Sailing Without Experience

Sailing Without Experience

Is it possible to go sailing without experience? Yes it is, trust me I should know better than most. A few years ago I bought a sailboat and with zero sailing experience and sailed it from Seattle, Washington, to Sitka, Alaska. So, when I tell you that you don’t need experience to go sailing, I know for a fact that it is possible to do it, but how?

I do have to make a disclaimer here though. Even though it is completely possible to go sailing without experience, I wouldn’t recommend it as the best way to go. I wrote an entire blog post on why if feel you should take sailing lessons. In this article, I am just saying it is possible, obviously I am still alive. If you want to see the videos of my journey, the link is here.

Preparing To Sail Without Experience

First things first, if you plan on going ahead and sailing without experience, first plan. If you have no idea as to what you’re doing and have no idea the basics and concepts behind sailing a boat, you will definitely fail.

Researching How To Sail

Researching sailing


The video Learn How to Sail is one of the best videos I have come across for the overall basics. I actually recommend it to every newbie that plans to come sailing with me, just to familiarize them with the basics.

I wouldn’t recommend that you stop there, this is basic, and certainly isn’t an end all, be all, of how to sail sailing videos. There are quite literally thousands of videos for you to watch on this topic.  All you have to do is type “how to sail” in the search bar and you’re there.

 On the other hand, there is also a lot of, well, not so good information out there. So how do you tell the difference?


boat booka


Before getting to into watching YouTube, you would be wise to invest in a sailing book. As far as books go, there are two that I recommend over all others.

The first is The Complete Sailing Manual.  This is the book I started with and is used in some sailing classes, but not as many as my second choice, Sailing Made Easy. So why do I recommend it over the ASA’s official book when I think that sailing lessons should be taken, good question.

Sailing Made Easy is the book that you will have to buy and read if you take an ASA sailing class. But the reality is it is only for the 101 level class. If you want to take the 103 level class, that is another book entirely. The 104 level class, yep, another book.

The Complete Sailing Manual is only one book and covers the majority of information you will need to know for everything. It is so close to the ASA books that when I took the classes, I thought I was just reading the same book, almost verbatim. But it is only one book to keep on the shelf for reference.

Even though I had to buy the ASA books later, I would still recommend buying The Complete Sailing Manual first. If you want the ASA books now, I would recommend you buy both Sailing Made Easy and Coastal Cruising Made Easy.

Crewing To Gain Experience

Walk the docks

If you spend some time on the docks, you will see a number of sailboats. If people are aboard, chat them up. Let them know that you’re interested in learning how to sail. If you don’t have a boat, ask questions about theirs. What they like, what they don’t, how they learned to sail, etc.

I have yet to meet a boat owner, including myself, that won’t talk your ear off about their boat. I am not a very talkative person in general, but get me talking about sailing and you will need duct tape to shut me up.

If owners know you’re interested in learning about sailing, they may invite you out. If they don’t, it never hurts to give them your contact info and let them know if they need crew, you would be more than willing to help out.

I know this sounds farfetched, but when you consider that there are more than a half dozen websites dedicated to just finding crew, it isn’t. There is a good chance that if you are willing to learn, you will be able to get out on a boat.

Getting Out On The Water Yourself


Once you have some basic knowledge about how to sail, and a boat to do it on, it’s time to get out on the water. Again, let me say that I would recommend you make a few trips with someone who know about sailing, or at least boating, before going it alone.

Even after sailing almost 1000 nautical miles on my trip, my first few trips in Sitka were with a friend who had experience. I learned more on those few day trips then I did in three weeks on my own. There is no substitution for experience.

If you followed my advice above, you will know a few people who have experience. It’s time to repay their hospitality with a trip on your boat. Invite them out for a day sail as crew. There is nothing better for a boat owner then to go out on someone else’s boat.

Don’t forget to remind the crew that you may need advice as you are still new. Remember you become the skipper and they will take the role as crew. If you don’t ask for advice, you might not get any. If you want to learn, ask.

 Whether you choose to have experienced crew or ignore me on that point, at least follow these guidelines.

Pick Your Sailing Day

sailing weather

For your first sail, you need to look very carefully at the weather forecast. Your first sail should only be in good weather, period. You will want to make sure that the seas are calm and that you have light wind without any major gusting. I know this will make for a slow sail, but light winds will allow you to practice what you read.

 If the wind is heavy or gusty, you will have a lot more to deal with. You will also have a higher chance of causing damage to the boat if you do something wrong, like an accidental jibe. Also look to see if the wind will be consistent all day or if it will increase or decrease.

You will also want to make sure you have good visibility. Additionally, I would recommend that there isn’t rain in the forecast. I know it seems minor, but if you’re out in crappy weather, it will just add to the stress you already will have.

Planning Your Sailing Day

planning a sail

Before going out, plan your day. Look at the wind direction and major traffic areas. Plan a route that will keep you clear of the traffic areas and allow you to practice multiple points of sail. Unless your first sail is in an unpowered dingy, you should motor to where you plan on sailing.

Once you get there, point the boat head to the wind and get the sail up. I would recommend starting your day with the main sail only and adding the foresail when you feel comfortable with the main.

I also recommend keeping the engine on and in natural while you are practicing just in case you need it. I know that the whole excitement of sailing is to turn the motor off and be free, but safety first. Learn to sail first, the motor can get you out of trouble if you need to drop the sail in an emergency.

Practicing Sailing Without Experience

As I said earlier, I would make my first sail with only one sail. If you start with just the main sail you will be able to gain a lot of experience in how to trim the sail and the different points of sail. You will also have a lot less to deal with when it comes to running the sheets.

The main sail is the easiest to deal with; that is why I recommend starting with it. If you have a roller furling you may question that statement. But tack or jibe with just a main sail and do the same with just a foresail, you will get the point.

Gaining Sailing Experience

sailing without experience

As you get out on the water more and gain experience, you will likewise gain more confidence. As you do, you will be able to work toward more advanced goals. There is nothing more satisfying then sailing into a bay and dropping anchor for the night. It’s even better if there are others anchored in the bay watching. A sailing ship always attracts attention.

With experience and confidence gained, you can start planning bigger and longer trips. Overnight and weekend trips are what sailing is all about. Even if you plan on sailing around the world like I do, those weekends are the most amazing way to get away from the stress of the work life.

You will also be able to get out in more challenging conditions. You will not have to sit in port every time the wind is being gusty. You will be able to go on a trip when it’s foggy. You will be able to push yourself a little more with each trip.

As you learn, remember to do so safely. Case in point, I have been sailing for three years now and had to dock in a differently then I normally do. This was a planned move for me, so I made preparation. I had an extra body on the boat to throw lines and one on the dock to catch them just in case.

Ultimately I didn’t need any help, but I don’t rely on that. I’d rather have to repair my ego then damage to docks and other boats. The point is, if you are planning on trying to do something new to you, plan to do it safely.

To gain more experience I always recommend getting out on the water with other experienced sailors. Just like recommended above, walk the docks and talk to other owners. The more you know, the more likely you will be invited out.  

Wrapping Up

Wrapping up

As you can see, it is completely possible to go sailing without experience. It should also be very obvious that if you really want to learn how to sail, you need to gain experience by learning from others. Whether you learn from books, video, lessons, or others, you will need to learn from someone else.

If I had to go back and do everything over again, I would follow this plan over what I did. If I would have gained experience from the couple of people I knew, I would have been so far ahead. I also would have had a far better trip.

Not that the trip was bad, but If I knew what I was doing, I would have sailed a lot more than I did. I would have planned better as well. I would have allotted more time. I would have just had a better time. Don’t make the same mistakes as I made.

Take the time to learn about sailing, but also take the time to gain experience. You would be surprised how many sailors are willing to take someone they hardly know for a day sail. I have taken out people I barely know, just to get out on the water

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Happy Sails!!

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