Updated: Sep 14, 2022
If sailing could be broken down into ten simple steps, then the ocean would not be littered with sunken vessels and lost souls. But for argument's sake, let's just say we did.
Ten simple steps to sailing would break down sailing to its most basic elements and remove all that makes it complicated. Owning a sailboat, maintaining a sailboat, buying and selling a sailboat all make the prospect of sailing more complicated and therefore must be set aside if we are going to reduce sailing to its ten most simple elements.
What's more, it is my belief that sailing in its most elemental form is an art, not a science, and as such should be free from all systematic procedures and rituals. I also feel that since the basic elements of sailing are inherently natural, the ten simple steps to sailing should by definition be available to all regardless of economic standing.
Sure prepping the boat, and hoisting the sails are all required skills that all good sailors must know to properly sail a boat, but those skills can be taught in a matter of hours whereas the true grit of a sailor is not learned in a classroom, but rather acquired from a lifetime.
Finally, as any good ten-step program goes, sailing is an act that should change lives. It should make you a better person. By going sailing you become a sailor so by that thinking, it is not enough to learn the act of sailing but instead develop the traits to become a sailor through 10 simple steps.
This is How to Become a Sailor in Ten Simple Steps.
1. Know the Wind
It doesn't cost a penny to learn to read the wind, yet many sailors spend an entire career relying on gadgets and instruments to tell them where the wind is. With no taste, smell, or color. Seeing wind in many ways is like seeing a ghost. You can feel it and sense it, but you can rarely actually see it, except on days when there is too much of it. Finding the wind, or more to the point, sensing its direction, is paramount to sailing a boat. Without a good sense of its direction, one has no idea how to trim the sails, direct the vessel or plan a voyage.
It's really quite simple to know the wind once you have mastered it, but much like the treasure that can only be found if you know where it is, you will never feel the wind until you feel the wind.
My advice is to sit quietly at the edge of the water, any water, for minutes, hours and days until you have mastered a sense of the wind. Feel it on your face and in your hair. Use the gift of our ear placement on each side of our head to listen for it in your ears. Sensing the wind is a gift our ancestors handed down, but time and evolution have made it a life skill too few of us possess. Get in touch with your inner animal and see the wind if you want to tackle the first step to sailing.
2. Know the Sea
Knowing the sea is not to say you need to have that “hundred-yard stare” and have a parrot on your shoulder, but you should have a respect for the water. Day in, Day out, the waterways of the world are choked with credit card captains and people with more gumption than brains, who lack any kind of understanding or respect for the fact that the sea can kill you.
Knowing the Sea is to understand that waves and water and marine life and all things wet are a world unto themselves, which we stepped away from a few thousand years ago. We are only somewhat-welcome visitors who have killed, polluted, befouled, and otherwise destroyed every aspect of the sea. To go upon on it as a sailor is to beg forgiveness from Poseidon and ask that he allow you to enjoy your short time on the sea and allow you to return to the home from whence you came.
While there you should be courteous and welcoming to others, be respectful and deferential to the realm and always take with you what you bring in. Only by knowing the sea and knowing your place in the sea, can you really call yourself a sailor.
3. Read The Weather
From the early days of man, we as a species have tied our success to the weather. The wind, the rain, the sun, and the clouds all have an impact on our comfort and success each day. Gaining some understanding of what can be expected for the next few hours and getting a sense of what the day might hold for weather conditions is of paramount importance when it comes to sailing.
As a sailor, it is your obligation to be able to prognosticate the weather with some reasonable sense of accuracy so that you and your crew and your vessel might return safely. And as this skill is quite vital to a variety of other walks of life, you may not call yourself a sailor without having a decent ability to read the weather.
4. Know Your Limits
It is or should be with great fear that each of us sets out to sail. The world of sailing is foreign to us all by its very nature, and anyone who attempts it without a healthy sense of trepidation is either a fool or has a death wish. By knowing one's limits, one can stay well within their own sense of wellness, but may also be able to expand one's sense of limit by knowing where the previous limit might have been. As they say, smooth seas never made for a good sailor, you must be willing to go beyond your limit, if only for the purpose of testing your limits as a sailor. One may never fully test themselves without first knowing where one currently refuses to go.
5. Find What Makes You Happy
Sailing has taken on the aura of wealth and success, and all too many pursue sailing to achieve a sense of societal elevation. But I have a secret to tell you: Your neighbors are also busy playing their own game, you will never keep up with the Jones' and that girl in the cubical down the hall doesn't care if you know how to sail.
If you're going to sail, do it for yourself and be happy in that and not what it might do for you. If you're becoming a sailor to find happiness, you will be sorely disappointed because sailing does not cause happiness and most times will detract from your inner peace. Only by knowing what makes you happy and having that inner peace can you enjoy sailing for what it is and not what others might think of you for doing it.
6. Understand Your Crew
While single-handed sailing does have a certain satisfaction to it, invariably, sailing is more fun when you do it with others. Husbands, Wives, Children, Friends, and family all will be expected to participate at some point if you expect to go sailing.
By understanding who it is you want to sail with and identifying their motivations, fears and desires, you will ensure that you have willing participants when you finally get on a boat. All too often, sailors turn into Captain Ahab on the water because their crews were not fully considered beforehand. Only by truly being honest with yourself about who you are going to be sailing with can you become a successful sailor.
7) Develop a Sea Sense
A sea sense while related to the sea is much more than just knowing the sea. It is setting reasonable expectations for what you may experience at sea and behaving in a manner that befits those expectations. Docking your boat in slips that are not yours, berating service people, and yelling at dock hands all show a lack of sea sense.
It was a foregone conclusion in seasons past that you had to act reasonable on a boat or by the water, but in this age of Karens, the behavior of certain people mandates that you check yourself before wandering around introducing yourself as a sailor.
Don't expect warm and dry blankets, hot showers, and five-star meals on a sailboat. Most times you'll be lucky if you manage to choke down a semi-saltwater-drenched PB and J if you are lucky and will hot bunk with a large sweaty man named Jeffrey.
Sailing is a lot like camping without the benefit of a campfire while enduring bouts of sea sickness. By developing your sea sense, you will negotiate the challenges of the sea with greater success as a sailor.
8. Find Your Soul
Unlike power boating and other forms of water travel, sailing is truly a spiritual journey. To be able to harness the wind and move a vessel across the sea to faraway places requires you to see the world's miracles and appreciate a higher power. One does not simply sail a boat but instead uses invisible forces of nature in semi-perfect harmony to effect speed and distance.
A sailor must appreciate this symphony of water, wind, and wave to truly appreciate the task at hand. If you have not found your soul, which is to say the feeling that makes you tap your feet to a James Brown song or shed a tear for Madame Butterfly, you cannot possibly appreciate the beauty of a white sail dancing through a tropical sunset on an emerald sea. As a sailor, you must find your soul.
9. Pick your Destination
When you get to the ninth step, you're getting perilously close to becoming a sailor. While it may take you a lifetime to reach your destination, now is the time you should be picking it out. Are you heading south to Saint Somewhere? Does your desire to sail take you across oceans or to the Great Barrier Reef? Or are you a sound sailor who may never get beyond the race? Now is the time to imagine your life's destination and aim for the horizon.
10. Learn Your Knots
Before you ever can call yourself a sailor, there is one thing you must know. Knots. As a long-time sailing instructor, I have always relied on five, but there are literally thousands of knots that one could know. But the top five any sailor should know in my humble opinion is the Clove hitch, figure eight, square knot, bowline (pronounced Bow-lynn), and cleat hitch. If you don't know these knots backward and forward, you are not a sailor. You may like boating, but you’re not a sailor.