicks-off in late spring, visit the RYA Dinghy Show at Alexandra Palace, 3-4 March. You will find manufacturers as well as a wide variety of related resources to broaden your knowledge – do not be afraid to turn up and just ask questions.

If you are not convinced about small boats but are inclined to the idea of learning on a yacht then chartering is for you. Hiring a crewed boat – you will have a Skipper at the helm to navigate – are widely available. You can choose from private boat owners and specialist companies who offer a few hours light cruising to RYA sailing courses.

The benefits of a larger boat is they are more adaptable for different physical frames and you can pose for selfies which is quite difficult in a dinghy. More importantly yachts have a galley for hospitality and are great for groups.


The Skipper of your hired yacht will be knowledgeable about boats, design, mooring, coastal and ocean sailing. Charters along the south coast can be anything from £100 for a half day’s leisurely sail to around £400 – £650 for a 2/3 day Competent Crew course to get you started – fees vary by region and season.

Do not forget the UK’s largest marine event, ‘The Boat Show’, held annually in September in Southampton. This event is for every type of sailor and caters for all your needs: from chandlery (the bits and bobs you will need to maintain your boat) to viewing multi-million pound superyachts.

When out on the water we sailors are all the same, no matter how big or small the vessel, which brings me to the most important aspect of sailing – support the RNLI. They are a voluntary organisation who save thousands of lives at sea and inland every year. Set up a subscription because you will soon find it very reassuring to know you can enjoy your new sport with them around.

Find an RYA Sailability disabled sailing centre near you at

To find out more about the RNLI

The Dinghy Show

The Southampton Boat Show 2018

Good accounts for teenagers to get inspired:

Sailing La Vagabond

Wicked Salty

Sea Cadets

Sea Scouts,306,308

© Nicola Elam and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Elam and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.