5 April 2023

How to get into sailing

By Paul Knox-Johnston Sales & Marketing Manager (Marine)
Dinghy Insurance

If you are not already an old sea penguin like us, then maybe you have always had a hankering to get out on the water and learn to sail. As a sea faring nation, the call of the ocean is in our blood (although try telling that to someone who goes green at the sight of a wave) and learning to sail is a liberating and exhilarating experience that we personally think can never be beaten.

As you learn to sail, get ready for a whole new vocabulary from leeward to gybing, tacking and halyard. It may sound like a Thomas Hardy novel, but you are about to learn the ancient art of boat talk. We should warn you as soon as you experience that first tack of a sail, we expect you will be hooked, line and sinker into falling in love with sailing, spending the rest of your waking hours and a few sleepless nights plotting how to get back out onto the water. You’ll probably also develop a more than mild obsession about the weather and quite possibly end up working in boat insurance so you can chat about your favourite subject all day.

If that still sounds appealing to you, the next question is how to get that first experience? Unless you have a good friend with a yacht (and we always recommend you find one), learning to sail can feel daunting. However, there are great sail training courses that take place all over the country, and a good place to start is by visiting the RYA website. With over 1000 sailing/yacht clubs spread across the UK, welcoming beginners with open arms, popping in for a chat may land you with a taster trip out on the water, if don’t mind being thrown in the deep end, so to speak. They also host many of the RYA courses using their own in-house sailing instructors. Wherever you live in the UK, you’ll find a sailing club not too far away.

Once the how is sorted, then you need to decide which type of boat is best to get that first experience in.  The sailing club, or instructor you have your first lesson with will steer you in the right direction, but you will most likely learn the sailing basics on a sailing dinghy.

A sailing dinghy is a small boat with a sail, typically designed for one or two people. It has a lightweight hull, a centreboard for stability and a sail for power. Designed to be relatively simple and easy to handle and steer, they make the perfect vessels to practice sailing up-wind, down-wind, tacking, gybing and everyone’s favourite drill, capsizing!

They are ideal for exploring shallow waters and, you do not need to throw yourself straight into the ocean, as sailing dinghies are often used on lakes and rivers as well.


What is the best dinghy to start sailing in?

Being lightweight and compact, the right dinghy to learn to sail on very much depends on your size and weight. There are many dinghy manufacturers making multiple dinghy types, but the most popular entry level boats in the UK are frequently from brands such as Topper, RS Sailing, Laser and Hartley Boats.  The Optimist Dinghy, made by multiple manufacturers and also supplied in kit form to build yourself is the most popular children’s dinghy in the world.

The Optimist is the first port of call if you are looking to live your sailing dreams vicariously through your children.  It is a small, single-handed boat that is popular for children between 7 and 15 years old. It is easy to handle and very stable, making it a great boat to learn the basics of sailing on.

The Topper dinghy is also excellent to learn to sail in, being lightweight whilst having a robust construction.  It is one of the most common dinghies on the water and has a popular race circuit, if you decide competitive sailing is your thing.  Suitable for all ages with different sail sizes available.


The next step in dinghy sailing and a common route for Olympic sailors is often the well- loved Laser.  It is a single-handed boat that is a bit more challenging to control than the Optimist and Topper, but at the same time also faster and arguably more exciting to sail.  It is most suitable for those aged 16+.  The Laser is also a hugely popular racing boat and an Olympic class, so the world really is your oyster when you master it!

If you don’t want to go solo, then dinghies like the RS Feva are for you.  It is a double handed boat that is great for learning to sail with a partner. It is easy to rig (get the sail up) and sail, and it is very forgiving in a range of wind conditions.  The 420 is another popular double handed boat, with worldwide race circuits and sailors often move on from it to the larger Olympic class 470.

If you’re looking for a more adventurous sailing experience, and one hull isn’t enough then a small catamaran dinghy like the Hobie Cat might be the one for you. Designed for speed and maneuverability, they are great for sailing on the beach or in shallow waters, and for learning how to sail in high winds and waves.

Boating folk are a fun and friendly crew who will enthusiastically welcome you onboard.

It is never too late to learn to sail, so if you are dreaming of the open water, we recommend you take that first step.


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