How To Drive A Sailboat – Multiple Tips And Rules Of The Road

Getting out on the water and sailing is an extremely fun activity, and for many it is preferable to even going out on a speed boat. But, if you are wanting to get into sailing, there are going to be plenty of things that you need to know to keep you and everyone else around you safe.

The best way to learn how to sail is to take a sailing course. When sailing, taking note of the weather, always having an eye on your surroundings, and knowing who has the right way are the main factors to keep all vessels on the water safe.

There are plenty of other tips that are crucial when you get out on the water. Throughout the rest of the article, I will go over the most important tips you need to know so that you can have a fun, safe trip out on the water.

Take A Driving Course (Learn The Rules of the Sea)

For most people, when they start driving a car, they take classes to learn all the rules of the road and how to be safe. The same can be said for sailing, as there are a number of online classes that can get you a boating license and teach you how to sail safely. A sailing safety course should be one of the number of things you consider adding to your list of things to do, if sailing is something that interests you.

Taking a sailing safety course can help prevent many boating and sailing-related incidents, and will also earn you your boating license. During these courses you will learn how to handle the boat, and how to use the various safety equipment you should have onboard with you.

Here are some of the places you can get a boating license at:

Check out my other article all about sailing certification classes!

Pre Departure Tips

Before you even get into your boat and start sailing, you are going to want to check and make sure you are ready to sail. This process should include making sure that you have all the safety equipment in case anything happens. You are also going to want to submit a Float Plan so help can be sent in case you have an incident and require assistance.

Know What The Weather Will be Like

Before you head out, you are also going to want to check what the weather is going to be like throughout the duration of your trip. Storms can roll in very quickly when you are out, and you do not want to get caught in any rough water when you are new to sailing. Make sure no storms are forecasted, and the sky is clear in all directions before you head out.

Approach Waves The Proper Way

Once you are out on the water, you are going to want to know how to properly go over a wave. The last thing that you are going to want to have happen is your vessel capsizing because a wave hit you from the side. While it may seem like hitting the wave head on is the best, this will cause your vessel to go up into the air. The best way to approach a wave is at a 45-degree angle, so that you minimize the impact and the air that you get after hitting the wave.

Never Drink and Drive

Just like with cars and any other sort of vehicle, you should never be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when you are sailing. It has been found that alcohol and drugs have been responsible for anywhere between 12% and 19% of all boating-related accidents. Because of this, many countries have laws to prohibit the consumption of alcohol or drugs while sailing.

Another reason to avoid drinking and sailing is that you never know when there might be an accident. If something were to happen while sailing, you will want to be fully alert in order to solve the problem, or even avoid the incident from happening in the first place.

Always Keep an Eye Out Around You

Being aware of your surroundings is incredibly important. Doing this can help you avoid collisions, see incoming storms, and avoid potential incidents with environmental hazards and other vessels. Many boats have some form of autopilot, so it is easy to get distracted, but you need to make sure that someone onboard the vessel is keeping an eye out at all times.

When In Doubt, Slow Down

Another way to help keep yourself safe is to make sure that you aren’t going too fast. You don’t need to test the speed of your sailboat unless you are participating in a race. If you are just out on an afternoon sail, you aren’t going to have the safety personnel that are present at races, so you are going to want to take it slow.

Learn Right of Way

If you take a sailing course, it will teach you who has the right-of-way when on the water. In the event that you get too close to another vessel, you can’t assume that they’ll know what to do. You’re going to need to learn who has the right of way, and how to navigate safely away from ships that are in a close proximity to you.

Click here to my article all about which boat has the right of way.

Fishing Boats

If you are around a fishing boat that has lines cast out, then they have the right of way. Reeling in all of their lines is much more difficult than you adjusting your course, so you have to give way to them.

Kayaks, Paddleboards, Canoes, etc.

If you run into any man-powered vessels, they have the right-of-way, as they are smaller and much less durable than any other vessel on the water. It is also recommended that you give plenty of space to not hit them with much wake.

Non-Powered Vessels

If you encounter another sailboat, then you should interact with each other as you would a car on the road. The boat on the starboard side has the right-of-way.

Powered Vessels

If you encounter a powered vehicle, then you typically have the right-of-way. The main exception to this are military vehicles and cargo ships.

Final Thoughts

Driving a sailboat has become very natural to me and only gets easier the more I sail. When you are in a high traffic area of boats, you will always be a little more nervous. That is a natural thing that happens to all of us. Just remember your training and the rules of the road and you will be just fine out there. Cheers!


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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