Sailing is a career - the more you do the more you will learn.

Everyone has to start somewhere and you really don't need much in the way of qualifications or experience to skipper a yacht – just some good sense and a healthy bit of fear.

Training vs experience

The night before I wrote this article, a guy popped up on one of the Facebook sailing advice groups I'm in to ask: "how close to land can i sail in a 7m yacht, (depending on depth and restrictions) or do i stay in shipping channels 6-7miles off shore".

The guy plainly knew nothing about sailing and rather to my annoyance he was trolled heavily for it, with people basically saying he should spend €€€ on training before he even set foot on a boat.

I stepped in and suggested to the trolls that you don't need lots of training. You do need enough to not make a tit of yourself, and then only stretch yourself a little each time you go out to get to grips with the fine arts of sailing a yacht.

At the end of the day, all sailing courses are about giving you experiences. You will experience a Man Overboard drill until it is locked in your head and you can do it automatically when and if someone does go in the drink. You will experience tacking until it is second nature. You will experience coming off a dock and coming onto a mooring.

While I advise someone does a nationally accredited sailing source such as those from the RYA or ASA as part of their sailing career, you need to learn to sail and to enjoy sailing first.

Most kids learn to sail by sailing with their parents. Only a horrible parent wouldn't allow their 12 year old aboard without an RYA Competent Crew, though for the kid it might help them to have one to do a delivery aged 16. Instead, the kid will learn how to sail by sailing with their parents.

On my father's boat for example, I learned how to deal with a holed hull in hurricane force winds when the catamaran dragged its moorings and hit a sea wall. It was my idea to lash some inflatable ship's fenders we had in the holed hull and to inflate them, refloating the boat enough to save her. You don't learn that on an RYA course!

Getting that experience

For the beginner it helps to get that experience as cheaply as possible. The Sunday racing lot at a local sailing club always need crew. If you turn up two hours before a race begins and say you want to sail, someone is sure to take you. Ask all the questions that enter your head as you go, and also try to become a regular crewmember on that boat. You may share a beer or two with them after and it is a good way to get experience while making some sailing friends.

One point to note though – the more ambitious the skipper on the club rankings, the more risks they will take. The newbie may do better on the overloaded old family cruiser where the skipper just doesn't want to come last than to get on that all out day racing boat that needs to beat its nearest rivals by five boat lengths to win on handicap. Why? The racing boat will be about the best expertise aboard while the slow family yacht will be less about winning and more about the getting there… While it may be fun tacking a metre from your competitor's bow and sailing so close to the rocks you can smell the seaweed on them, you aren't always learning about safe seamanship!

If you want to pay, look up your local sailing school and call them about a 'sailing experience day'. I paid €100 for my wife to go on one in 2016, and I went myself. There was a family aboard that day too, and between us we had a great day blasting up and down the Solent. The skipper will generally be a highly qualified instructor and you can ask all the questions, seemingly stupid or otherwise, and they should be able to give you the correct advice. Tracee loved the sailing and after the day told me she understood why I like the sport. She was able to lead a tack and a gybe from the helm, giving all the correct orders as the processes developed.

Kavas Yachting and learning sailing by doing it

If you have no sailing experience at all it is still possible to come on a Greek yacht charter with Kavas Yachting. We offer crewed yacht charters on all the Greek waters we serve, and the crew will do the sailing for you over the week or two aboard. You can be lazy and leave them to do everything and treat it as some sort of mini-cruise ship. You will be encouraged to help get the boat between the port of departure and your destination though. While we do not offer specific training courses you can use the opportunity to get your hands dirty in every aspect of sailing the boat over the time you are chartering your yacht in Greece.

After doing a crewed Greek yacht charter with Kavas you might wish to do some basic sailing qualifications in your home country. These may well allow you to do a flotilla holiday with Kavas Yachting the next season. These are charter holidays where you will sail as a fleet with a professional skipper on the lead boat who will lead the fleet on a set itinerary around the islands in the area you come sailing. You have less flexibility than should you do a bareboat Greek yacht charter but it is a step up the sailing career ladder towards being able to take your family off alone on a route you determine.

For those with sailing qualifications already who haven't been for a while? Use the Guide to Sailing that we have on the Kavas Yachting website. This should remind you of all the aspects of sailing a yacht from the techniques of tacking and gybing to more involved instances such as rescuing someone who has fallen overboard.

Fear is a useful emotion

The reason the guy on Facebook got so badly trolled for his lack of sailing knowledge is that sailing is a dangerous sport. In a three year period I knew three highly experienced sailors – one a former US Olympic 49er sailor – who died at sea. Another was my Second Mate on the tall ship I taught on in the 90's who sank the Bounty tall ship in Hurricane Sandy and died aboard. Robin Walbridge was at fault for taking the ship out in those conditions and, combined with my own memories of his nearly dismasting the Rose while I was aboard, will not be remembered in all circles for his successful seamanship feats.

You need to fear the sea. It doesn't care if you die. You lose that fear and do something stupid and you will be killed or have an accident you have to call for help to survive. In 2016 the UK newspaper the Telegraph reported:
"Two 'Captain Calamity' sailors have been rescued for a ninth time in seven months while trying to sail from Norway to America. Bungling Bob Weise and Steve Shapiro, both 71, managed to set their boat on fire having left a candle burning while it was moored, just the latest in a long line of mishaps to delay their sailing adventure."

The two idiots above plainly had no idea what they were doing and apparently assumed that the sea is a benign and safe place to be. This delusion made them unfit to sail a rowing boat across a lake in a municipal park, let alone take their lives in their own hands and make the news for their idiocy.

The Facebook guy above is someone who is willing to listen to advice and hopefully will seek to get more sailing experience before setting out on his seven metre boat on a day sail. I advised him to sail only on relatively calm days that importantly have a good forecast for the next 24 hours. If he gets that experience and only stretches himself a little each time he goes sailing, then his sailing career will be long and enjoyable. If you the reader take the same advice and only stretch yourself a little every time you go, then the only real reason you need your sailing qualifications is to develop your sailing career to do something like a bareboat yacht charter with Kavas Yachting.

Otherwise? The world is your oyster…

See also ↠ Experience is far better than qualifications - Sailing Qualifications

Richard Shrubb