Tips for New Sailors 


 Tips for New Sailors

Sailing Tips for First Timers and Crew

By Ginny Lloyd, edited by Pam Angel 2012

  • Be on time.  This means be physically at the boat at least 30 minutes before the boat is scheduled to leave the dock to stow your things and to attend the pre-cruise orientation. Captains have to take bridge openings, tides and currents into consideration and besides being courteous to others on the trip, being late may make it more difficult to depart or get to the inlet.

Never be a "no show"!!! If you sign up for a cruise, go. The Captain is making room for you and depending on you to help out.  If for some reason you can’t go, call days ahead in plenty of time so the Captain can fill your place.  If for some really urgent reason you can’t come at the last minute – CALL so the Captain and rest of the crew are not waiting for you.

  • There is no time limit for the sail to end.  Don’t show up asking everyone to be back at a certain time because you have plans for the evening.

Many of our day sails include a raft-up after several hours of sailing. Additionally, anything can happen once underway and it could be inconvenient or even dangerous for the Skipper to rush to meet someone's schedule, not to mention the problems this may cause the others on the sail who planned to stay out longer.

  • Respect the Captain and the Vessel.  Boats take a lot of care, not to mention funds to maintain.  And for some of our captains, their boat is also their home.  Remember you are a guest.

What to Bring

Bring your personal items in a small soft-sided packed bag that can easily be stowed away.  These are day sails and space may be limited.  Also, remember that while underway, things may move, so make sure your items are secured and won’t fall off a shelf or couch.


  • Sailing Shoes… Wear enclosed shoes that have light colored soles with a tread.

Sandals or bare feet are not able to grip a slippery, wet deck. If there are several people on the boat, you risk getting your feet stepped on, stubbing your toe, or a winch handle landing on your foot! Remember, many areas of a boat have limited foot space that makes one barefoot person stating "don't step on my feet" an annoyance at the least. Colored soles leave marks on the deck of the boat and this doesn't make friends with the Skipper. And if your skipper has no preference over colored soles, you may be rafting up with other boats and other skippers may allow boat shoes only (the same applies to smoking and red wine).

  • Hat: Bring a hat with a visor. Be sure this is not your favorite hat; the wind can blow it off if you don't have a clip to hold it. (See items you can purchase list.)
  • Sunglasses. The water reflects the sun and this glare can harm the eyes over long periods of time. If at all possible, especially for prescription glasses ,have a strap to hold them on. (See items you can purchase list.)
  • Waterproof jacket. During the day the weather patterns can change and you want to be prepared. It is very common to have a shower, and depending on the weather and boat configuration you may also get wet in the cockpit.
  • light jacket or sweater. Particularly in cooler weather it is good to have a sweater/jacket or sweatshirt.  When the sun goes down, it can get cooler on the water.
  • Bathing suit and small towel (especially in warmer weather)in case there is an impromptu swimming stop.

Food & Water

Often a crew chief will be assigned to designate what each person should bring.  However in some situations each person is responsible for their own food and beverage.  Find out the plan before showing up.  Remember that the crew always feeds the captain, so find out what the skipper wants in advance.

  • Bring food and drink for the day. It is your responsibility, not the Skipper's, to bring food and drink for yourself. If you have special dietary needs, be sure to bring your own food.
  • Bring plenty of water and stay hydrated.  Dehydration can cause medical problems. When sitting in the sun for long periods it is easy to get dehydrated.
  • Ask if you need to bring a cooler for your food and drinks or if there is room in the fridge. Some boat owners live on their boat and don't want to have your food mixed in with their personal items.

Note: Smoking and Drinking are at the discretion of the captain. Find out rules (preferably before signing up) about what is permitted.


  • Sunscreen is vital to taking care that you don't burn. Too much sunburn can make you prone to seasickness.
  • Seasick medicine or ginger, as needed.

If you are not sure if you get seasick (everyone has at one time or another), then discuss this with the Skipper. Be sure you do not eat spicy, fried, greasy, citrus or rich foods (and do not drink carbonated or alcoholic beverages), the day before and during the sail if you are prone to seasickness.

If you feel queasy during the trip, avoid going below. Try to focus on the horizon and sit towards midship.  If possible, ask if you can take the helm as focusing on the horizon often helps. And if you need to heave, do so over the leeward side, the side the wind is blowing toward. (Not below, or towards windward.)

Things to Do Once At the Boat

The following tips are some of the things you should find out about BEFORE the boat leaves the dock. This takes a little time but will make the trip a better one for all.

      • Ask the Skipper or crew for permission to board and how they would like you to board when you arrive. Getting on the boat varies from boat to boat according to the slip where the boat is docked. Some ways may be safer than others.
      • Ask the skipper or crew chief where to stow your food and gear.  Things move while underway and should be correctly stowed, especially any bottles/glass (make sure the captain allows glass on board).

Items the Captain should go over:

  • Learn how to use the head (toilet).  Marine heads can be delicate. Make sure you know how to use it. This may vary from boat to boat.  Do not flush anything that did not go through your digestive system down the toilet on any boat.  Some skippers will flush toilet paper into their heads, others will not.  ASK.  And Definitely NO paper towels, tissues, etc.
  • Find out where the PFDs (personal flotation devices, aka life jackets) are stowed.  You may ask to try one on and adjust it to your body. If you remove it from its storage, remember to put it back after the trip.
  • Know where the First Aid supplies are, in case there is a need for them and you are asked to get them.
  • Have the Skipper point out the fire extinguishers and emergency flares. Ask how to use them if you do not know how.
  • Learn how to use sinks and what the water supply status is.  Boats do not have an endless supply of fresh water and often the faucet water is for washing, but not drinking.

At the discretion of the captain:

  • Radio usage may be explained.  Some important channels are:
    9 – Bridges
    16 – Hailing  and  Marine broadcasts
    14 -  Port Operations
  • Location and use of the  horn
  • Assisting of fenders and lines for rafting or docking
  • Assisting with anchor deployment

In General:

  • Help out in the galley (kitchen) with the food and drinks and ongoing clean up during the trip.

Sailing is a group activity and each person is expected to help. The Skipper is also there to relax too and your help will be noticed.

  • One hand on the boat at all times and keep your center of gravity low.

Hold on all of the time! The rocking of the boat can throw you overboard without notice. Staying low helps you to keep your balance.

  • Keep your head below the boom at ALL times.

The boom is very heavy and can knock you cold or even worse, throw you overboard. When the crew is maneuvering the boat, they may also effect the position of the boom. If the boom accidentally swings across the boat, this can be dangerous if you are in its path, or delay the maneuver if everyone needs to wait for you to position yourself.

  • Always walk the deck on the windward side.

If you are going forward to the front deck, first ask permission from the Skipper. Then walk on the windward side (the side of the boat where the wind is coming from). In most cases, this will be the high side or the side where the sail is not. This is safer because if the sail moves it will not hit you or if you slip you will most likely fall in towards the boat.

  • Sit on the windward side or the high side.

This is more comfortable and safer because when the boat heels it positions you so you are facing into the boat instead of leaning backwards close to the water.

  • Once you are at the dock, don't leave until ALL of the cleanup chores are done.

Take the garbage off of the boat to a trashcan at the dock or your home trash. . Pack your things and get them out of the way. Help clean up the boat inside and out. It is expected.

  • Thank the Skipper and crew who made your trip a safe, pleasant one.

You already know this but when people are tired and it is the end of the day this can be forgotten. A little thanks goes a long way.

Items You Can Purchase

This is a list of items that can make your sailing enjoyable and aid you. You can find these items at a marine supply store like Boat US or West Marine and even at a sports supply store. Women, can also check out

Sailing gloves

These are used when handling lines so you do not damage your hands, prevent rope burn or worse. Look for gloves that are washable, have leather (that can handle salt water) palm and that fit. Each brand is different so it is very important to try them on, especially if you are getting the ones with the fingers cut off at the tip. You want these to fit where the tips of the fingers are exposed but not down to the second joint. Try pulling a piece of rope through your gloved hand while you are gripping it. Notice if rubbing occurs. Women's sizes are now available.

Keep one in a pocket in case you end up overboard and need to get the boat's attention. These are inexpensive but a great thing to have.

Deck shoes
These shoes are made to grip the deck of a boat and can handle the salt conditions encountered on a boat. You can only wear your running shoes for so long before they start to show damage from salt water. Be sure they have some tread and have light-colored soles. I use mine for boating only to avoid wearing down the tread.

Hat clip
This has saved several of my hats from blowing away when the wind picked up. This is an inexpensive item that attaches to an item of clothing on one end and the hat the other. This way, if the hat blows off of your head, it does not go far.

Glasses clip or grip sunglasses
This allows you to keep your hands free if you are leaning forward. You don't have to catch your glasses. The clip wraps around your neck and attaches to the earpieces of your eye ware. Also there are sunglasses with grips built into the sunglass' earpieces and work as well as the clip - without the strap. I find these more comfortable. Some sunglass brands have several styles made this way: Oakley is one that comes to mind.

By bringing your own PFD, you will always know where one is, how to get it on and know that it fits. I recommend this especially for women who sail because most PFDs are made for bigger, flat chested people. If you have tried the stock boat PFD on you'll understand. Pick a style you could wear for hours floating in water without chaffing. Try several on until you find one you can live with.

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