What is Sailing?


Sailing is a sport in which a boat is maneuvered by wind power instead of a motor. It is a strategic sport that can be done recreationally or competitively. It is extremely popular and fulfilling for people at any age. Whether it is day sailing, cruising, competitive racing, or using a boat for a vacation, there is a discipline of sailing that can cater to anyone's interests.


Sailing History

Sailing is a large part of world history, as the first record of a shop under sail appears on an Egyptsian vase from about 3500 BC. Vikings were also sailing to North America thousands of years ago. As the 15th century came around, advances in sailing technology came about and sailboats were much faster. Early history of sailing started primarily as a form of transportation and not so much a recreational activity or sport, as that did not come about until around the 18th century.

Playing Surface

Sailing can take place in a lake, river, bay, or ocean. The surface in which you are sailing will vary drastically depending on what kind of body of water you are on as well as the weather. If you are in the ocean, the water is going to be very rough, so you should expect a choppy surface and a lot of bumps throughout the ride. A lake is likely the calmest surface, so you should expect smooth sailing as long as the weather is nice. Overall, the surfaces that sailors need to prepare for will depend on the body of water, the weather, and how many other boats are on that body of water.


Sailing Equipment

Sailing equipment is extremely important if you want to perform at a high level. A sailor is going to want clothes that dry quickly, shoes with good grip, and multiple layers of clothing depending on the weather. The clothing you wear will be dependent on the weather. These clothes should be made out of neoprene and polyester, as they are great for cold weather. A good warm weather option would be linen. A hat, sunglasses, sweater or jacket, deck shoes, and multiple base layers are the perfect pieces of equipment for a day of sailing.


In sailing, there is team racing, match racing, and fleet racing. Each of these disciplines are formatted a different way. Fleet races can have anywhere from four boats to hundreds of boats, whereas a match race only has two boats against each other. Team racing is typically between two teams that have three boats each. Fleet racing is perhaps the most popular. Each boat's place in all of the races will be added and compiled to a final score. In this format, you want the lowest score possible, as the boat with the lowest score will be the winner.

Positions and Roles

Sailing Positions

Oftentimes, a sailing race may only have 1 to 2 athletes on the boat, meaning that they will likely carry similar roles. However, there are yacht races with much larger boats as well, and these races have people who hold a variety of different roles to succeed. Below are the roles you will find on a boat during a yacht race.

  • Skipper: The team manager and captain. Ultimately the decision maker on strategy and tactics.
  • Navigator: Gets the boat from point-to-point as fast as possible. Has lots of hardware and is knowledgeable on meteorology.
  • Trimmer: Trims the sails and is responsible for boat speed.
  • Driver: Steers the boat and knows how to surf the waves and keep the boat racing fast.
  • Bowman: Works at the bow, where he or she will help with maneuvers and change sails.
  • Pitman: Choreographs maneuvers and controls the lines. Acts as coordinator between the drivers and bow team.
  • Boat Captain: Make sure the boat is in optimum condition.
  • Watch Leader: Make sure all the sailors are working together.

Rules and Regulations

Sailing Rules

United States Sailing is extremely motivated to make sure that all sailors and boats are safe and theat fair competition is provided for all. There are two basic principles that the rules are governed by: sportsmanship and environmental responsibility. Competitors in the sport are governed by a body of rules that they are expected to follow. A big sportsmanship rule is that when competitors break a rule, they will immediately face a penalty, and that penalty may sometimes be to retire. Participants are also encouraged to minimize any impact that sailing may have on the environment.

Referees and Officials

A sailing official is responsible for making the decision about the rules of sailing. They will be as close to the race course as possible (without getting in the way) to monitor the action. They make decisions while on the water about rules and infringement that may take place during a racing event. Oftentimes, racing is run without umpires and unresolved issues are dealt with after the race is finished. Most of these officials have numerous years of experience, and must partake and courses to be certified as a valid referee for the sport.

Lingo and Terminology

Sailing Lingo and Terminology

Knowing your sailing lingo is an important part of the sport, as it will be very useful in communicating with your peers, and sometimes crucial. There are terms in sailing that have been used for centuries, and that's part of what makes the sport's lingo so interesting.

  • Port: Facing forward, anything to the left of the boat. Use the term any time you may normally say "left".
  • Point of sail: The boat's direction relative to the wind.
  • Helm: Where you steer the boat, either a big wheel or a tiller.
  • Keel: Long heavy fin at the bottom of the boat.
  • Jib: Most common sail on any boat.


Like any sport, a good sailor will need a coach so his or her skillset can be developed. There are many characteristics that a great sailing coach must possess. A coach must be passionate, have great energy, leadership, patience, and motivational skills. Along with that, these coaches also must know the core qualities, rules, and technical moves of the sport. A great sailing coach is able to compete right alongside some of the world's top sailors, because they are so knowledgeable and skilled in the sport. They use their skills to help the next generation of sailors, by teaching them everything they need to know in order to succeed.

Skills and Techniques

List Of Sailing Skills

There are a lot of skills and techniques that a sailor must possess. For starters, a sailor needs to be extremely knowledgeable about the weather, currents, and the boat itself. The sailor must know how the boat is positioned relative to wind direction. They also need to be able to steer with a tiller, which is something that often takes time to get used to.


There are many different strategies that sailors must partake in. A big part of that strategy is preparation. Sailors need to have a great idea of what the forecast is going to be like on race day since that will play an extremely large factor on how the boat moves. It is also key to look at the wind angle between the boat's heading and the wind direction. The boat can never directly sail into the wind, but if it is 45 degrees to the boat's heading, then it is on an upwind track. Overall, sailing is an extremely strategic sport where sailors must have the knowledge to know how to perform in various conditions. Overall, a sailor must be calm under stressful situations, and have an ability to get out of any sticky situation in the water.


To improve the skills and overall talent of a sailor, there are many different types of drills that a coach should have them to do in order to get prepared for an upcoming race. For example, if a team is going to be at a race that has large currents, a good way to prepare for that is by using two coach boats that can drive by the sailboats to mimic moving water. Another popular drill is a cone drill that will help emphasize the importance of ducking a boat to gain leverage and climb up the rankings. By maneuvering from these obstacles, it will drastically improve the sailors skills as they prepare for race day.

Olympic Sailing

Sailing was contested as an Olympic sport for the first time at the 1900 Paris Games. The boats allowed to compete have evolved to reflect advances in yacht race design and technology. Advances in equipment over the past two decades have created a trend toward smaller and lighter boats, creating a larger demand for the athletic and technical capabilities of the sailor. Olympic racing is conducted with boats that are put into classes based on similar weights and measurements.

Sailing Brands

There are a great number of brands that you should be aware of when purchasing equipment. Whether you are simply going on a cruise, or at a competitive event, these brands are among the best in the industry of sailing.

  • Musto: Apparel
  • Henri Lloyd: Jackets and Suits
  • Dunbarry: Footwear
  • Helly Hansen: Jackets
  • Zhik: Apparel

Sailing Youth Organizations

All over the country, there are great options for youth sailing organizations. Youth Sailing Organizations are a great way to learn the fundamentals of the sport at a young age. These organizations provide coaching, safety lessons, and much more to children as young as eight years old so they can develop a passion for the sport. It is important for these organizations to maintain a fun and safe environment for the children in order to encourage a love for the sport.

Sailing Players

Sailing athletes come from all over the world. Most of them will focus on one specific discipline of sailing, but may sometimes participate in two or three disciplines. Here are some of the top sailors in the world currently.

  • Pavlos Kontides: Cyprus
  • Jesper Stalheim: Sweden
  • Matthew Wearn: Australia
  • Hermann Tomasgaard: Norway
  • Matthew Belcher: Australia
  • Jorge Zarif: Brazil

Sailing Leagues

The International Sailing League Association is the world governing body for national sailing. This league provides a framework for competitive and dynamic sail racing all across the world. This goes all the way from amateur racing to Olympic level racing.

The ISLA also helps organize the Sailing Champions League. This is where the most successful sailing clubs compete against each other in four events. Each club will form a team of its most accomplished sailors and perform against the best sailors in the world.

Sailing Teams

In team racing, there are typically just two teams in one race. Each team will sail two, three, or four boats of the same class. The winning team will be decided by combining the results of each team's boats.

In sailing there are national teams, college teams, and also yacht club teams. Most amateur teams are based out of yacht clubs, where there will be different levels so they can organize teams who can face off against neighboring clubs with similar skill levels. Sailing is also a sport in the NCAA, where some people can get scholarships to participate. National teams are often the highest ranking of teams in the world, and they will go on world cup tours and face off against other countries.

Sailing Events

Attending a sailing regatta or boat show is a great way to spend time during the summertime. These are fun community events where you can meet other people who have common interests as you do. At these events you can buy apparel, hang out with others, and simply enjoy a nice day on the water.

Sailing Tournaments

Sailing Tournaments

Sailing tournaments take place all over the world. They are broadcasted on TV and have the top sailors in the world participate in them. Whether it is an offshore event or an event in a lake, there are often high stakes for all tournaments. Below are some of the most popular tournaments that take place in sailing.

  • Route De Rhum: France
  • Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Australia
  • Transpacific Yacht Race: United States
  • Barcolana Regatta: Italy
  • Kieler Woche: Germany

Sailing Books

Sailing Books

There are numerous sailing books that are critically acclaimed and have great stories to share. Some talk about competitions while others talk about long voyages and adventures. Below is a list of eight great sailing reads:

  • Maiden Voyage by Tania Aeib
  • Fastnet by John Rousmaniere
  • Godforsaken Sea by Derek Lundy
  • The Long Way by Bernard Moitessier
  • Left For Dead by Nick Ward

Sailing Websites

Sailing Websites

With the internet being the top source of information in today's world, sailing is a category that is no exception. No matter what type of info you are looking for that is related to the sport of sailing, it is highly likely you can find it on the internet. You can find websites that have rankings, stories, videos, and much more with just a simple google search. Below are some of the top websites for information on the sport of sailing:


What is sailing?

Sailing is the sport of using wind to power sails and propel a boat forward rather than using an engine.

How dangerous is sailing?

Learning how to sail in a river or lake is not extremely dangerous. However, once you go out into the ocean, it can be quite dangerous. A Rhode Island Hospital determined that it has a higher fatality rate than skiing and snowboarding combined with NFL football.

How do I learn to sail?

Perhaps the best way to learn to sail is to join a local yacht club or another sort of amateur sailing club. At these clubs you can be provided a coach who can teach you the basic fundamentals in a safe environment.

Is sailing hard to learn?

To the surprise of most people, learning to sail is actually quite easy. If you are provided with a skilled instructor, you can master the basics in one afternoon, and be on your own after just a few days of lessons.