How To Sail Dinghies

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Welcome To The Water

Hello and welcome, this should tell you everything you need to know about how to sail.

Getting Started

Now it may be tempting to just rush out there and grab the closest boat to you and try and sail off into your own fantasy world. As that's the only place you will be heading if thats what you do.

To start with you need to choose your boat or dinghy as they can be called. It should be well within your weight and power range (you don't want one so strong it goes where it wants, or one so light it rides a few centimeteres above the waterline) it should contain all the things you'll need (I'll mention all that in a sec)

Boat Parts


  • Hull(pretty essential really this is where you and everything goes, without it you have no boat)

  • Mast(Holds the sail on)

  • Main Sail(the main driving force of your dinghy)

  • Boom(this connects to your mast and holds the sail in place)

  • Rudder and Tiller(the rudder steers you where you want to go, or where it wants to go, and tiller lets you control the rudder

  • Dagger board(makes the boat travel in a straight line no matter what way the wind goes

  • Rigging Ropes(includes mainsheet which is the sail positioner, painter to tie your boat up and ones that are needed for specialist parts of the boat)

Optional Extras (boat dependent)

  • Jib(a mini sail for extra oopmh)

  • Trapeze(lets you dangle of the edge of the boat and makes it easier to blance out at higher speeds)

  • Spinnaker(the beast of a sail for downwind rushes)

All loose items should items e.g. dagger board, should be tied down.

What You Need

There are several things you need to have before you hit the water:

  • Wet clothes(could be old clothes or a wetsuit

  • Shoes(you don't want the fiberglass or wood in your feet)

  • Gloves(good for gripping)

  • Boyancy aid(you MUST always have this before hitting the water it will save your me,it is also a legal requirement in many places)

What You Need To Know Before You Hit The Water

There are several things to know before you get near the water

First is how to sit in the boat: you need to always sit on the edge of the boat on the opposite side of the sail, this will allow you to keep the boat balanced easilly.

Then it's how to tack: tacking is an essential skill for sailing it is how you change direction across the direction of the wind. First put your back foot on the other side of the boat - then push the till away from you and as the boat turns pivot on your back foot to turn onto the other side(at this point it's personal preference you can either change which hand your tiller is in as you turn or wait till you are at the other side then switch by tucking the tiller under your arm and passing it to you next hand, as the tiller should always be in the hand closest to the back of the boat), as you go over you will need to duck as the boom will come over this also means you need to hold onto the mainsheet to stop the sail.

Gybing: this is like a tack but fast and the other way, instead of turning into the wind you turn away from it, but be warned this makes the boom come over faster so might be best to stick to tacking until you feel confident enough. To gibe all you need to do is the same as the tack but instead of pushing the tiller away from you, pull it into you.

All of this is best practiced on land with your boat on a trailer or on grass.

Launching And Returning

So you've learnt what to do, now how do you get out there and do it?
Launching From A Beach

When you launch from a beach you should start with the rudder a little bit in the water and dagger board resting (not hitting the floor) you need to push of and hop in, if there are two of you one should sit the boat ready to get everything ready, as you push off jump in get your sail ready and sail off, when you're deeper put the rudder in all the way and push the dagger board down to.
Returning To A Beach

This is best to attempt once you've got some experience. Take it slow, I mean real slow, you need to come in slow and if possible diagonal to the beach as you come in lift the dagger board up and raise the rudder to just in the water as you get in the shallows hop out and grab the side and stop.
Launching From A Pontoon

Launching from a pontoon is easy you push off and turn away adjust sail to suit wind direction.
Returning To A Pontoon

This gets a little harder, to start with you need to know the direction of the wind. As you approach the pontoon you need to slow, this either means letting the sail out if heading upwind or pulling it in if going downwind, then as you approach the pontoon turn onto it and face into the wind let the sail flap and it will slow down and you can land on the pontoon.

The On The Water Theroy

When sailing there are many things you need to be aware of, but first and foremost is where you are and where the wind is, as which way the wind is coming from relative to you decides where your sail should be for maximun effeciency. You CANNOT, repeat CANNOT sail more than 45 degrees into the wind the sail and boom will just flap and you WILL be hit in the head by them and it hurts. Instead you have to sail at no point beyond 45 degrees east of the direction of wind (take wind direction to be north) and between there and 45 degrees west of wind direction.

Also there is how your boat should sit in the water, it may be incredibly fun for it to start to tip but you only ever go top speed if your boat is flat so lean out and keep it flat, make sure your feet are under the foot straps or you will just fall out.

You also need to know the highway code of the waters. The only one you really need to know is right of way when facing another boat heading the same way. The order of giving way is(one that never has to give way at top):

  • Tankers, cruise liners etc.

  • Smaller boats e.g personal boats (though if more manourvable then a dinghy it must move)

  • Dinghies

  • Powerboats etc.(they move easier than the dinghies, no wind restrictions ans reverse quicker)

Between dinghies:

When two dighies approach eachother there is a code you must stick to. The boat that when tacks turns to starboard (right for me and you) has right of way at all times, for this to be known both boats must shout what tack they are on (if on starboard tack shout STARBOARD! and vice versa) so the boat on the port tack must take evasive action, as the boat on starboard tack always has right of way.

Rigging Your Boat

There's not much to say here you should follow them insturctions in the book that came with the boat or ask a experienced person to give you a hand. When rigging again make sure loose items are tied down the daggerboard could do with a relativly long rope to allow it to be easily retrieved if it falls out.

Now You're On The Water

Ok so your out on the water and you've read the thoery so can you sail? Well maybe but there's a high chance you're like me and will capsize withn 20 seconds of hitting the water. So you need to know what to do while on the water.

To start with you need to sit on the opposite side of the boat with your feet under the toe straps, then push off the jetty or beach, whatever your leaving from and you're off, what do you do now? Well the sail may be flapping this means you will not go anywhere so pull in the mainsheet (the rope) until it stops flapping, not really far in, the most power comes from the point just before the sail starts to flap but is still flat, change direction with the tiller and practice a few of those tacks and when confident maybe try a jibe or 2. But most of all have a good time!


Splash! And your in. The boat is on it's side and your in the water. What do you do? First Dont Panic (duh), second make sure you'er not attatched to any rope or anything, third grab part of the boat, rope it a good one to go for, the make your way round the the underside of the boat and the dagger board always holding on to at least one part of the boat. When at the dagger board hold onto it and pull down, this should put the boat upright (don't lie on it! Some boats come over fast you don't want to be trapped under) if that doesn't work wait for some help from others or try again in a bit (while it may be an idea to head out with a power boat you can easily sail with other sailors safety in numbers comes in well and if your all in the same boat you can get some good sailing going on). When the boat is back upright you just need to grab the toe strap and pull yourself in. Sort yourself out and sail of again, just a bit wetter!

The Dreaded Turtle

This can be your worst nightmare, the capsize extreme, when the boat capsizes then keeps going and ends up upside down, all you need to do is follow the same steps as the capsize, but it could be worse. Often a turtle can lead to your dagger board ending up falling out and you need this as you climb onto the hull and pull. If you lose the dagger board wait for a someone to provide help. Another good idea is to have a flotation device that you can have on the mast some boats come with them preattached to the top or there are ones you can tie on, and these will keep it on its side for a capsize recovery.

The Dry Capsize

Some will call this the cpasizes for wimps, but thats really as they can't do it, the theory is when the boat is going over you clamber over the high edge and lean on the dagger board from above, as it flips back over you hope back over the top and stay dry. Well that's the theory.

Good Luck Out There

Means exactly what I just said

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