First-timers Introduction to Sailing

General Information

This is a comprehensive overview of how to approach being aboard a sailboat, written from the experience of several skippers.  It covers a lot, so I've followed it with simpler guidelines from another captain.

Capt'n Ed

Landlubbers & 1st Time Chartering Guide

You are about to embark on an exciting adventure, a sailing vacation. The goal of this document is to help make this a fantastic lifetime memory.

A group of caring, thoughtful and experienced members have contributed the following content in an effort to educate, assist, encourage and alert you on a variety of topics related to the sailing portion of your trip. Much of it seems simple and common sense, but in the midst of glossy brochures, enticing commercials and romantic dreams, many details can be skipped.

It's not intended to replace your own training, planning, personal responsibility or decision making. It is just another resource.

Sailing Hierarchy - There is only ONE Captain, He or She is 100% responsible for the boat and the safety of all persons on board. In order to have a successful and safe voyage, there must be clear lines of responsibility and coordination. This is a proven process that is widely practiced and demonstrated effectively not only at sea but on thousands of airplanes in the air at this moment.


Sharing and Teamwork: Remember, everyone is part of the crew. Divide and conquer all the daily responsibilities like cooking, immediate cleanups, cleaning common areas especially heads (toilets/showers), etc.

When the Captain raises his voice (yells) it isn't out of anger but out of urgency or to be heard over the wind; don't take it personally. Also when time is of the essence, the Captain may neglect to use the word "please" when asking you to do something. Get over it.

Guests / crew are encouraged to point out anything they observe, such as a boat approaching, line in the water, etc. The captain is not infallible.

If you smell something, see something or feel something, especially if you don't feel good (seasick?), tell the Captain immediately.

If the Captain asks you to give a hand or help, do as instructed. Period. Not more or less. This is not the time for you to voice an opinion. If you want an explanation to the reasoning, wait until after "the all clear" has been given.

You should inform the Captain of any past or current health conditions (especially requiring medications) that could impact your vacation, including seasickness.

General Guidelines:

DOD stands for Direct Overboard Discharge: If the vessel has holding tanks, use them as recommended by the charter company and/or the Captain. Optimally, you'll use the holding tank in 'port' and discharge at sea, away from land and crew who may be in the water.

The charter boat is not "just a rental." It's someone's pride and joy. Treat it as such.

Learning how to interact with locals before you arrive is important. Failure to respect the laws, customs, ways and manners of the islands, and the islanders is sure to cause embarrassment, potential disagreements or introduction to law enforcement.

Weather has a way of trumping the best laid plans. This should be understood by all.

General Safety:

The most important safety device for the land lubber or fledgling sailor is that 8 pound lump of gray matter between their ears

Ask where it's safe to stand or sit, be aware of your surroundings, do not get so drunk that you cannot function, and stay well away from things that are movable and look heavy and dangerous. Key in on all shapes and levels of your floating home too.

Do NOT fall off! Sounds like a no brainer. But even in "warm" waters - a person overboard is an emergency situation. Special preparation and care should be taken for all children. Adults need to take care too, especially if not familiar with boat movement underway. The Captain will explain the person overboard procedure before you begin the trip. If you are a non-swimmer, that should be declared up front too.

The weight & force of a yacht are often underestimated. Your safety comes first. Fiberglass can be repaired much more easily and cheaply than broken bones! Fenders are used to cushion the boat against other objects. Please do not attempt to use human arms, legs, fingers, or other appendages, indeed not even torsos as substitutes. A new boat hook is cheaper than a new arm--don't try boat hook gymnastics when mooring--drop the mooring painter, there is always a second chance

The right footwear is important. Ask the Captain. Also be aware that bare feet can be dangerous on wet fiberglass or wet cabin floors

One hand for you and one hand for the boat. Hand items that you are carrying to someone else before trying to climb aboard, negotiate stairs or getting in or out of the dinghy.

As soon as you turn the stove burner or oven off, the next step is to turn the gas
off.....ask they will show you

Drinking while underway is strongly discouraged. Whether you are at the helm or just a
"passenger", things can happen that may require sound and quick response by everyone.

Dinghy safety is another important topic that your Captain will cover in detail.

General Dos:

Be Considerate - Simple things, like loud conversation, noises or music early in the morning or late at night, can be very disruptive. Coordinating and communicating activities, plans, dinghy drop-offs, pickups, cooking and cleaning, etc, will keep the attention focused on fun.

When all else fails, read the directions. If there are no directions or the slightest doubt about what you are attempting, ask the Captain BEFORE proceeding, not after.

There are no water, gas, electric, sewer lines or ice machines attached to the yacht. So learn how to conserve and handle properly.

If you open a faucet or hose and nothing comes out, please close immediately, and then ask Captain or an experienced crew member for help.

Volunteers are loved and rewarded.......and learn lots.

Close all your hatches and portholes before departing to avoid wet cabins or hatches being damaged by sailing gear or crew falling. What gets wet stays wet.

General Don'ts:

Don't be passive - be proactive. It's your vacation too. Get involved in some way(s)

If you don't know what it is, how it works or have permission to operate, don't flip, switch, push or pull, open or close, release, untie or tie, turn, pump or kick. ASK!

Nothing goes in the toilet that you haven't swallowed first! Ask the Captain!

Those things that look like ropes are what we call lines. Do not interact with them in any way, unless by specific request of, instruction and/or guidance from, the Captain.

Like on a plane, departure and arrival are the most critical for the captain (or pilot). This includes arrival and departure from a dock, a mooring, or an anchorage. This is not the time to bother the captain/crew in any way. This includes music and conversations.

Don't step on hatches even if they are closed and in the normal path of walking on deck. They are not made to withstand the weight over time, they are slippery and can be damaged.

Don't become "Crew from Hell" -

Chartering Hints for the Captain & Crew:

Delegation - It is good to learn the skills that each crew member brings to the table. Learning their skills and leveraging these skills pulls a crew together very quickly and a good Captain must be careful not to leave anyone out of this equation!

Land lubbers should learn some knots before climbing aboard. There are five knots that cover 90% of the situations you'll encounter at sea. These are the bowline, square knot, clove hitch, sheet bend, and how to tie a line off to a cleat. Remember the old saying - "A round-turn saved Her Majesty's Navy". [See my "Handling Lines"]

Dealing with newbies, rookies and landlubbers is all about communication and timing. The captain must become a sailing instructor. This means CLEAR communication and good timing. Don't try to do your instruction while you are cruising around the dock dodging other boats and waiting for your turn at the dock. Take your time deciding and explaining who will do which job and teaching them how to do it. If a person does not want to be involved in sailing, that's fine as they can contribute in other ways.

Sailing Tips:

Sailors shouldn't have plans, just intentions. Plan it out, but don't be married to it...see what the conditions look like and go with the flow...

Captain and Crew should use hand signals when anchoring, docking, etc. They should be agreed upon before attempting the maneuvers.

Grabbing a mooring ball takes good communication (hand signals). An extra crew, if you have one, will assist the bow person, who has the toughest job. Preparation, planning and practice definitely contribute to success.

You should always scope out a dock, mooring field or anchorage prior to picking your target destination. That gives you a chance to compare your notes from the chart briefing, your cruising guide and other information you have gathered. You should also note the prevailing conditions including the wind speed, direction, water depth, current or swell, land protection, boat traffic and any hazards in the area, etc

Listen to that little voice. There are times something pops up in your head or you have a 6th sense to double check something, make a certain decision, go a certain way or not to do something. Listen to it.

Dinghy Safety:

DO NOT overload the dinghy. Always display a light when operating at night. Night running is much more dangerous for lots of reasons, so slow down. Remember that it's not a sports car besides the noise and wake can disturb others. If there is any surf or rough water when arriving or departing, especially at a beach, extra special care must be taken to avoid capsizing or tossing crew. Watch out for swimmers and snorkelers who are often where you do not expect them. Tie it up like you want to see it again. No jumping in or out. As with the big boat, do not drink & drive. Do not tow with passengers. And remember proper painter handling at all times.

Dinghy Etiquette:

If you think you may want to be the dinghy driver (or to assist that person):

Dinghy Dock Etiquette (Tom Hale, 2/11/16 – If you observe dinghy etiquette, we will all get along just fine)

In many popular cruising destinations or stopovers, dinghy docks can become very crowded. Over time, this simple set of dinghy dock guidelines has evolved amongst cruisers worldwide.

  • Always leave your outboard down. Raised outboards can damage other boats.
  • Have a long painter. This allows others to push aside your dinghy and nose up to the dock and unload. If you tie with a short painter others will have to climb over or through your dinghy.
  • Use only one line. Do not tie bow and stern.
  • If there are only a few cleats on the dock, tie a loop in the end of your painter. There is room for a lot of looped painters if no one has cleated their painter.
  • If other dinghies are at the dock, try to tie your dinghy painter below the earlier arrivals. They will most likely be leaving before you. You might not want them to have to untie your dinghy and retie it. Passing your painter up through the loops of other painters is known as "dipping the eye."
  • When you lock your dinghy, do not trap another dinghy's painter. Be sure the cable is long enough to allow others to nose into the dock to unload.

Here is another captain's distilled rules for looking out for each other:

Yacht Life Rules


  • I understand that the day schedule depends on the (to a certain extent) unpredictable weather – and for my safety and comfort – plans may change.
  • I will be on time (or even earlier). Others might not enjoy waiting.
  • I am able to swim 50m without stopping
  • I cover any damages caused by me. Damages caused by ‘higher force’ are of course excluded from your responsibility.
  • I accept others to be different (I accept differences as much as similarities).
  • The toilets in the yacht’s bathrooms are common asset, therefore, to keep them hygienic, all men pee sitting. No discussion.
  • I understand that the skipper is in charge of the sailing.  I will listen to the skipper in terms of sailing and yacht related stuff. He is responsible for bringing me safely to my destination and I know he does so according to “his best knowledge”.
  • There are things to do on the yacht. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc… I do my part.
    If not, I am okay with a punishment the crew invents for me.


  • Be like a small family on the yacht – accept others as they are, trust but also tell off when needed.
  • Be patient and respectful.
  • If you have a problem with something: talk about it openly and try to solve it. Attitude: Dealing with the problem, not with the person.
  • Nobody forces you to party: if you don’t feel like, you don’t have to join.
  • Enjoy the moment and do not rush but focus on what you are doing right now.
  • Respect others and expect to be respected – if you cannot sleep because of the neighbors from the other yacht, playing guitar at 3 o clock in the night – go out and tell them about this (in a normal tone of voice). They are not evil people! 
  • If you are not up for learning how to sail, just tell your skipper and he will involve you less. The same applies if you are extremely eager to learn, the skipper will be happy to share his knowledge.
  • Do not have a full mind, but be mindful – enjoy the views, people`s company, nature. Don’t worry! There’ll be time to worry about your ToDo’s, problems and office tasks later… 
  • Keep the common area (saloon and deck) clean.
  • Drink plenty of water! Sun, wind and salty water dehydrate you fast.

Use sunscreen!

Avoiding Seasickness

I suffer from motion sickness.  Yet I have never gotten sick aboard, probably because I helm most of the time (looking ahead), and do not go below when sailing!  I have used Scopolamine patches and have had no side effects.  Here are links to wrist bands and ginger candies on Amazon:

Sea Bands

Ginger candy

Capt'n Ed

Professional opinions:

By Melanie D.G. Kaplan

November 2 at 6:00 AM

Be prepared

Having a positive attitude is important, “versus feeling like you’re going to succumb to something terrible,” said Michael Jacobs, a lifelong sailor and medical consultant for the U.S. Sailing Association, the sport’s national governing body.  “If you just learn some simple measures,” he said, “there’s hope to get your sea legs.”

If you know you have a tendency to suffer on the seas, it’s best to take preventive measures — ideally before you embark. “We recommend prophylactics for everyone, because there’s not a lot you can to do once you start feeling sick.”

One of the most effective medications is the prescription scopolamine patch , which lasts three days. Like many nausea drugs, it can cause drowsiness, blurriness and other side effects; and don’t overmedicate.  But Whittall said the side effects are a small price to pay, especially on an extended voyage. “What’s worse,” he quipped, “heaving over the side or experiencing some blurriness when you read?”

If you want to avoid the side effects of medication, head for the alternative aisle, where you’ll find acupressure wrist bands, magnet bracelets and aromatherapy, which some people find effective.

No to nausea

Prevention is worth “999 times more than any treatment,” Stoffregen said. Once you’re feeling symptoms, you’re often past the point of no return. He said ginger stands alone as the only thing scientifically proved to help alleviate nausea from seasickness without drowsiness. “Get yourself some ginger candy, ginger chews, ginger snaps, and have some ginger in your stomach before you head to sea,” he said. “Nobody knows why it works, but it works.”

Jacobs recommends capsules of powdered ginger root. You can also consume your ginger in ale or tea. Some sailors use pilot bread — a thick, crackerlike item similar to Colonial-era hardtack, which doesn’t go stale — to settle their stomachs. According to Shore, some people even sniff fresh newsprint (Google it) to help relieve nausea, a tactic sometimes used for morning sickness.

Starting on the day before you depart, drink lots of water, get enough sleep and avoid heavy meals, alcohol and caffeine.

When you begin to feel woozy, go to the deck, breathe some fresh air and look out to the horizon. Keep your head still — a deck chair with a headrest works great. The worst thing you can do is go below to your cabin and, say, read a book. Stoffregen recommends putting your electronic devices away, although listening with ear buds is okay. If you’re on a friend’s boat during a calm stretch, ask if you can get behind the wheel.

“I don’t care how sick you are,” Jacobs said. “Balance your head over your shoulders and knees, take the helm and steer. Your brain will automatically recalibrate to the movement.” Even if you can’t take the wheel, remembering to look at the channel ahead can make all the difference. Jacobs’s rule is simple: “If your eyes are seeing what your ears are feeling, you’re likely to have a great day at sea.”

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