Learning To Sail: 5 Ways To Go Sailing Without Buying A Boat

Are you thinking of learning to sail or just want to give it a try? There are various ways to get into it – some cheaper than others. In this post, we show you five ways to get into sailing, without having to buy a boat.

Dinghy Sailing

Photo credit: Wikipedia

This is probably the best way to quickly get your head around all the basics of sailingsuch as how the sails work in different directionsThe great thing about dinghy sailing, is that every tiny touch gives you immediate feedback, so you can really quickly develop a feel for what different controls do. You also get a lot of feedback when the boat flips and you get dunked straight in the water, which adds a nice edge to the learning curve.

Tip: local watersports centres and sailing clubs are usually a cheap and friendly way to learn the basics, as well as giving chances to crew in races.

Keelboat Sailing

Keelboats are absolutely beautiful, with their classic look. You’ll often see lots of them racing each other by the coast at the weekend. They’re a good step up from dinghies, and they have two sails, so in that respect they’re more like yachts to sail than dinghies. But they’re still quite responsive and very satisfying to sail, whilst teaching you essentially the same techniques as yacht sailing.

Most people tend to do day sails only on keelboats (although you can happily camp on them if you like), so you’ll only need to commit to one day, if you want to give them a try.

Tip: local sailing clubs are the best place to have a go on this type of boat.


crewing on a sailboat

Photo credit: Sharkbait

Some people prefer to crew for a few seasons before spending money on a course or buying their own boat, so they know what they’re in for.

There are a few websites, like Crewseekers, that are dedicated to matching up crew to boats. Some skippers enjoy teaching newbies the ropes, or they need a pair of extra hands to handle a big boat, or they simply don’t have anyone to go sailing with. So they invite people along on their boat for free. Usually, you only need to pay for your own expenses and share mooring / marina fees.

Some of these sites cost money to sign up to though, so a good alternative is the crewing opportunities section of the YBW forum.

There is no better or cheaper way to learn how to sail a yacht than being crew on a sailboat. You get to experience what living on board is truly like, in all sorts of weather conditions, and (usually) to learn from an experienced skipper. You can join skippers for a weekend, for a summer month, or even for a whole season.

Tip: make sure you check on the skipper’s experience (safety first!) and what sort of things they can teach you before committing to the trip.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

There are some great sailing courses around. In the UK these are overseen by the RYA. A Start Yachting weekend or Competent Crew course are a good way to get some structured tuition, although they can be expensive.

If you go down this route, then make the most of your instructor time by thinking of lots of questions to ask beforehand, and making sure that everything promised on the course description is being taught.

Tip: no course is substitute for experience. Getting a qualification doesn’t mean you can set sail with no worry in the world. Sailing a lot, in different conditions and places, will teach you much more than a sailing course can do in only a few days. So don’t invest all your time and money solely on a course.

Yacht Racing

Photo credit: Pixabay

In some ways, racing is a great way to develop your sailing skills – you’ll be doing loads of manoeuvres, the pressure will be on, and you’ll have to do everything perfectly and in good time.

Try Cowes week, or other local regattas, to get crewing spots on racing boats. You might even be able to get a free spot.

In some areas there are also regular race series, so if you can get chatting to a skipper and show him or her that you’re keen to learn and a reliable crew member, then you can have access to one of the best learning resources around.

Tip: sometimes racing can teach nothing to the novice sailor. If you get stuck just sitting on the rail, then you’ll have to make an effort to talk to the other crew to get more of an idea of what’s going on.


  • Peter Robinson

    Good tips for beginners. I especially like your thoughts on learning on someone else’s boat first before you put out a lot of time, money and effort on your own boat. After all, you may find that sailing is not your thing. Better to learn that using someone else’s money.

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