Sailing Skills to Review

Your spring sailing skills checklist—because sailing is a lot more complicated than riding a bike.

For those of us in the North, the snow is finally melting and spring is in the air—and we’re all itching to get back in the water. After many months on dry land or under cover, you’ll likely spend some time tuning up your boat before you go sailing. But what about tuning up your skills?

Sailing’s a lot more complicated than riding a bike (that’s why we like it!) but that means sometimes we need to take a little time to brush up on what we know, and maybe add a few more skills too.

We’ve put together a neat little checklist of skills you might want to review before heading out on your first big spring voyage.

Steering with the sails
Whether because you’ve lost your rudder or just to check if you’re sail trim is in balance, knowing how to steer your boat with the sails is a valuable skill. Quantum's Jay Sharkey has another great piece on finding balance if you'd like to know more.

Set a reaching (outboard) lead
Jib reaching is a popular and fun point of sail when cruising, but depending on where your jib sheets lead, you may need to set up a reaching or outboard lead. By sheeting the jib to a block on the rail, you can open up leech of the jib, which allows you to ease the sail farther without it luffing. The main can then be eased too for a flatter, more comfortable sail.

Sail to a mooring and anchoring
Whether you’re heading to Molokini for some off-shore snorkeling, or out to your favorite camping spot, the last thing you want to do is not be able to find and hook up to the mooring. The safety of free moorings is sometimes questionable, so be ready to dive in and inspect the chain and you may also want to set an anchor light. If a mooring isn't an option, you'll want to make sure you can safely anchor.

Depower your full-size sails
When the wind comes up, do you know what to do to keep your boat flat? Do you ease the mainsheet or traveler? Put on the backstay? Wind on the check stays? Move the jib cars back? There’s no once-size-fits-all answer since every boat is set up differently. Make sure you know what tools you have for sail trim, and that they’re all in working order.

Put in a reef
Sometimes cranking on the backstay and moving the jib cars back isn’t enough. No one’s having fun when the leeward rail is dragging in the water, the snacks are splayed out all over the deck, and your wife’s new outfit is soaked. Before you head out with a boat full of guests, practice putting in a reef, and make sure try all of them. Knowing how to put in your reef (and putting it in ahead of time) will ensure a successful sail.  

Partially furl your headsail
Like putting in a reef, knowing how to furl your headsail and being able to do it when you need to will allow you to keep your boat upright and your guests having fun.

Put up your heavy air sails
If you’re doing anything more than a day sail, you need to know how to set your heavy air sails and be able to do it quickly. The last thing you want to be doing with a storm brewing on the horizon is trying to remember how your storm trysail goes up.

Set the whisker pole
The whisker pole is a great tool for downwind cruising with white sails, but it’s not the easiest thing to set up. Give it a try before you’ve got a boatload of people and a martini in your hand. You’ll be glad you did.

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