Sometimes starting out in a sport can seem a little daunting. Is it for me? What equipment do I need? The truth is that all you really need is some sound advice. If you are interested in getting into sailing, then I hope that some of the questions I pose will provide you with the best hints for getting started. I also hope that they will help direct you to the kind of sailing you want to do and where to do it, as well as how much it costs and what courses are available.

What kind of sailing do you want to do?

Before you get started you will need to have a think about what kind of sailing you want to do - dinghy or yacht.

Dinghies are open boats, which are suitable for day sailing in a variety of areas, both on inland expanses of water and on the open sea. They are fun and exciting, while bringing you closer to nature.

They provide a cost effective way of getting afloat, to experience the joys of sailing. You could take your family cruising somewhere like the Lake District, or just hire a dinghy off the beach during your next summer holiday. Once your skills set has been developed, you might even participate in faster performance sail racing, or just head off, on your own, for fun.

The nicest thing about dinghy sailing is that it provides one of the cheapest ways to get afloat. It is also the quickest and easiest way to learn, as dinghies are easy to rig, virtually everyone can handle them and they are very responsive at the helm, which will provide limitless entertainment for all involved. Yet, remember that you are guaranteed to get a good soaking with dinghy  sailing, especially when you are learning the ropes.

Sailing a yacht is exceedingly diverse and there are several ways for all members of the family to participate. Naturally, the boats are bigger and they come ready equipped with innumerable home comforts, such as toilets, kitchens and relaxation areas, where you rest or sleep onboard. Yachting is a great way to take the family on the water in warmer climates, perhaps even exploring remote headlands, alternative moorings, or beaches, in the company of friends. Alternatively, you might even try your hand at racing a yacht.

One day you might be sailing offshore surrounded by dolphins and the next you could be anchored in a secluded bay, eating freshly caught fish for lunch. There are very few leisure activities that can provide such a great variety of emotions, experiences, destinations and socialising opportunities. Yacht sailing is about adventure, exploration, teamwork and fun. Equally, it can be both relaxing and a most enjoyable way to discover new places.

What courses are available?

Firstly, it is advisable that you contemplate a course of professional tuition. After all, you do need to be aware of the dangers, the laws and other aspects of sailing and how they might impact on other people, not just you and your family, or friends. The RYA (Royal Yachting Association) offers a wide array of courses, from complete beginner right through to professional qualifications. If you check on-line, through the RYA’s network of some 2,500 recognised training centres, both in the UK and abroad, you should be able to find a course, at a location convenient for you.

To get you started, many RYA Training Centres, sailing clubs and charter companies, throughout the UK and abroad, run taster sessions and days that provide an ideal opportunity to explore sailing for the first time and to help you decide if sailing is for you, whether or not you wish to go ahead and sign up for a course.

If you reach a positive conclusion, then the RYA’s Start Sailing and Competent Crew courses are the ideal ways by which to learn the basic principles of sailing, while meeting like-minded people. The Start Sailing course is aimed specifically at the complete beginner. During its two days’ duration, you will receive genuine hands-on experience and learn not only how to steer a yacht but also how to handle the sails, carry out rope work and to be made fully aware of safety standards.

The RYA Competent Crew course takes five days but, if you have your Start Sailing certificate, it reduces to three days, or two weekends. You will experience living on board and getting to know the boat. The range of competencies covered includes steering, sail handling, observation, dinghy rowing even elements of navigation. It is hard work but also an enjoyable break.

The RYA’s Youth Sailing Scheme, for under-16s, and the National Sailing Scheme, for adults, offers both Stage One and Level One courses respectively, which are perfect for beginners. The Youth Sailing Scheme is a series of courses to develop skills, with
instructors signing off completed elements. The certificates also have value in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. You can check on-line to see what areas are covered.

Where can I learn?

There are plenty of locations to choose from. Click on the RYA’s ‘Where’s my nearest’ to find an appropriate training centre. You will also find details of RYA Training Centres overseas, if you fancy doing your course in the sunshine.

How expensive is it to go sailing?

It has always been perceived as an expensive activity, but sailing does not have to be. A small dinghy can be bought for as little as £600 and a wetsuit might cost you from around £70. Of course, it can cost a lot, if you invest in swish new equipment, fancy trailers and expensive clothing, but thousands of fans indulge in sailing every year for less than it costs to play golf or tennis. As a family, you can join a sailing club for as little as £150 a year and have free or very cheap access to its fleet of club vessels.

The cost of training courses varies depending on where you live and which courses you decide to complete. An RYA Level One course starts at about £200 per person. It is always best to go to an RYA recognised centre, where a national curriculum is adhered to. This means that, if you relocate, you can still follow the different levels all the way through and the RYA certificate is internationally recognised. RYA recognition also means the centre will run the course to the established syllabus, with safe, well maintained
boats and equipment.

If in doubt, call the RYA to check if a centre is recognised. If you want to try out sailing for a couple of hours, you can usually have a go for free, at a sailing club open day. Some activity holidays include the use of dinghies and windsurf boards within their charges.

The beauty is that it really is for all ages

Is sailing really for everyone?

The beauty is that it really is for all ages, both ablebodied or disabled. Youngsters can indulge in the RYA’s OnBoard programme, which provides them with the opportunity to learn to sail, as part of the school sports curriculum, or through various youth groups. You can discover more at www.ruob.co.uk.

There are also racing programmes for both youth and junior sailors and windsurfers wanting to sail competitively both at home and abroad. Many of our current Olympic sailors have come up through these programmes. Sailing is also one of the most accessible sports for disabled people and is one of the few disciplines, in which disabled people can participate on equal terms with the able-bodied.

RYA Sailability is the charity arm of the RYA, which offers people the chance to have a go. There are over 200 sites for disabled sailing throughout the UK that encourage and support thousands of people with disabilities. Around 40% of them also might possess
learning difficulties. Find out more about RYA Sailability.

Can we boat abroad?

Once you have gained your qualifications, the world is your oyster and you can enjoy your new found skills on the water, anywhere. The options are limitless and the locations range from local to tropical. Boating holidays are tremendous fun and they allow you to explore new areas and different boats. Beach watersports, flotilla cruising, inland waterways, racing at Cowes week or negotiating icebergs, there is truly something for all tastes.

Beach and watersports activity holidays offer the best of both worlds, usually with hotel accommodation included. While they are fun for all sailors, they are also an excellent way to get the younger generation on the water, with peer groups, while under the watchful eye of a skilled instructor.

If you are new to cruising, try a flotilla and sail in company around the Mediterranean islands. There are regular briefings in the morning over a coffee in a waterside taverna, followed by a helping hand away from the quay to your next destination.

If that is all too tame, why not increase your experience by sailing across the English Channel, around Britain, even across the Atlantic or down to Antarctica. The Marine Leisure Association (MLA) will help with training, chartering and booking holidays, while also listing companies offering the services.

If you have ever fancied sailing on a large ship and learning the ropes, the Association of Sail Training Organisations (ASTO), or Sail Training International (STI), offers many opportunities to get you involved. Their members operate all around the UK and overseas
and take both young and old people sailing throughout the year, culminating in the Annual Tall Ships Race.

Of course, you can explore over 4,000 miles of canals, rivers and lakes on the British waterways. Training usually takes a matter of hours, rather than days, but our
outstanding inland waterways network is open to everyone.

Where can I find out more information about getting into sailing?

Visit the RYA website www.rya.org.uk. As the national governing body for all forms of recreational and competitive boating, it represents dinghy and yacht sailing, as well as motor and sail cruising, RIBs and sportsboats, powerboat racing, windsurfing, inland
cruising and personal watercraft. The RYA can advise you on how best to get started, with any of the aforementioned activities, as well as answering any further questions that you might have.

If you are particularly interested in getting into dinghy sailing, then it might be worth heading to the RYA Dinghy Show, 2-3 March, held at the magnificent Alexandra Palace in London. In one venue, you will find literally hundreds of clubs, boats and retailers, as well as a whole host of specialist seminars and coaching sessions, including a dedicated ‘Start Sailing’ exercise. You can also chat with ‘New to Sailing’ experts and learn more about the boats, the kit and precisely where you can have a go. Find out more about the show at
www.dinghyshow.org.uk.

Sailing facts

Useful web-site addresses for budding sailors and water sports people:

www.rya.org.uk

www.ruob.co.uk

www.a1sailing.ltd.uk

www.asto.org.uk

www.sailtraininginternational.org

www.classic-sailing.co.uk

http://canalrivertrust.org.uk/

http://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/