Skip to main content

Sailing 101

By December 13, 2016March 15th, 2017Tall Ships
Sailing in front of tall ships

The first wind powered ships date back to 3400 BC, invented by the Egyptians to move goods down the Nile River. As defined by, sailing is a unique activity that refers to the sport of using wind power to propel a boat forward instead of an engine. Today, sailboats are used for many different recreational, racing and commercial uses. The beauty of sailing is that whether you do it for leisure or to feed your competitive nature, endless adventures lie ahead while on board a ship.

Sailing 101

Photographs courtesy of Sail Training International

Fun Fact:

According to sailor, coach, and writer Rick Arneson, the most popular sailboats are the smallest! The “Laser,” the most common sailboat, is a 14 foot vessel used for recreation and competitive races.

  • Over 200,000 of these sailboats have been produced and are registered in 122 different countries (, 2014)
  • Families enjoy this kind of sailboat because they’re easy to transport, simple to assemble and can reach high speeds
  • Serious racers enjoy the physical demands that the boat requires for top performance

How To: Beginner Tips & Terms

Learning to sail may seem like a daunting task, but for a beginner just looking to get your toes wet, a skilled instructor can teach you everything you need to know in under an hour. Check out’s tips below!


  • Aft: The back of a ship
  • Bow: The front of a ship
  • Port: Always the left-hand side of the boat/ship when you are facing the bow. Because “right and left” can be confusing when out in open waters!
  • Starboard: Always the right-hand side of the boat/ship when you are facing the bow.


Three basic skills that are needed to become a sailor:

  • Be able to tell which way the wind is blowing – Hint: Take a look at the flag on the ship/boat to see which way it is blowing or simply wait for a moment and feel the wind’s direction on your body.
  • Be able to steer accurately (Only takes about 10 mins. to learn!) – Hint: Using your body weight versus muscle gives you more control when steering.
  • Be able to recognize when a sail is trimmed properly – Hint: If the “luff” (or the the edge of a fore-and-aft sail next to the mast) is trimmed properly, you should see it flutter slightly in and out.

Safety Essentials

Being prepared while out on the water is crucial for a safe sail! Here is a list of safety tools and a equipment you can’t debark without, gathered by West Marine, the expert on all things boating and sailing.


  • Personal Flotation Device
  • Signal mirror and whistle
  • Sunscreen
  • First aid kit
  • Hand bearing compass
  • Rigging knife
  • Automatic Inflatable Deckvest with Harness
  • Headlamp
  • Bright flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Handheld GPS
  • Handheld VHF
  • Weather radio

Want to learn more about all things sailing and Tall Ships? Join us in June for Sail Boston 2017® for your chance to board world class ships and meet experienced captains and crews! Explore the website to learn more about Sail Boston® and the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Join the conversation using #SailBoston.