About 17 million Americans go boating for the first time each year. Many of these people take to the water on a sailboat.

Sailing presents more challenges than driving a typical boat with a motor. There are far more terms to learn and more skills to master.

Before you head out on the water, you should learn the basics of sailing. Read this guide and start learning about sailing so you’re ready for your first trip out on the water.

The Vocabulary

Adjust the lines so we can maneuver the mainsail and jib to bring the starboard side windward, and then meet me at the helm.

Did this sound like a foreign language? Then it’s time to learn some sailing terms so you can communicate while underway.

  • Port: Facing forward, port is to your left
  • Starboard: Facing forward, starboard is to your right
  • Bow: The front of the boat
  • Stern: The back of the boat
  • Helm: Where you steer the boat from
  • Keel: The large fin under the boat that keeps it steady
  • Tack: Change direction by moving the bow through the wind
  • Jibe: Change direction by moving the stern through the wind
  • Windward: The side of the boat facing the wind
  • Leeward: The side of the boat away from the wind
  • Lines: Another word for ropes (don’t use the term rope while onboard)
  • Mainsail: The largest primary sail on the boat
  • Jib: The second largest and most common sail on the boat found in front of the mainsail

Getting on the Water

Pick a day that has favorable conditions to begin your water adventure. This generally means calm seas and light, breezy winds. It should also be sunny with very little chance of rain.

Start Small

It’s better to learn on a smaller boat and work your way up to larger sailboats. Smaller sailboats are more responsive and agile. Something in the 18 to 22-foot range will be good for beginners.

Bring Company

Try to make your first few trips with a certified instructor. If there are no instructors or schools in your area, then go with someone who has plenty of sailing experience. Having someone who knows what they’re doing can turn a frustrating experience into an enjoyable one.

Beware the Boom

The boom is the large beam that extends the bottom length of the mainsail. It will swing across the bow when you change direction. If you aren’t paying attention, this heavy beam can hurt you or knock you off of the boat.

Storing Your Boat

When the warm weather starts to cool, you need to think about storing your boat for the winter. This will keep it safe and in working condition for when the weather warms up, and you want to go sailing again.

Start by inspecting the boat for problems, change the oil, and take out the battery. If you plan to leave gas in the tank, you should add a fuel stabilizer. It’s better to drain the tank of all fuel, though.

You can read more here on how to get your sailboat ready for winter storage.

Know the Basics of Sailing

Now that you know the basics of sailing, you’re ready to get out there and try it for yourself. Sailing is one of those activities that you can read about all day, but you’ll never truly know it until you get out there and experience it. It’s time to slip on your boat shoes and join the sailing community!