The Ultimate Guide to Small Sailboats: From Dinghies to Ocean Cruisers

  • The Ultimate Guide to Small Sailboats: From Dinghies to Ocean Cruisers

Ahoy there, maritime enthusiasts! Are you tired of being a landlubber and ready to take on the open waters? Have you ever caught yourself daydreaming about sailing into the sunset but thought that owning a sailboat was only for the wealthy or the experienced? The good news is that small sailboats are here to prove you wrong. Easy to maneuver, affordable, and incredibly fun, these little vessels offer a world of possibilities for novices and veterans alike. So, why not set sail on this journey and explore what small sailboats have to offer?

Types of Small Sailboats

Dinghies are like the hatchbacks of the sailing world—compact, practical, and surprisingly versatile. Usually measuring under 15 feet, they are the go-to boats for sailing newbies to cut their teeth on. Why? Because they're affordable and easy to manage. Think of a dinghy as your first bicycle—sure, you'll fall a few times, but the lessons learned are invaluable.

If a dinghy is a hatchback, then a daysailer would be your sporty coupe—ideal for a fun day out but not really for a week-long journey. These boats are a bit larger, typically ranging from 15 to 25 feet, and can comfortably accommodate 4 to 6 people. They're perfect for sailing close to shore, having a picnic on the water, or enjoying a beautiful sunset.

Looking for something a bit unique? The catboat could be your feline friend on the water. These boats are known for their single mast and mainsail, making them easier to handle. They’re the sort of boat that likes to lounge lazily in shallow waters but can also pick up the pace when needed.

Features to Consider When Buying

Hull material.

The hull is like the foundation of a house—if it's not strong, everything else fails. Generally, you'll find hulls made of fiberglass, wood, or even aluminum. Each material has its pros and cons. For instance, fiberglass is durable and low-maintenance but can be expensive. Wood offers a classic look but requires more upkeep.

Would you prefer manual or automatic transmission in a car? Similarly, the rig type of your sailboat affects your sailing experience. You might opt for a simple sloop with one mast and two sails or maybe a cutter with an additional headsail for better balance. The choice is yours.

Length and Beam

Here's where size really matters. The length and beam (width) of your boat will significantly impact its stability, storage capacity, and how it handles in different water conditions. It's not always that smaller is easier to handle; sometimes, a slightly larger boat offers better stability and amenities.

Advantages of Small Sailboats


Let's face it—owning a boat isn't cheap. But small sailboats make the dream more accessible. Not only are the upfront costs generally lower, but ongoing maintenance expenses like docking fees, cleaning, and repairs are also more manageable. It's the difference between owning a high-end sports car and a reliable sedan—both can be fun, but one is undoubtedly easier on the wallet.


Remember the first time you parallel parked a car? Now, imagine doing that with a 40-foot boat! Small sailboats shine when it comes to maneuverability. They're easier to steer, quicker to respond, and a breeze to dock, making them perfect for navigating through narrow channels or crowded marinas.

Low Maintenance

Less is more when it comes to boat maintenance. Smaller surface area means fewer places for dirt and grime to hide, making cleaning easier. Not to mention, smaller engines (if your boat has one) mean less complicated mechanical problems to solve. It's like owning a plant that only needs water once a week—low commitment, high reward.

Popular Small Sailboats

Remember the Volkswagen Beetle of yesteryears? Compact, easy to manage, and immensely popular—that's what Sunfish is to the world of small sailboats. Whether you want to race or just sail leisurely, this boat is a versatile choice that won't disappoint.

For those who crave a bit more adrenaline, the J/22 is like the sports bike of small sailboats. Known for its speed, agility, and performance, this boat is a favorite in racing circles. It's agile enough to make quick turns yet sturdy enough to handle a variety of sea conditions.

Catalina 22

If you're looking for the minivan of small sailboats—functional, family-friendly, and reliable—the Catalina 22 is for you. Ideal for weekend trips with the family, this boat offers a cabin for shelter, a cooking space, and even a small toilet. It's a floating home away from home.

Small Sailing Yachts for Sale

Where to buy.

Buying a boat can be like buying a car; there are various avenues available. You can go through dealerships, check out classified ads, or even explore online platforms like Boat Trader or YachtWorld. Just like you wouldn't buy a car without a test drive, make sure to do a sea trial before making a purchase.

Price Range

The cost of your new aquatic venture can vary widely depending on the size, brand, and features. You might find a used dinghy for as low as $1,000 or a top-of-the-line daysailer that costs over $20,000. Therefore, it's crucial to budget not just for the initial purchase but also for the ongoing costs like maintenance, insurance, and docking fees.

(To be continued...)

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small sailboat in the water small sailboat in the water next to the beach next to the beach in a summer sunset ready to sailing with the last breeze of the day

Small Bluewater Sailboats

Definition and features.

When it comes to small sailboats, not all are built for the big leagues, aka open-ocean sailing. However, some compact beauties are fully capable of taking on the mighty seas, and these are commonly referred to as "bluewater sailboats." These boats generally have reinforced hulls, deep keels for added stability, and more robust rigging systems. They also often come with advanced navigation and safety features like radar and autopilot systems.

If you're serious about open-ocean sailing but don't want a massive boat, brands like Nor'Sea and Pacific Seacraft have some excellent offerings. These boats might be small in size (often under 30 feet), but they are big on features and sturdiness, designed to withstand challenging sea conditions.

Boats for Cruising


A cruiser is like a comfortable sedan equipped for a cross-country road trip. Similarly, cruising boats are designed for longer journeys and typically feature amenities like sleeping cabins, cooking facilities, and even bathrooms. However, small cruising sailboats make these comforts available in a compact form, ensuring you don't have to compromise on luxury while also enjoying the benefits of a small boat.

The market offers various models to suit different cruising styles. If you prefer a classic, vintage look, the Bristol series offers some wonderful choices. Those who want a more modern flair might gravitate towards Hunter or Beneteau models. No matter your preference, there's likely a small cruising sailboat that fits the bill.

Very Small Sailing Boats

What makes them unique.

We're talking about boats usually under 10 feet, often even as small as 6 or 7 feet. These are the "motorbikes" of the sailing world—quick, nimble, and perfect for a joyride, albeit on water. What they lack in amenities, they make up for in sheer fun and the ability to go places bigger boats can't.

Very small sailing boats are perfect for specific types of water activities. You can use them for fishing, exploring secluded inlets, or just enjoying a peaceful day on the water. They are also excellent for teaching kids the basics of sailing due to their simplicity and ease of handling.

Small Ocean Sailboats

Ocean-capable small boats.

Yes, you read that right—there are small sailboats designed for ocean sailing. Unlike their cousins confined to more tranquil waters, these boats have features that make them seaworthy. However, don't assume that any small boat can be taken on an ocean voyage. Specific design features are essential for this kind of challenging adventure.

Essential Features

So what makes a small sailboat ocean-worthy? For starters, a strong hull designed to take on challenging sea conditions. You'd also want a deep keel for stability, a robust rigging system to withstand high winds, and multiple fail-safes like backup navigation systems.

Small Ocean Cruisers


Ocean cruisers in a small size offer the best of both worlds—they are versatile enough for both coastal cruising and open-ocean voyages. These boats are like your all-terrain vehicles, capable yet compact.

Pros and Cons

While adaptable, small ocean cruisers may lack some of the luxury or speed that larger yachts can offer. However, their versatility and ease of handling often make them a popular choice for those who like a variety of sailing experiences.

Small Cruising Sailboats

Ideal for beginners.

If you're a rookie in the world of sailing, a small cruising sailboat could be your best bet. These boats are typically easy to handle, straightforward to maintain, and offer enough amenities for short trips—making them an ideal starting point.

Popular Models

If you're new to cruising, a couple of models might catch your attention. The Compac 16, known for its easy handling and classic look, is often recommended for beginners. Another excellent option is the Catalina 18, which offers a bit more room without compromising ease of use.

Setting sail on a small sailboat opens up a world of opportunities—whether you're a seasoned sailor looking for a weekend thrill or a beginner aiming for a long-term commitment to the sea. Understanding the types, features, advantages, and options in the small sailboat market will help you make an educated choice. The sea is vast and welcoming, offering adventures and tranquility alike, and a small sailboat can be your perfect vessel for exploration.

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Faqs: more about small sailboats, what's the best small sailboat for beginners, can small sailboats be used for ocean sailing, how much does a small sailboat cost, what features should i consider when buying a small sailboat, do small sailboats have sleeping accommodations.


Tips for Cruising Sailors From Your Racing Friends

Quantum Annapolis’ David Flynn pulls from his extensive racing and cruising knowledge to discuss techniques that racers use often, and cruisers should learn. He lays out a few effective procedures racers do for steering, trim, and halyard tension, and how cruisers can benefit from them too.

small sailboat cruising tips

This column is usually dedicated to the arcane matters that captivate racing sailors. Riveting subjects like mainsail twist, mast bend, rig tuning, or my wife’s personal favorite, “headstay sag.” Sure to cause a listener’s eyes to glaze over. We are easily amused. I thought it would be a good time to pass on some techniques that racing sailors take for granted that will make a cruising sailor’s life more fun. Racing sailboats forces you to become a better sailor. You can get away with a lot as a cruiser. Try these tips and you will feel more comfortable and get more out of your time on the water.

The sails steer the boat

Anyone who has sailed a small boat has had this lesson pounded in the hard way. Try to bear off in any kind of breeze in a dinghy without easing the sails, and you probably end up swimming. If you have only grown up sailing bigger cruising boats, you can use the big rudder and righting moment to simply overpower the sails. Of course, as it gets windy, this equation changes. Suddenly the sails are much bigger than the rudder. Your cruising boat becomes at the mercy of the sails as if it were a dinghy. To bear off you need to ease the sheets generously. Whatever it takes to reduce heel and unload the helm. Ideally when you head up, you want to let the sails do the work, trimming as you go. Though you can let the luffing of the sails make them easier to pull in.

Upwind trim

The basic concept when trying to sail upwind is to sheet the sails in hard so that you can sail the closest angle to the wind possible. But there are limits. First, you can’t sheet as hard in lighter winds or whenever the boat is slow for that matter. The boat needs to move through the water for the keel to work. If you over-trim, you will never get going. Start eased a bit. Gradually trim once you get up to speed. Remember the golden rule: “speed first; then pointing.” This also means you can’t pinch (try to cheat and sail extra high) in light to moderate conditions. You may want to get to that upwind destination, but you just can’t force it. Make sure the headsail telltales are streaming aft and use them to guide your steering.

Conversely, as it gets windy, you can shift from the telltales to the boat’s angle of heel. Once up to speed you can trim hard and maintain a constant angle of heel. Don’t fight the helm. Let the boat coast up in the puffs to keep it on its feet in the puffs. Let the telltales lift on the inside or even carry a tiny bit of luff. Bear off in the lulls. This technique is called “feathering.”

Reaching trim

Don’t over-trim! The most common mistake is to have the sails pulled in too far. Remember the first thing they drilled in when you were learning. “Let it out until it luffs. Bring in just enough to stop.” Pulling the sails in does not create power. It simply makes them stall. It also makes the sail forces go sideways and less in line with where you want the boat to go. You will be surprised about how far out they can go. Long before you are dead downwind the mainsail can probably be all the way out. For headsails, one of the most simple, powerful tools is to set up a reaching lead on the rail or as far outboard as you can go. Use a second sheet. This allows the lead to pull down properly so that the top of the sail doesn’t open up and luff (twist). It also creates space so you can ease the mainsail further without luffing. Lead position for reaching will be slightly forward of normal upwind setting.

Halyard tension

On a cruising boat we may not have all the cool tools to help adjust and refine trim, but some are common to all. I have been on hundreds of boats to do sail checks for new cruising sails, and one thing constantly astounds me. On the vast majority I find the halyards neatly coiled and tied off at the mast; where they have been since the sail was first hoisted or put on the furling system. Halyard tension has never been adjusted for sailing conditions. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all. Halyard tension (luff tension) needs to change as a function of apparent wind velocity. No matter what you make a sail out of there is going to be stretch in both the sail and the halyard.

The great thing is that it is simple to get right. This is not like tuning a violin. Look up at the luff and ease the halyard until you have wrinkles beginning to emanate perpendicular to the luff. Then, take up just enough tension to smooth them out. Since amount of tension required is a function of apparent wind velocity, you will probably need to make a change based on point of sail. Upwind higher apparent wind will require more tension. You can ease off when reaching and running. Keep the active halyard on a winch for easy adjustment. If adding tension, let the sail luff so that you do not have to fight it. Maintaining proper luff tension will help power up the boat in light air and de-power as it gets windier.

Just point and go right? It’s not that simple. In light air (under 10 knots) you will have little or no apparent wind to fill the sails if you try to go anywhere close to dead downwind. You need to head up to generate apparent wind velocity. This means tacking downwind as opposed to going straight. You will sail more distance but at a much faster (and more pleasant) rate. The basic rule is to head up far enough to create pressure and fill the sails. Fall off too far, and the clew will drop. You need to strike a balance, sailing as low as possible while maintaining a full sail.

Obviously, the type of sail you have up will make a big difference. This is where asymmetric spinnakers are the right tool for the job. Bigger, lighter, and more powerful than any upwind headsail, they are made for tacking downwind and will allow you to sail much broader angles in less wind. Once the wind builds to 10-12 knots, you will create enough apparent wind to sail more directly downwind. At this point, poling out an upwind headsail with a whisker pole becomes a good option, though an asymmetrical will still work well. 

This content was originally published on SpinSheet .

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small sailboat cruising tips

An Insider's Take on the Inside Passage

Tackling this fabled west coast circuit can be intimidating. but with a well-planned itinerary, sound boat, good crew — and these expert tips — it’s heaven on earth..


The Inside Passage up the West Coast is one of those bucket-list trips for many American and Canadian boaters. At more than 1,000 miles end to end, the network of passages that weave through the islands of the Pacific Northwest to Alaska contains a lifetime of places to explore. The Passage begins to the south at Olympia, Washington, in Puget Sound, then snakes its way north through more than 600 miles of Canada's British Columbia before winding through the southeast Alaska panhandle from Ketchikan, past Juneau, all the way north to Skagway.

Tracy Arm fjord

 Tracy Arm fjord, located south of Juneau, offers breathtaking views including waterfalls, sheer rock walls, icebergs, and a variety of wildlife, such as black bears. (Photos: Christine Smith)

The scenery is astonishing. This is a place of stark beauty and amazing contrasts. There are stunning high-sided fjords in the north sections with tidewater glaciers, miles upon miles of conifer-covered shorelines with secluded anchorages that include views of snow-capped mountains, remote fishing villages, and to the south, even a few big cities. There is wildlife everywhere: whales feeding in quiet passages, bears wandering along the beach, bald eagles perched in trees along the shore. Bring a wildlife guide, because the volume and variety of species are plentiful.

Killer whale

Killer whales are a common sight, most often between early May and early June, but may be spotted through September. (Photo: Christine Smith)

Best of all, it's almost entirely in protected waters, so is suitable for boats of any size within reason. The boating season in the region runs from early March through late October, and some boaters even cruise the southern sections in the winter. When it comes to boaters and bucket lists, these are cruising grounds that, once checked off, prompt an immediate urge to return. So, before you head north to Alaska, here are some simple tips that my wife, Christine, and I have developed, after completing this passage from Bellingham, Washington, all the way to southeast Alaska every charter season for several years aboard our 1929 converted 65-foot wood cannery tug.

10 Firsthand Tips To Make Your Own Inside Passage Cruise Safer And More Enjoyable:

1. have a reliable shoreside contact..

Shoreside Contact

A reliable shoreside contact is a must-have for Inside Passage cruisers.

This is hardly a full-time job, but someone to answer your texts or other communications, receive packages and ship them on to you, or occasionally pass on a weather report, is invaluable. Mostly, it's nice to know you have a contact person, and it may only cost you flowers and a bottle of wine.

2. Get a satellite texting device.

There isn't cellphone coverage for much of the Inside Passage, so these little devices allow you to send and receive a short text message from anywhere. We use a Garmin inReach (about $300), but it's also available from SPOT. Not only can you contact people, you can have it track you so others can see where you are and know you're OK. More than once, my sister has checked in on us because we hadn't moved for a day or two. (We were fine.) We now carry two and use the other in our skiff for exploring and shore excursions. In some of the high-sided fjords, VHF is useless, but the inReach comes through.

3. Sign up to be a "Known Shipper" with Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Inner Loop Map

This little detail can save you tons of hassle. Alaska Airlines has a fantastic air-cargo system called Goldstreak that you can use to get parts (or almost anything else) shipped in case of a breakdown. Even if you have to hire a local to do the repair, being able to get the parts can mean the difference between being stuck at a dock for days or continuing on.

Our system is to buy the part/piece/ equipment and have it overnighted to our shoreside person. We've even done this via the inReach. She takes it to the airport, and we get it later the next day. You may never need this, but it only takes a few minutes to sign up , although it takes a while to get approved.

In the southern half of the British Columbia coast, Kenmore Air offers floatplane passenger service to a number of locations. It's also able to transport boat parts, so if you're broken down in that area, the company can help. Because of the international border, there are some simple requirements: It can only transport "emergency boat parts to U.S.-registered vessels in distress" in its northern service areas (Campbell River and the Northern Inside Passage). Make sure your shoreside person can provide Kenmore with a receipt or invoice showing its value, too, because Canadian Customs (CBSA) will require it for all items, new or refurbished.

4. Get a good tide and current guide.

Trio of Guidebooks

The tidal rapids in the southern section of the Inside Passage can cause anxiety among first-time cruisers, but they're surprisingly easy if you show up at the right time, at slack water. And while most electronic navigation programs will have the times of slack and max, the paper guide will confirm it for you, and give you peace of mind. There are lots of choices for a paper guide. We use Ports and Passes even though it's available on our Navionics, OpenCPN, and Coastal Explorer. Once you know the time of slack water, plan so you arrive a little early and you can go right through. If you're going in the direction of the tide, that's the perfect accelerator; use it to your advantage by positioning yourself at the right time.

5. Get the right guidebooks.

People fret a lot about what to buy. There are so many choices of cruising guides. There are numerous guides for sections of the trip, the San Juans, the Broughtons, the Secret Coast, and so on. But the guides that cover the most area with the most information are the "Exploring" books: Exploring the South Coast of B.C. , Exploring the North Coast of B.C., and Exploring Southeast Alaska . They also offer the best picture of cruising in this area. For wildlife guides, you'll want The Sibley Guide to Birds, Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, and Nature of Southeast Alaska .

6. Don't get too stressed about spares.

Trying to figure out what to bring for spares stresses out a lot of first-time Inside Passage cruisers. Alaska and the B.C. coast are well stocked, and even if you need something and can't get it locally, you should be able to have it air freighted to you. Focus on parts that break or clog or wear out, like rubber impellers, fuel filters, and engine belts. Things you could fix by yourself in a remote wilderness anchorage are useful. A box of oil filters takes up precious space, even if they are cheaper in the lower 48.

Things To Remember If You Go:

  • Bring fishing and/or crabbing gear. It's some of the best salmon, halibut, and Dungeness crab fishing in the world. (You'll want to get your fishing licenses online beforehand. For Alaska waters, go to and select Fishing>Licenses & Permits. For Canadian waters, go to and select Fisheries>Recreational Fishing>British Columbia Recreational Fishing.)
  • Bring foulies and warm clothes. The weather can be wet, and temperatures get mighty chilly as you approach glaciers.
  • Make a point of visiting the small towns along the way. They are interesting and welcoming. You'll learn a lot about local history and indigenous people, and you'll get a real taste of the rugged folks who choose to live in this remote wilderness.
  • Be aware of the many large cruise ships in the area. Not only are they intimidating, their wakes are large and sometimes bounce off narrow passages, and they can roll your boat for a surprisingly long time. Try to keep items carefully stowed as if you were going to sea so you'll be ready when you encounter them.
  • Don't count on much sailing. Winds are often nonexistent or light from the north, or strong southeasterly with uncomfortable seas.
  • If it's possible, anchor pretty far from shore and bring bug spray. The bugs aren't usually bad, but when they are, the mosquitoes are Alaska-sized.
  • You'll want some bear spray , which is sold all along the route and is very effective for defusing an aggressive bear encounter. It's what the Alaska guides use, plus, it's legal to carry through Canada. (Handguns are not.)
  • Carry a lot of anchor rode and be prepared to anchor in a lot of really deep places. A reel of small line is useful for adding a stern tie to a tree on the beach, a common anchoring practice in deep harbors. Some of the most beautiful anchorages are 50- to 100-feet deep.
  • You'll encounter many whales. The laws say to not bring your boat within 100 yards (100 meters in Canada) and more in some areas, and you'll get a much longer show if you watch from a distance and don't disturb the animals.

— Charles Fort

7. Carry a good emergency kit for boat repairs.

Most people know about softwood plugs or TruPlug that you can use to stop a leak in an emergency. But my kit contains a few other items that have been helpful at times. Dr. Shrink Tape is amazing stuff that sticks to absolutely everything and can make a quick patch of a crack in your topsides or a leaky skylight or hatch. It may not be pretty, but it will allow you to continue cruising in comfort. A product called Through the Roof is a great sealant that works even in the rain (we've even used it underwater). A can of spray foam and a couple tubes of 3M 5200 (get the toothpaste- tube style) are also worth carrying. Also, add some super glue to the list.

8. Check on your insurance.

Most boat insurance policies have limits for where you can take your boat and still be insured. Insurance through BoatUS covers people with a U.S. address while they're cruising in Alaska, and you can get a seasonal extension for Canada. You typically need to ask for an extension, and sometimes there's an additional charge. If it's based on a latitude and you plan to cruise the entire Inside Passage, make sure you choose 59° 27.0N (Skagway, Alaska). Most other companies offer similar coverage. Towing is usually included, even in Canada. But a quick email to your company would confirm that you're covered for the area you want to cruise.

9. Take the boat you've got.

No matter what size or age of vessel, you're still going to watch the weather and navigate based on your craft. Also, a boat you're familiar with is going to be less stressful to cruise in than a new-to-you boat. Your voyage should be about exploring, seeing the scenery, and learning about wildlife along the way. If you don't have a boat, there are many options like bareboat chartering with a cruising in company flotilla offered by Northwest Explorations and others. There are also several good options for smaller chartering opportunities on crewed charter boats.

10. Take enough time to do it right.

There's nothing worse than having to rush home without seeing as much as you'd hoped, or skipping beautiful spots because of time constraints. Being in a rush is also a good way to force you to make bad weather decisions. Six weeks is the very absolute minimum, and 12 to 18 weeks would really allow you to immerse yourselves. If you have other summer commitments, you can always leave your boat and fly out, returning when your outside commitments are done. Take as long as you possibly can. Trust me on this. Take your boat and go.

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Jeffrey Smith

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

Jeffrey Smith has been captain or mate on many types of boats and ships in waterways from coast to coast. He and his wife, Christine, share the summer beauty of tidewater glaciers with their charter guests aboard the restored 1929 motor vessel.

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Home » Blog » Buy a boat » 5 best small sailboats for sailing around the world

5 best small sailboats for sailing around the world

By Author Fiona McGlynn

Posted on Last updated: April 19, 2023

sailing around the world

A small sailboat can take you big places

Small sailboats are the ticket to going cruising NOW — not when you retire, save up enough money, or find the “perfect” bluewater cruising boat. In fact, it’s the first principle in Lin and Larry Pardey’s cruising philosophy: “Go small, go simple, go now.”

Small yachts can be affordable, simple, and seaworthy . However, you won’t see many of them in today’s cruising grounds. In three years and 13,000 nautical miles of bluewater cruising, I could count the number of under 30-foot sailboats I’ve seen on one hand (all of them were skippered by people in their 20s and 30s).

Today’s anchorages are full of 40, 50, and 60-foot-plus ocean sailboats, but that’s not to say you can’t sail the world in a small sailboat. Just look at Alessandro di Benedetto who in 2010 broke the record for the smallest boat to sail around the world non-stop in his 21-foot Mini 6.5 .

So long as you don’t mind forgoing a few comforts, you can sail around the world on a small budget .

dinghy boat

What makes a good blue water sailboat

While you might not think a small sailboat is up to the task of going long distances, some of the best bluewater sailboats are under 40 feet.

However, if you’re thinking about buying a boat for offshore cruising, there are a few things to know about what makes a small boat offshore capable .

Smaller equals slower

Don’t expect to be sailing at high speeds in a pocket cruiser. Smaller displacement monohulls are always going to be slower than larger displacement monohulls (see the video below to learn why smaller boats are slower). Therefore a smaller cruiser is going to take longer on a given passage, making them more vulnerable to changes in weather.

A few feet can make a big difference over a week-long passage. On the last leg of our Pacific Ocean crossing, our 35-foot sailboat narrowly avoid a storm that our buddy boat, a 28-foot sailboat, couldn’t. Our friend was only a knot slower but it meant he had to heave to for a miserable three days.

pocket cruiser

Small but sturdy

If a pocket cruiser encounters bad weather, they will be less able to outrun or avoid it. For this reason, many of the blue water sailboats in this list are heavily built and designed to take a beating.

Yacht design has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. Today, new boats are designed to be light and fast. The small sailboats in our list are 30-plus year-old designs and were built in a time when weather forecasts were less accurate and harder to come by.

Back in the day, boat were constructed with thicker fiberglass hulls than you see in modern builds. Rigs, keels, rudders, hulls and decks – everything about these small cruising sailboats was designed to stand up to strong winds and big waves. Some of the boats in this post have skeg-hung rudders and most of them are full keel boats.

The pros and cons of pocket cruiser sailboats

Pocket cruiser sailboats present certain advantages and disadvantages.

More affordable

Their smaller size makes them affordable bluewater sailboats. You can often find great deals on pocket cruisers and sometimes you can even get them for free.

You’ll also save money on retrofits and repairs because small cruising sailboats need smaller boat parts (which cost a lot less) . For example, you can get away with smaller sails, ground tackle, winches, and lighter lines than on a bigger boat.

Moorage, haul-outs, and marine services are often billed by foot of boat length . A small sailboat makes traveling the world , far more affordable!

When something major breaks (like an engine) it will be less costly to repair or replace than it would be on a bigger boat.

how to remove rusted screw

Less time consuming

Smaller boats tend to have simpler systems which means you’ll spend less time fixing and paying to maintain those systems. For example, most small yachts don’t have showers, watermakers , hot water, and electric anchor windlasses.

On the flip side, you’ll spend more time collecting water (the low-tech way) . On a small sailboat, this means bucket baths, catching fresh water in your sails, and hand-bombing your anchor. Though less convenient, this simplicity can save you years of preparation and saving to go sailing.

Oh, and did I mention that you’ll become a complete water meiser? Conserving water aboard becomes pretty important when you have to blue-jug every drop of it from town back to your boat.

Easier to sail

Lastly, smaller boats can be physically easier to sail , just think of the difference between raising a sail on a 25-foot boat versus a 50-foot boat! You can more easily single-hand or short-hand a small sailboat. For that reason, some of the best solo blue water sailboats are quite petite.

As mentioned above small boats are slow boats and will arrive in port, sometimes days (and even weeks) behind their faster counterparts on long offshore crossings.

Consider this scenario: two boats crossed the Atlantic on a 4,000 nautical mile route. The small boat averaged four miles an hour, while the big boat averaged seven miles an hour. If both started at the same time, the small boat will have completed the crossing two weeks after the larger sailboat!

Less spacious

Living on a boat can be challenging — living on a small sailboat, even more so! Small cruising boats don’t provide much in the way of living space and creature comforts.

Not only will you have to downsize when you move onto a boat  you’ll also have to get pretty creative when it comes to boat storage.

It also makes it more difficult to accommodate crew for long periods which means there are fewer people to share work and night shifts.

If you plan on sailing with your dog , it might put a small boat right out of the question (depending on the size of your four-legged crew member).

boat galley storage ideas

Less comfortable

It’s not just the living situation that is less comfortable, the sailing can be pretty uncomfortable too! Pocket cruisers tend to be a far less comfortable ride than larger boats as they are more easily tossed about in big ocean swell.

Here are our 5 favorite small blue water sailboats for sailing around the world

When we sailed across the Pacific these were some of the best small sailboats that we saw. Their owners loved them and we hope you will too!

The boats in this list are under 30 feet. If you’re looking for something slightly larger, you might want to check out our post on the best bluewater sailboats under 40 feet .

Note: Price ranges are based on and listings for Aug. 2018

Albin Vega 27($7-22K USD)

small sailboats

The Albin Vega has earned a reputation as a bluewater cruiser through adventurous sailors like Matt Rutherford, who in 2012 completed a 309-day solo nonstop circumnavigation of the Americas via Cape Horn and the Northwest Passage (see his story in the documentary Red Dot on the Ocean ). 

  • Hull Type: Long fin keel
  • Hull Material: GRP (fibreglass)
  • Length Overall:27′ 1″ / 8.25m
  • Waterline Length:23′ 0″ / 7.01m
  • Beam:8′ 1″ / 2.46m
  • Draft:3′ 8″ / 1.12m
  • Rig Type: Masthead sloop rig
  • Displacement:5,070lb / 2,300kg
  • Designer:Per Brohall
  • Builder:Albin Marine AB (Swed.)
  • Year First Built:1965
  • Year Last Built:1979
  • Number Built:3,450

Cape Dory 28 ($10-32K USD) 

small sailboat

This small cruising sailboat is cute and classic as she is rugged and roomy. With at least one known circumnavigation and plenty of shorter bluewater voyages, the Cape Dory 28 has proven herself offshore capable.

  • Hull Type: Full Keel
  • Length Overall:28′ 09″ / 8.56m
  • Waterline Length:22′ 50″ / 6.86m
  • Beam:8’ 11” / 2.72m
  • Draft:4’ 3” / 1.32m
  • Rig Type:Masthead Sloop
  • Displacement:9,300lb / 4,218kg
  • Sail Area/Displacement Ratio:52
  • Displacement/Length Ratio:49
  • Designer: Carl Alberg
  • Builder: Cape Dory Yachts (USA)
  • Year First Built:1974
  • Year Last Built:1988
  • Number Built: 388

Dufour 29 ($7-23K)

small sailboat

As small bluewater sailboats go, the Dufour 29 is a lot of boat for your buck. We know of at least one that sailed across the Pacific last year. Designed as a cruiser racer she’s both fun to sail and adventure-ready. Like many Dufour sailboats from this era, she comes equipped with fiberglass molded wine bottle holders. Leave it to the French to think of everything!

  • Hull Type: Fin with skeg-hung rudder
  • Length Overall:29′ 4″ / 8.94m
  • Waterline Length:25′ 1″ / 7.64m
  • Beam:9′ 8″ / 2.95m
  • Draft:5′ 3″ / 1.60m
  • Displacement:7,250lb / 3,289kg
  • Designer:Michael Dufour
  • Builder:Dufour (France)
  • Year First Built:1975
  • Year Last Built:1984

Vancouver 28 ($15-34K)

most seaworthy small boat

A sensible small boat with a “go-anywhere” attitude, this pocket cruiser was designed with ocean sailors in mind. One of the best cruising sailboats under 40 feet, the Vancouver 28 is great sailing in a small package.

  • Hull Type:Full keel with transom hung rudder
  • Length Overall: 28′ 0″ / 8.53m
  • Waterline Length:22’ 11” / 6.99m
  • Beam:8’ 8” / 2.64m
  • Draft:4’ 4” / 1.32m
  • Rig Type: Cutter rig
  • Displacement:8,960lb / 4,064 kg
  • Designer: Robert B Harris
  • Builder: Pheon Yachts Ltd. /Northshore Yachts Ltd.
  • Year First Built:1986
  • Last Year Built: 2007
  • Number Built: 67

Westsail 28 ($30-35K)

small sailboat

Described in the 1975 marketing as “a hearty little cruiser”, the Westsail 28 was designed for those who were ready to embrace the cruising life. Perfect for a solo sailor or a cozy cruising couple!

  • Hull Type: Full keel with transom hung rudder
  • Hull Material:GRP (fibreglass)
  • Length Overall:28′ 3” / 8.61m
  • Waterline Length:23’ 6” / 7.16m
  • Beam:9’ 7” / 2.92m
  • Displacement:13,500lb / 6,124kg
  • Designer: Herb David
  • Builder: Westsail Corp. (USA)
  • Number Built:78

Feeling inspired? Check out the “go small” philosophy of this 21-year-old who set sail in a CS 27.

Fiona McGlynn

Fiona McGlynn is an award-winning boating writer who created Waterborne as a place to learn about living aboard and traveling the world by sailboat. She has written for boating magazines including BoatUS, SAIL, Cruising World, and Good Old Boat. She’s also a contributing editor at Good Old Boat and BoatUS Magazine. In 2017, Fiona and her husband completed a 3-year, 13,000-mile voyage from Vancouver to Mexico to Australia on their 35-foot sailboat.

Saturday 1st of September 2018

Very useful list, but incomplete - as it would necessarily be, considering the number of seaworthy smaller boats that are around.

In particular, you missed/omitted the Westerly "Centaur" and its follow-on model, the "Griffon". 26 feet LOA, bilge-keelers, weighing something over 6000 pounds, usually fitted with a diesel inboard.

OK, these are British designs, and not that common in the US, but still they do exist, they're built like tanks, and it's rumored that at least one Centaur has circumnavigated.

Friday 31st of August 2018

This is a helpful list, thank you. I don't think most people would consider a 28' boat a pocket cruiser, though!

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Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere

John Vigor turns the spotlight on twenty seaworthy sailboats that are at home on the ocean in all weather. These are old fiberglass boats, mostly of traditional design and strong construction. All are small, from 20 feet to 32 feet overall, but all have crossed oceans, and all are cheap.

Choosing the right boat to take you across an ocean or around the world can be confusing and exasperating, particularly with a tight budget. Vigor sets out to remedy that in this book. He compares the designs and handling characteristics of 20 different boats whose secondhand market prices start at about $3,000. Interviews with experienced owners (featuring valuable tips about handling each boat in heavy weather) are interspersed with line drawings of hulls, sail plans, and accommodations. Vigor has unearthed the known weaknesses of each boat and explains how to deal with them. He rates their comparative seaworthiness, their speed, and the number of people they can carry in comfort. If you have ever dreamed the dream this book can help you turn it into reality.

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How To Sail a Small Sailboat

How To Sail a Small Sailboat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

August 30, 2022

Sailing is a skill that takes time and practice to learn and perfect. Learning how to sail a small sailboat requires onshore and offshore activities.

Sailing heavily depends on the wind, and setting the sails right is a crucial sailing element. If you do not adjust the sails according to the wind, your boat will not move and, in worst cases, may even capsize.

Sailing is a skill that gets better with practice. There are several factors that you need to understand when sailing. These include the wind direction, how to turn and steer the boat, adjusting the sails, and finally, how to slow down and come to a stop.

Many novice sailors find handling the sailboat a daunting task. You have to take care of so many controls, including the tiller, the sails, and the centerboard.

Experienced sailors believe that new sailors should avoid taking their sailboats into open waters until they have gotten the hang of the water and the sailboat. Sailboats have tall sails, which make them prone to capsizing. Inexperienced sailors should either take courses on sailing or learn by going out with a friend before they head on their solo adventures.

Table of contents

‍ How To Sail a Small Sailboat

Before heading out on your next boating adventure, you need to consider several factors. As the wind powers your boat, the first thing you need to understand is how wind strength and direction affect your boat. You will also need to learn how to handle the tiller. If you have been driving any road vehicle, you may not be surprised to see a vast difference between how a car and a boat handle.

Understanding Wind Direction

Wind plays a crucial role in how fast and the direction in which your sailboat will move. It is impossible to sail into a headwind. But you can sail around 45 degrees to headwind.

  • When sailing 45 degrees to the oncoming wind, this is known in sailor jargon as the boat is close-hauled.
  • When you are sailing with the wind coming from either side or almost 90 degrees to the boat, it is known for the boat to be on a beam reach.
  • When you are sailing at a wide-angle in the direction of the wind. For instance, say that you need to head north, and the wind is coming from North East, the boat is called to be on a broad reach.
  • If you are lucky and have the wind in the direction you are heading, your boat is known to be running.

Positioning Your Boat

It is crucial to be aware of the position of your sailboat in relation to the wind direction. This allows you to adjust the sails and balance the weight in your boat. For beginners, you can tie small wind vanes, which can be simple yarn strands on the boat to let you know where the wind is coming from.

What Affects Wind Direction

As you sail through the wind, your boat will also alter the wind direction. Since the boat has a giant sail, it creates its own wind as the boat moves forward. This wind is known as apparent wind. For instance, your boat is moving on a beam reach, where the true wind is coming from the side of the boat.

As you move through the wind, your boat makes its own apparent wind. The true and apparent winds combine, causing the wind direction to change. This can lead your boat to be on a close haul rather than on a beam reach. What matters, in the end, is how much resulting wind there is in your sails and the direction it is coming from.

Getting Ready To Sail

The best method to start sailing is to take the boat on from a point such as an anchor line or a mooring buoy. The wind will push the boat backward and out into the open waters as you get into the boat and set the sails up.

Moving stern first is acceptable when being pushed out of the marina, but this is not the direction in which we will want to continue sailing. You will have to turn the boat around so that wind is pushing the boat bow first.

Turning To Set Direction

As you come out of the marina, you will need to adjust your sails to change direction. Remember, boats require time to respond and need patience above all else.

The first step is to push the boom out of both sides of the boat. This will cause the wind to blow against the sail's back and not past its sides, causing the boat to rotate. As you pull in the sail and set its direction, the boat will begin to correct its course. Once you are in the right direction, you can tighten the mainsail and be well on your way.

Starting From A Beach Or A Dock

Starting from a beach or an enclosed dock can be quite challenging. If the wind pushes the boat sideways into the dock, it is next to impossible to sail out of the dock. In such a scenario, it would be best if you could walk your boat like a pet to the dock's end and attempt to turn it around to face the wind. You can then follow the procedure described above to allow the boat to come out of the marina.

Your boat will not move if the sails are not taut. As soon as you tighten the sails, the wind will move the boat, and you can then set the direction to your preference.

Steering The Boat

Now that you have set the direction and are moving in the correct direction, you will need to maintain direction and be able to steer the boat through the water. Before you begin to steer the sailboat, you must ensure that you are sitting in the direction opposite the sail. This is usually the direction from which the wind is blowing.

When the wind blows against the sails, it can cause your boat to tilt in their direction. Your body weight will counter the tilting effect and keep the boat level.

Using The Tiller

The sailboat is equipped with a rudder. As your boat picks up speed, you can use the rudder to steer the boat. A little tiller usually controls the rudder. The tiller takes some time to get used to. The reason for this is that it works in opposite directions. For instance, if you want to make the boat turn right (towards the starboard side), you will have to push the tiller to the left (towards the port side) and vice versa.

The rudder is hinged in line with the tiller. When you move the tiller in one direction, it moves the rudder. For instance, the rudder will extend towards the starboard side if you push the tiller to the port side. The water flowing will push against the rudder, and the resistance from the rudder will rotate the boat towards the starboard side .

The tiller can be tricky to use. Ensure that you make minor adjustments to the tiller until you get used to how it moves your boat.

Handling The Sails

There is one rule that you must remember when positioning your sails. If you are sailing towards the wind, you will have to pull in the sails more. Similarly, if you are on a broad reach and sailing in the direction of the wind, you will have to extend the sails more.

When the sails are extended and you are on a broad reach, you will notice that the boat tilts to the side the sails are on. You must seat yourself so that you counter the tilting effect.

Sail Trimming

No, you don't need a pair of scissors for this. A sail comprises multiple sheets, and adjusting these sheets is known as trimming the sail. Your goal with trimming the sail is to give the sail the best possible shape to make maximum use of the wind.

Mainsail Trimming

When trimming the mainsail, you will have to make sure that it is tight enough so that the sail's leading edge is not flapping or shaking. At the same time, you have to ensure that it is not too tight, causing the wind to blow against only one side of the sail. This can cause the boat to tilt to one side.

Leaving the edge loose means you will lose efficiency. The wind energy will be used to flap the sail instead of pushing your boat forward. This unwarranted movement of the sail is known as luffing, which can significantly reduce the boat's efficiency.

Adjusting The Mainsheet

One method to trim the mainsail is to let the mainsheet out until the mainsail starts to luff. Then slowly pull in the sheet, and stop as soon as the sail stops luffing.

If the sail is too tight, you will be able to judge by its appearance. The sail will have no slack and will look perfect. The only way to correct the tightness is to loosen it until it starts to luff, then tighten it gradually, and stop as soon as the luff is gone.

Trimming The Jib

Adjusting the jib also follows the same procedure as the sail. The goal is to loosen the sail until it starts to luff and then tighten it back up until there is no luffing. Like the mainsail, the appearance of the job will have a lot to say about its tightness.

Some sailboats have streamers on the leading edge of the jib, which depict airflow direction over it. When the sail is in the correct trim setting, the streamers will blow straight and on both sides around the sail.

Another factor to consider when adjusting the jib is the space between the mainsail and the jib. The gap, known as the slot, has to be the same from front and back. This ensures that wind flows smoothly between the sails, making the setup efficient. If either is too tight or loose, the slot will obstruct the wind flow, causing turbulence and slowing the boat down.

Turning The Boat

The most crucial part of sailing is always being aware of the wind direction. This becomes even more important when you are planning to turn the boat. If you are careless while making the turn and accidentally turn the wrong way, you may capsize the boat .

There are three common types of turns that you can make with sailboats.

Sailing Close Hauled

If the wind is coming at you head-on from either side, and you are close hauled, check for the direction of the wind. If it is blowing from the starboard side, turn the boat towards the right so that you point your bow into the wind. Continue turning until the wind is now coming to your port side. This technique is called tacking, which involves turning into the wind.

Sailing Broad Reach

If the wind is coming from either side or slightly behind you, you can turn so that the stern of your boat becomes head-on with the wind. For instance, if the wind is coming from the starboard side, you will turn left to make sure the wind hits the stern. This technique is known as jibing, and it allows you to make the turn downwind.

No Wind Crossing

This technique can be used if you want to make small turns. Say you are sailing close-hauled with wind flowing from your port side. You turn left, and now the wind is approaching from the side, and you begin to sail broad reach. The wind remains on your starboard side, but the direction has changed.

How To Position The Sails

For the initial two types of turns, where you will be crossing the wind with your stern or bow, the sails will have to be crossed over to the opposing side. You will also need to change your seating location to make sure you sit opposite the sails.

Since crossing the wind requires a lot of work, most sailors prefer to turn without crossing the wind. All you need to do is make small trimmings to the sail to keep you going in the right direction for this type of turn. With experience, you will be able to adjust the sails during your turn.

Remember, the closer the wind direction is to your bow, the more you will need to pull in the sails. The closer the wind direction is to your stern, the more you want your sails to be open. While turning, it would be best to keep one hand on the mainsail if you need to adjust its direction to prevent your boat from being blown in random directions.

The Centerboard

You will notice a thin and long blade of metal or fiberglass hanging from the boat's center and into the water. This component is called the centerboard, and it helps resist the sideways movement of the boat. You can raise or lower the centerboard at your discretion.

When you are sailing, the wind comes from either the left or right of the boat. If the wind is strong enough, it can push the boat to one side. Lowering the centerboard will cause it to act as a keel and prevent the boat from veering off in the wind direction.

When you are sailing along with the wind, you will have the wind coming from the rear of the boat, and it will have little influence from either side. In such a scenario, you will not need the centerboard. Raising the centerboard will reduce the drag, allowing you to sail faster.

As a beginner, it is recommended to keep the centerboard down. Who knows when it may save you? You don't have to be too concerned about it, as you have more important things such as the sail to worry about.

Slowing Down and Stopping

When it comes to sailing, speed is thrilling. Going fast is fun, but in a sailboat, speed is an achievement. The only thing more important than going fast is knowing how to slow down, such as when coming to a stop or avoiding an obstacle along the way.

Theoretically, to slow down, you have to do the opposite of what you would do if you wanted to speed up. This means that you will want to ensure that any wind that falls on your sails gets wasted or "spilled."

The best way to do this is to let out and loosen the sails until they begin to luff. If you need to slow down faster, you can loosen them further until they start to flap. If you plan to come to a stop, you can let the sails flap continuously.

However, if you are heading downwind or running, the mainsail should not be pushed out. Instead, you can pull it in as much as possible so the sail will not collect any wind. With no wind in the sails, your boat will slow down.

The simplest way to stop the boat is to turn it towards the wind. This will ensure maximum resistance and bring the boat to a halt.

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10 Best Small Sailboats (Under 20 Feet)

Are Small Sailboats or Big Sailboats Faster?

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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How to Rig Your Small Sailboat and Prepare to Sail

In this lesson, you will learn how to rig a small sailboat to prepare for sailing. For reference purposes, a Hunter 140 daysailer was used for this learn-to sail tutorial. Before you begin, you can familiarize yourself with the different parts of a sailboat. 

Install (or Check) the Rudder

Typically the rudder of a small sailboat like this one is removed after sailing to prevent wear and tear while the boat remains in the water. You need to reinstall it before sailing, or if it is already in place, check that that it is firmly attached (with optional safety lanyard securing it to the boat).

On most small boats, the top of the leading edge of the rudder has attached pins (called pintles) that are inserted downward into round rings (called gudgeons) attached to the stern. This is rather like the familiar “Insert tab A into slot B.” While the exact configuration may vary among different boat models, it’s usually obvious how the rudder mounts to the stern when you hold the rudder beside the stern.

The rudder may or may not already have a tiller mounted on it. The next page shows how to attach the tiller on this boat.

Attach (or Check) the Tiller

The tiller is a long, thin steering “arm” mounted to the rudder. If the tiller is already attached to the top of the rudder on your boat, check that it is secure.

On this Hunter 140, the tiller arm is inserted in a slot at the top of the rudder, as shown here. A pin is then inserted from above to lock it in position. The pin should be tied to the boat with a lanyard (short light line) to prevent being dropped.

Note that this tiller also includes a tiller extension, which allows the sailor to still control the tiller even when sitting far out to the side or forward.

With the rudder and tiller in place, we’ll now move on to the sails.

Attach the Jib Halyard

Because sunlight and weather age and weaken sailcloth, the sails should always be removed after sailing (or covered or bagged on a larger boat). Before you get started, you have to put them back on (called “bending on” the sails).

The halyards are used to raise both the jib and mainsail. At the sail’s end of a halyard is a shackle that attaches the grommet at the head of the sail to the halyard.

First, spread out the sail and identify each of its corners. The “head” is the top of the sail, where the triangle is the most narrow. Attach the jib halyard shackle to this corner, making sure the shackle is closed and secure.

Then follow the front edge of the sail (called the “luff”) down to the next corner. The luff of the jib of a small sailboat can be identified by the hanks every foot or so that attach this edge to the forestay. The bottom corner of the luff is called the sail’s “tack.” Attach the grommet in the tack to the fitting at the bottom of the forestay -- usually with a shackle or pin. Next, we’ll hank on the sail.

Hank the Jib on the Forestay

Hanking on the jib is a simple process, but it can feel unwieldy if the wind is blowing the sail in your face.

First, find the other end of the jib halyard (on the port, or left, side of the mast as you face the bow of the boat) and keep a good grip on it with one hand. You will be slowly pulling it in to raise the sail as you hank it on.

Beginning with the hank nearest the head of the jib, open it to clip the hank onto the forestay. It will be obvious how to open the hanks, which are usually spring-loaded to close automatically when released.

Then raise the sail a little by pulling on the halyard. Making sure there isn’t any twist in the sail, attach the second hank. Raise the sail a little more and move on to the third hank. Keep working your way down the luff, raising the sail a little at a time to make sure it isn’t twisted and the hanks are all in order.

When all the hanks are attached, lower the jib back down to the deck while you route the jib sheets in the next step.

Run the Jibsheets

The jib sail is positioned while sailing by using the jibsheets. The jib sheets are two lines that come back to the cockpit, one on each side of the boat, from the aft lower corner of the sail (the “clew”).

In most small sailboats, the jib sheets are left tied to the sail’s clew and stay with the sail. On your boat, however, the jibsheets may remain on the boat and need to be tied or shackled to the clew at this stage. Unless there is a shackle on the sheets, use a bowline to tie each to the clew.

Then run each sheet back past the mast to the cockpit. Depending on the specific boat and the size of the jib, the sheets may run inside or outside the shrouds -- the tensile lines that run from the deck to the mast, holding in place. On the Hunter 140 shown here, which uses a relatively small jib, the jibsheets pass from the sail’s clew inside the shrouds to a cam cleat, on each side, as shown here. The starboard (right side as you face the bow)) jibsheet cleat (with the red top) is mounted on the deck just to the starboard of this sailor’s right knee. This cleat secures the jibsheet in the desired position while sailing.

With the jib now rigged, let's move on to the mainsail.

Attach Mainsail to Halyard

Now we’ll attach the mainsail halyard shackle to the head of the mainsail, a process very similar to attaching the jib halyard. First spread the mainsail out to identify its three corners as you did with the jib. The head of the sail, again, is the most narrow angle of the triangle.

On many small sailboats, the main halyard does double duty as a topping lift -- the line that holds up the aft end of the boom when it is not being held up by the sail. As shown here, when the halyard is removed from the boom, the boom drops down into the cockpit.

Here, this sailor is shackling the halyard to the head of the mainsail. Then he can go on to secure the sail’s tack in the next step.

Secure the Mainsail’s Tack

The forward lower corner of the mainsail, like that of the jib, is called the tack. The grommet of the tack is installed at the bow end, usually by a removable pin inserted through the grommet and secured on the boom.

Now the luff (leading edge) of the mainsail is secured at both the head and the tack.

The next step is to secure the clew (aft lower corner) and foot (bottom edge) of the sail to the boom.

Secure the Mainsail Clew to the Outhaul

The clew (aft lower corner) of the mainsail is secured to the aft end of the boom, usually using a line called the outhaul that can be adjusted to tension the foot of the sail.

The sail’s foot (the bottom edge) itself may or may not be secured directly to the boom. On some boats, a rope sewn into the foot (called the boltrope) slides into a groove in the boom. The clew enters the groove first, forward by the mast, and is pulled back in the groove until the whole sail’s foot is held to the boom in this groove.

The boat shown here uses a “loose-footed” mainsail. This means the sail is not inserted into the boom groove. But the clew is held at the end of the boom in the same way by the outhaul. Thus both ends of the sail’s foot are firmly attached to the sail and drawn tight -- making the sail work the same as if the whole foot was also in the groove.

A loose-footed mainsail allows for more sail shaping, but the sail cannot be flattened quite as much.

With the clew secured and outhaul tightened, the mainsail luff can now be secured to the mast and the sail raised to go sailing.

Insert the Mainsail Slugs in the Mast

The mainsail’s luff (forward edge) is attached to the mast, as the jib’s luff is to the forestay – but with a different mechanism.

On the aft side of the mast is a groove for the mainsail. Some sails have a boltrope on the luff that slides upward in this groove, while others have sail “slugs” mounted every foot or so on the luff. The sail slugs, as you can see in this photo just forward of the sailor’s right hand, are small plastic slides inserted into the mast groove where it widens out into a sort of gate.

Again, first inspect the whole sail to make sure it’s not twisted anywhere. Hold the main halyard in one hand during this process – you will be gradually raising the mainsail as you insert the slugs into the mast groove.

Begin with the sail slug at the head. Insert it into the groove, pull the halyard to raise the sail a little, and then insert the next slug.

Before completing this process, be sure you’re ready to go sailing soon after the mainsail is up.

Continue Raising the Mainsail

Continue raising the mainsail with the halyard as you insert one slug after another into the groove.

Note that this sail already has its battens in place. A batten is a long, thin, flexible strip of wood or fiberglass that helps the sail keep its proper shape. They are positioned in pockets sewn into the sail in a generally horizontal direction. In this photo, you can see a batten near the top of the blue section of the mainsail over the sailor’s head.

If the battens were removed from the sail, you would insert them back into their pockets either before beginning to rig the boat or now, as you raise the mainsail in stages.

Cleat the Main Halyard

When the mainsail is all the way up, pull hard on the halyard to tension the luff. Then tie the halyard to the cleat on the mast, using a cleat hitch.

Notice that the mainsail when fully raised holds the boom up.

Now you’re almost ready to go sailing. This is a good time to lower the centerboard down into the water if you haven’t done so already. Note that not all small sailboats have centerboards. Others have keels that are fixed in place. Both serve similar purposes: to prevent the boat from skating sideways in the wind and to stabilize the boat. Larger keels also help lift the boat to windward

Now you should raise the jib. Simply pull down on the jib halyard and cleat it on the other side of the mast.

Start Moving

With both sails raised, you’re ready to start sailing . One of the first steps to getting underway will be to tighten the mainsheet and one jibsheet to adjust the sails so you can get moving forward.

You may also need to turn the boat so that the wind fills the sails from one side. A boat on a mooring, such as shown here, will naturally be blown back such that the bow faces directly into the wind – the one direction you can’t sail! Being stalled facing the wind is called being "in irons."

To turn the boat out of irons, simply push the boom out to one side. This pushes the back of the mainsail into the wind (called "backing" the sail) -- and the wind pushing against the sail will start the boat rotating. Just be sure you’re ready to take off!

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15 Tips for Buying a Sailboat

  • By Peter Berman
  • Updated: October 2, 2019

boat buying

Run a dinghy around any major harbor in the world’s far-flung cruising grounds, and it’s quickly apparent that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” cruising boat. But if you’re in the market for buying a used sailboat or cruiser, the essentials are nearly universal for every sailor: You need a boat that you can readily afford (including the refit and/or outfitting), that meets your specific needs (­depending on size of crew and intended itinerary) and that will be saleable afterward. Sure, high-end custom one-offs may be better constructed than “classic plastic” production boats, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a better cruising experience . Need advice on how to buy a sailboat? Below are some sailboat buying tips divined from owning and sailing more than 100,000 miles in a dozen very different cruisers — from high-tech performance ocean racers to traditional split-rig wooden boats — over several decades.

Tip 1: Remember the 30:70 rule: The builder makes 30 percent of the boat and purchases the remaining 70 percent from other suppliers, almost all of which has to be periodically replaced at ever-higher prices. The 30:70 rule helps explain high rates of depreciation — typically 50 percent after the first decade and 75 percent after the second.

Tip 2: Focus on the total acquisition costs: the purchase price plus the inevitable refit. A good rule of thumb is to use only half the boat budget to buy the sailboat, then employ the other half for the requisite upgrades. A common boat-buying mistake is not reserving enough money for the overhaul. Also, prepare a realistic annual maintenance budget before the purchase. A boat stuck on the dock provides no joy.

Tip 3: Avoid being beguiled by a long list of equipment and cosmetic touch-ups. Fact: Most equipment will probably require replacement. Also, brokers and sellers know that cosmetics help sell boats, but they don’t make them sail any better. Similarly, view claims of a “recent refit” with skepticism. Does new anchor chain or new sails make the boat worth more when chain and sails are part of a boat’s normal complement of gear? (And that actually may be a “yes” when it comes to sails, but rarely will you find a used boat with a new inventory.)

Tip 4: The major refit costs will likely involve the rig and engine. After 15 to 20 years, it’s long past time to pull the mast, upgrade the standing rigging and terminals, take apart the spar and inspect for crevice corrosion and cracks, replace blocks, inspect the sheaves and mast step, and beef up gear as necessary. For extended offshore use, the general rule is to replace everything with heavier rigging and equipment. Losing a mast offshore makes for a very bad day. Paint makes masts look better but often hides corrosion.

Tip 5: Likewise, after two decades, it’s time to pay the “engine piper” — or pay him later. There are basically two options: rebuild what’s already installed (saving half the cost) or repower with a new engine. Typically, the in-and-out labor costs are equal to the cost of a rebuilt or new engine. Changing engine brands can significantly add to the price. Remember, many experienced cruisers cover as many as half their miles under power (especially those running up and down the Intracoastal Waterway). So a reliable engine is essential. No one ever complains when it starts up every time! Also, budget for ample spare parts; obtaining them in distant ports can be a real headache.

Tip 6: Nothing improves comfort more than size. Within limits, everything on the boat can be changed except size. But size is a double-edged sword, as costs and maintenance even in slightly larger boats are disproportionately higher. As size increases, so does volume. A 40-footer will have twice the volume of a 30-footer. When discussing size, focus on the waterline length. Length matters because size yields more storage space and more accommodations, and longer boats tend to sail faster, with a smoother motion. Bigger boats also provide the ability to take on additional crew for longer passages.

Tip 7: The boat’s gear is one of the most important factors to consider when buying a sailboat. With the right gear, including electric winches for furling mains or halyards, a senior couple in reasonably good condition can take a 60-footer offshore. But the maintenance and operating costs of such a vessel can approach six figures yearly. Most cruising is done in affordable vessels in the 40-foot range, where traditional gear gets the job done. All that said, when cruising really took off in the 1960s and 1970s, a 25-foot fiberglass production boat was often considered big enough for offshore work.

Tip 8: As mentioned at the outset, there’s no such thing as a perfect cruising boat, no matter how large the budget. Moreover, one’s notion of an ideal cruiser changes with experience, intended usage and age. Boats are always works in progress. Center cockpits with island double berths have nice accommodations for dockside use. For offshore sailing, on the other hand, and especially if they eschew island doubles for snug sea berths, aft cockpits enhance the sailing experience. Jib furlers and electric winches make life easier but also can introduce cost and maintenance issues. Everyone underestimates the cost of owning and operating a functioning cruising boat.

Tip 9: Beware of fancy joiner work and the liberal use of external teak. It’s nice to look at, but it doesn’t make the boat perform any better and is costly and/or time-consuming to own and maintain. Similarly, unless you have deep pockets, avoid teak decks. (Teak is lovely, but it’s also awfully hot in the tropics.) Whether screwed or glued, after 15 years, teak decks are typically ready for replacement, nowadays at a cost that would buy a nice cruising sailboat.

Tip 10: Given the choice, opt for a boat drawn by a reputable naval architect over one from a builder who designed his own boats. I’ve found that the collaborative efforts produce better boats. Pay special attention to designers and builders who focus on cruisers, not raceboats. When you’ve narrowed down a prospect, learn about the boat’s history, talk to owners of similar boats and experienced surveyors, and, when applicable, contact the club associations of respective models, which can be good sources of information. Whatever you’re considering, remember that a boat that’s “lived in the islands” is apt to have had a hard life.

Tip 11: If you’re truly considering long-range cruising, think long and hard about the boat’s accommodations for use offshore. Double berths in the bow or stern are wonderful in port, as are swivel chairs in the main saloon. Without functional sea berths amidships, however, the crew will wind up sleeping on the cabin floor and asking when the trip will be over. Any sea berth worthy of its name is a minimum of 7 feet long and has a proper lee cloth.

Tip 12: Like Napoleon’s armies, crews travel on their stomachs. Spacious galleys are fine alongside a dock, but at sea you need a galley where the cook is secure and the pots and pans stay off the cabin sole. If you really want to eat well offshore, nothing beats a large freezer or crews handy with a rod and reel.

Tip 13: Marine toilets can and do fail, usually at the most awkward time. Spares help, but a second head is better. Repairing a head when underway is probably the worst job afloat.

Tip 14: Regardless of your budget or the size of your vessel, take safety seriously. That means a ­certified ocean life raft, EPIRBs, ­SOLAS-rated and -equipped life jackets with harnesses, a VHF radio with AIS, ample bilge pumps and even a sat phone if voyaging offshore. Before loading up on electronics, cover the safety gear. Sure, it’s nice to have an SSB radio, a big-screen chart plotter, an autopilot, a TV, a Wi-Fi router and so on. But buy the life raft first — if not for yourself, then for your crew and loved ones (even if they’re not sailing with you).

Tip 15: When in doubt, walk away. Unless the boat inspires real passion, it’s the wrong boat. Find the most competent and highly regarded surveyor available. Ask him or her about the required refit and likely costs involved. I’ve never regretted walking away from, or spending the money on, a “problem” survey. Make sure you have a serious sea trial — and not just a short run with the engine, and a quick raising and lowering of sails — in a good breeze. Even very experienced sailors can fail to note the obvious on sea trials, especially rushed ones.

Looking back on the cruising boats I’ve owned, my favorite was a fiberglass 45-foot ketch built in the early 1970s with an aft cockpit, a centerboard and double headsails. It had none of the amenities we now take for granted (a small portable generator handled the “electrics”), yet we fairly scooted across the Pacific. Close behind was a 35-foot block-and-tackle wooden ketch built in the 1960s, with no winches. The larger boat is still going strong in the islands, the smaller one in Alaska. So that’s my final tip: You can sail a long way on a simple boat.

An engineer by training with over four decades of experience voyaging in the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Caribbean, Peter Berman is the author of Outfitting the Offshore Cruising Sailboat (Paradise Cay Publications, 2011).

Read about: Boat Buying | Sailboat Reviews

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Sail Away Blog

Beginner’s Guide: Learn How to Sail a Small Sailboat with Ease

Alex Morgan

small sailboat cruising tips

Sailing a small sailboat can be an exciting and rewarding experience. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to brush up on your skills, understanding the fundamentals is crucial for a successful sailing adventure. In this article, we will guide you through the process of sailing a small sailboat, from choosing the right boat to learning essential techniques and understanding wind patterns. We will also cover important safety tips and common sailing knots that every sailor should know. So, if you’re ready to set sail and explore the open waters, let’s dive into the world of small sailboat sailing.

Key takeaway:

  • Choosing the right small sailboat is crucial: Selecting a sailboat appropriate for your skill level and sailing conditions is essential for an enjoyable and safe experience.
  • Master the basic parts of a small sailboat: Understanding the hull, mast, sails, and rudder will enable you to effectively control and maneuver the sailboat.
  • Preparation is key: Before setting sail, check the weather conditions, perform safety checks, and gather all necessary equipment to ensure a smooth and secure sailing experience.

Choosing the Right Small Sailboat

Choosing the right small sailboat involves several factors. When determining the sailboat’s size, consider the number of people and your experience level. Smaller sailboats are easier for beginners to handle. Take into account the typical weather and water conditions where you’ll be sailing. Different sailboats are designed for specific conditions, such as calm lakes or the open ocean.

Decide between a monohull or a catamaran as the type of sailboat. Monohulls offer better performance in certain conditions, while catamarans provide stability and spaciousness. It’s important to evaluate the sailboat’s rigging setup and type of sails. Ensure they are in good condition and suitable for your sailing plans.

In terms of budget, determine your sailboat purchasing budget and consider long-term costs like maintenance, storage, and equipment.

In the late 1800s, small sailboats gained popularity among recreational sailors. Companies like American Boat Building Company and Herreshoff Manufacturing Company produced affordable and versatile sailboats, making sailing more accessible to people. These early sailboats had simple rigging and durable designs, setting the foundation for the sailboats we have today.

Choosing the right small sailboat remains a personal decision based on individual preferences and needs, whether for racing, day sailing, or cruising.

Understanding the Basic Parts of a Small Sailboat

As we set sail into the world of small sailboats, it’s essential to understand the basic parts that make up these vessels. Get ready to explore the intricate anatomy of a small sailboat, from the hull to the mast , the sails , and the rudder . Each sub-section holds the key to maneuvering the boat smoothly through the water, ensuring an exhilarating and successful sailing adventure. So, let’s dive in and unravel the secrets behind these crucial components!

The hull , which is the main body of a small sailboat, is typically constructed using materials such as fiberglass, wood, or metal. Crucial for the stability, speed, and maneuverability of the boat, the shape and design of the hull must be carefully considered. A smooth and streamlined hull is vital as it reduces friction and increases the boat’s efficiency.

The hull is divided into several sections, including the bow (front), stern (rear), and keel (central part). The bow enables the boat to effortlessly navigate through the water, while the stern provides stability and houses the rudder. Acting as a fin-like structure, the keel plays a significant role in preventing the boat from tipping over.

The hull is designed to withstand the forces and water pressure it encounters. To prevent damage like cracks or leaks, regular maintenance is essential. This includes cleaning and antifouling to protect the hull from marine organisms. Prior to setting sail, inspections are conducted to ensure that the hull is structurally sound.

It is crucial for the design of the hull to align with the sailboat’s intended purpose, whether it be for racing or leisurely cruising.

The mast is a crucial component in sailing and maneuvering a small sailboat. It serves as a vertical pole that supports the sails and harnesses the power of the wind to propel the boat forward. Understanding key aspects of the mast is important:

1. Material: Depending on the design and purpose of the boat, masts are typically made of aluminum , carbon fiber , or wood . Aluminum is commonly chosen for its affordability and durability.

2. Height: The height of the mast varies based on the size and type of the sailboat. It directly influences the overall sail area and affects the boat’s performance in varying wind conditions.

3. Rigging: Through a intricate system of wires and cables known as rigging, the mast connects to the boat’s hull. Proper rigging ensures the stability of the mast and facilitates effective sail control.

4. Step and Partner: The mast is inserted into a fixed socket at the boat’s deck called the step. Reinforcing the step is a structural support called the partner, which strengthens the connection between the mast and the boat.

5. Maintenance: Regular inspection and maintenance are crucial to maintain the structural integrity of the mast. This includes checking for signs of corrosion, damage, or wear on the rigging and fittings.

Pro-tip: During sailing, it’s important to monitor the mast for any signs of instability or excessive movement. Ensuring proper tension in the rigging and making necessary adjustments will optimize the boat’s performance and guarantee a safe and enjoyable sailing experience.

The sails are vital elements of a sailboat. They harness the energy of the wind and propel the boat forward. Comprising of the mainsail, headsail, and spinnaker, these three components play key roles . The largest sail, the mainsail, is responsible for driving the boat in the desired direction. Positioned at the front, the headsail provides added power and control. When sailing downwind, the spinnaker comes into play.

Each sail can be adjusted to optimize performance by manipulating the angle and tension to effectively utilize the wind. To achieve maximum speed, efficiency, and maneuverability, it is essential to trim the sails correctly .

Understanding sail shape principles is crucial for enhancing sailing performance . Techniques such as flattening the sails in strong winds and adding depth in light winds to generate lift, create a smooth profile and improve overall performance.

By mastering sail trim and knowing how to utilize different sails in various conditions, one can unlock the complete potential of a small sailboat, resulting in an exhilarating sailing experience .

For further reading, consider the following suggestions:

1. Learn sail trim techniques and practice adjusting them while sailing.

2. Experiment with different sail combinations to comprehend their effects on boat performance.

3. Enroll in a sailing course or seek advice from experienced sailors for more tips and guidance on sail handling.

The rudder is a crucial component of a small sailboat that plays a vital role in steering and maneuvering. Positioned at the back of the boat, it is responsible for directing the vessel. When the sailor manipulates the tiller , which is connected to the rudder, the rudder alters its position, thus changing the boat’s course. By adjusting the angle of the rudder, the sailor can make precise modifications to the boat’s heading, taking into consideration various wind and water conditions.

Several factors affect the effectiveness of the rudder, including boat speed, wind conditions, and the size and shape of the rudder itself. Properly trimming the sails and ensuring the boat’s weight is balanced can have an impact on the efficiency of the rudder.

To ensure optimal performance, it is important for sailors to regularly inspect and maintain the rudder, checking for any indications of wear or damage. Possessing a comprehensive understanding of how the rudder interacts with other sailboat components, such as the sails and mast, is imperative for achieving efficient and controlled sailing.

A pro-tip for enhancing sailing skills and overall control of the sailboat is to practice maneuvering and steering with the rudder in different wind conditions. This not only helps improve one’s sailing abilities but also contributes to mastering the control of the sailboat as a whole.

Preparing for Sailing

Preparing for a day of sailing is crucial to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience on the water. In this section, we will dive into the essentials of getting ready for your adventure. From checking the weather conditions to performing safety checks and gathering the necessary equipment, we’ll cover everything you need to know to set sail with confidence. So, let’s start by making sure we’re well-prepared for the unpredictable elements and have everything in place for a successful voyage !

Checking the Weather Conditions

When engaging in sailing, it is of utmost importance to check the weather conditions beforehand for both safety and enjoyment. It is recommended to look for weather updates from reliable sources such as the National Weather Service or marine weather websites. Paying attention to wind speed and direction is crucial in order to assess the suitability of the sailing activity. It is also necessary to check for weather warnings or advisories, including storms , strong winds , or fog , as these may pose potential risks.

Considering the temperature is important in order to dress appropriately for both comfort and safety. It is essential to take note of potential weather changes that may occur during the sail, as conditions can shift unexpectedly. Considering the sea state and tides is also vital, as rough seas or strong currents can make sailing challenging or even dangerous. It is important to keep in mind specific weather conditions that are applicable to the type of sailing you plan to undertake.

Above all, prioritize safety and refrain from engaging in sailing activities in severe weather conditions or when there are weather warnings in effect. By diligently checking the weather conditions beforehand, you can ensure a safer and more enjoyable sailing experience.

Performing Safety Checks

– When preparing to set sail, it is crucial to perform safety checks to ensure a safe journey. Start by inspecting the hull for any visible damage or cracks. Carefully examine the paint for signs of wear and tear, such as scratches or chips.

– Move on to the mast and ensure it is securely in place without any signs of corrosion. Pay close attention to the rigging, including the shrouds and stays, and check for fraying or any other damage.

– Next, inspect the sails thoroughly for tears, holes, or loose stitching. Take a moment to check the battens and make sure they are properly inserted and secure.

– Turn your attention to the rudder and ensure that it is firmly attached and operating smoothly. Take a moment to verify that the tiller or wheel is in good working condition.

– Don’t forget to test all safety equipment, including life jackets, flares, fire extinguishers, and navigation lights. It is vital to ensure that they are all in proper working order and within their expiration dates.

– Take some time to inspect the electrical system, including the battery and wiring, for any damage or corrosion. Test all lights and electronic devices to make sure they function correctly.

– If applicable, check the fuel system for any leaks or damage. Make sure the fuel tank is properly secured and that the fuel lines are in good condition.

– Verify that the bilge pump functions correctly and that the bilge area is clean and free of any water or debris.

– It is equally important to check all ropes and lines, such as halyards and sheets, for any signs of wear or fraying. Replace any damaged lines before setting sail.

– Take a moment to inspect the overall cleanliness and organization of the boat, ensuring that all loose items are securely stowed away.

– Performing these safety checks before setting sail is absolutely essential for a safe and enjoyable sailing experience . Thoroughly inspecting the boat, its components, and safety equipment will help address any potential issues or hazards proactively. By taking these steps, you can effectively mitigate the risk of accidents or equipment failures while out on the water.

Gathering Necessary Equipment

Gathering necessary equipment is of utmost importance when it comes to sailing. It is essential to have all the required gear in order to navigate and protect oneself in unforeseen situations. From early explorers who carried navigational instruments and provisions, to modern-day sailors who rely on advanced technology, the act of gathering necessary equipment has always been consistent. By ensuring that they have all the essential gear, sailors can embark on their voyages with confidence, knowing that they are adequately equipped to handle any challenges that may come their way.

Essential Sailing Techniques

Discover the key techniques of sailing that every sailor must master. From setting sail to tacking and jibing, trimming the sails to steering and maneuvering, this section will take you through the essential sailing skills. Get ready to navigate the waters with confidence and finesse as we explore each sub-section in depth, providing you with the knowledge you need to sail your small sailboat like a pro .

Setting Sail

Setting sail is the beginning of a sailing adventure. To embark on this exciting journey, follow these steps to set sail:

Prepare the boat: First, ensure that all equipment is properly secured and checked. Take a thorough look at the rigging, sails, and lines to identify any signs of damage or wear.

Raise the sails: Utilize the halyard to hoist the main sail. Once raised, secure it with the sail’s clew and sheet, ensuring everything is properly fastened.

Trim the sails: Adjust the angle of the sails to effectively catch the wind and optimize your sailing experience. Make use of the main sheet and traveler to control the main sail, and the jib sheets for the jib.

Release the mooring lines: Untie the boat from the dock or release the anchor, setting yourself free for the forthcoming adventure.

Steer the boat: Use the tiller or steering wheel to guide the boat away from the dock or anchor point and set a clear course to sail.

Pay attention to wind direction: Maximize efficiency by continuously monitoring wind direction and adjusting the sails accordingly.

Maintain a safe speed: Keep control of the boat’s speed by adjusting the sails and utilizing the rudder. Always be mindful of other boats or potential obstacles that may come your way.

Stay vigilant: Ensure a safe and enjoyable sail by maintaining constant awareness of wind conditions, water conditions, and the presence of other vessels.

Setting sail is the first step towards a remarkable sailing experience. By following these steps and remaining attentive to your surroundings, you can confidently navigate the waters and embark on an unforgettable adventure.

Tacking and Jibing

Tacking and Jibing are crucial techniques for effectively maneuvering a small sailboat. Here are the key points to consider:

– Tacking is used to change the direction of your sailboat when sailing upwind. It involves turning the bow of the boat through the wind so that the wind switches sides. Tacking allows you to sail on a zigzag course against the wind.

– Jibing is the opposite of tacking and is used when sailing downwind. It involves turning the stern of the boat through the wind so that the wind switches sides. Jibing allows you to change your course without sailing directly into the wind.

-To tack , steer the boat into the wind by turning the tiller or wheel towards your desired direction. Adjust the sails as the wind fills on the opposite side. To jibe , steer the boat away from the wind and let the sails cross smoothly. Be aware of potential hazards and ensure the crew is prepared for the maneuver.

-When tacking or jibing , be aware of other boats and have enough space to safely complete the maneuver. Communicate your intentions and watch for obstacles. Maintain control of the sails and be prepared for changes in wind direction.

Remember, mastering tacking and jibing takes practice and experience. With time, you’ll become more confident in executing these maneuvers and enjoy the thrill of sailing with precision and control.

Trimming the Sails

Trimming the sails is crucial for sailing a small sailboat. It involves adjusting the position and tension of the sails to optimize performance and control. Properly trimmed sails allow for efficient sailing, maintaining a desired course, and maximizing speed.

To effectively trim the sails, consider the wind direction and strength. This knowledge will guide you in determining the proper trim. Adjusting the sails based on wind conditions will help harness the wind’s power effectively.

Ensure the sails are not too loose or too tight, as this can negatively impact performance. The ideal trim varies depending on the wind angle and strength. When sailing upwind, trim the sails tighter to maintain speed and control.

Pay attention to the shape of the sails for optimal aerodynamics . Adjust the sail controls, such as the halyard , outhaul , and sheet , to achieve the desired shape. Maintain smooth airflow around the sails to maximize effectiveness.

Constantly monitor and adjust the sail trim as conditions change. Wind shifts, gusts, and variations in wind strength may require adjustments. Regularly reassess the trim to ensure optimal performance throughout your sail.

Mastering sail trimming will significantly improve your sailing experience, allowing for smooth and efficient navigation. Practice and experience will help develop a keen understanding of sail trim’s impact on small sailboat performance.

Steering and Maneuvering

Steering and maneuvering a small sailboat is a process that involves several crucial steps. To start, position yourself at the helm and firmly hold the tiller or wheel . From there, it is important to monitor your course and make adjustments to the boat’s direction by turning the tiller or wheel . When making these adjustments, it is recommended to use gentle and gradual movements to avoid sudden and drastic changes in course. Always pay attention to the wind direction and continually adjust your steering to maintain control and optimize your sailing performance.

In order to understand the significance of proper steering and maneuvering, let me share a real-life incident that occurred a few years ago while sailing with friends. We encountered a sudden gust of wind that caused our sailboat to veer off course. Unfortunately, the helmsman, who lacked experience, panicked and made a sharp turn, which resulted in the boat capsizing. Fortunately, everyone had life jackets, and we were able to quickly right the boat and continue on our intended course. This incident served as a valuable lesson, teaching us the importance of remaining calm, making gradual adjustments, and always maintaining control of the boat.

Understanding Wind and Weather

As you embark on your journey to learn how to sail a small sailboat, it becomes vital to grasp the foundations of understanding wind and weather . By delving into the sub-sections of reading wind direction and strength , as well as dealing with different weather conditions, you’ll gain valuable insights on harnessing the power of nature to navigate the open waters. So, let’s dive in and uncover the secrets that will ensure you sail with confidence and skill !

Reading Wind Direction and Strength

When sailing, reading wind direction and strength is crucial. Here are the steps to effectively read wind conditions:

  • Observe objects like flags, leaves, or waves . These indicate wind direction and strength.
  • Look for ripples or small waves on the water’s surface. These help determine wind direction, with waves aligning perpendicular to the wind.
  • Pay attention to cloud movement and shape . Clouds can indicate wind patterns.
  • Use a wind indicator or wind vane on your sailboat. These devices provide accurate wind measurements.
  • Feel the wind on your skin . Sensing the wind’s direction and strength is valuable.
  • Consider the Beaufort scale , which classifies wind speeds from 0 to 12. This helps assess conditions precisely.
  • Take note of sudden changes in wind direction or gusts. These can affect safety and sailing strategy.

By following these steps and continuously monitoring wind conditions, you’ll be able to effectively navigate and adjust your sails while sailing. Reading wind direction and strength is crucial for making informed decisions and having a successful sailing experience.

Dealing with Different Weather Conditions

Dealing with different weather conditions is crucial in sailing. By understanding wind direction and strength, sailors can determine their course and adjust their sails. They should be prepared for rain, storms, and fog , with appropriate clothing and gear. Extreme temperatures require precautions such as staying hydrated and protected from the sun in hot weather, and dressing in layers and having waterproof gear in cold weather. Weather conditions can change rapidly, so sailors must stay vigilant, monitor forecasts, and be prepared to adjust their sails or seek shelter if necessary. By effectively dealing with different weather conditions, sailors can enhance their safety and enjoyment while sailing.

Basic Navigation and Rules of the Water

Navigating the waters of sailing requires a solid understanding of basic navigation and the rules that govern them. In this section, we’ll uncover the essential knowledge you need to sail a small sailboat. From comprehending navigation aids to grasping right of way rules, we’ll dive into the details that will steer you in the right direction on your sailing adventures. So grab your sailing charts and prepare to navigate the open seas with confidence!

Understanding Navigation Aids

Understanding navigation aids is crucial for sailors to safely and effectively navigate on the water.

Sailors can determine their direction and maintain a proper course with the assistance of a compass .

Charts and maps offer detailed information regarding water depths, hazards, and landmarks, aiding sailors in their navigation.

Sailors can identify specific locations and navigate around dangerous areas with the help of lighthouses and beacons .

Buoys and markers play a vital role in indicating safe channels, shipping lanes, and potential hazards for sailors.

Radar , which utilizes radio waves, allows sailors to detect objects such as other vessels, landmasses, and weather patterns.

GPS (Global Positioning System) utilizes satellite signals to accurately determine a sailor’s position on the water.

With the Automatic Identification System (AIS) , sailors can track nearby vessels’ position, speed, and course.

To ensure a safe sailing experience, sailors should possess a good understanding of these navigation aids and how to effectively utilize them.

Right of Way Rules

When navigating on the water, it is crucial to understand and follow the right of way rules for a safe and smooth sailing experience. These rules govern priority in various situations and help prevent collisions. Here are the key right of way rules to keep in mind:

Sailboat over powerboat: In terms of priority, sailboats have the right of way over powerboats. This is because sailboats are less maneuverable and rely on wind for propulsion.

Starboard over port: When two sailboats approach each other, the one on starboard tack (with the wind coming from the right) has the right of way. The sailboat on port tack (with the wind coming from the left) must yield.

Avoid head-on situations: In situations where two sailboats are approaching each other head-on, both should alter their course to starboard (right) and pass each other on their port side.

Overtaking: When one sailboat is overtaking another, the overtaking boat must keep clear of the boat being overtaken. It is the responsibility of the overtaking boat to find a safe path to pass.

Larger vessel has priority: If a sailboat is approaching a larger vessel, such as a commercial ship, the sailboat should yield and give the larger vessel ample room to maneuver.

Understanding and following these right of way rules is crucial for the safety and well-being of everyone on the water. By adhering to these guidelines, you can contribute to a harmonious sailing experience for all.

Common Sailing Knots Every Sailor Should Know

Every sailor should know common sailing knots to ensure the safety and efficiency of their sailboat. Here are some essential knots:

  • Figure-8 Knot: Creates a secure loop at the end of a line, preventing slipping.
  • Bowline Knot: Versatile knot used to secure a line to a fixed object.
  • Reef Knot: Joins two ropes of similar thickness, commonly used for securing reefing points on a sail.
  • Clove Hitch: Quick and easy knot for temporary fastening, commonly used to secure a line to a pole or post.
  • Sheet Bend: Joins ropes of different thicknesses or materials, commonly used for tying a jib sheet to a genoa.
  • Anchor Hitch: Secures a line to an anchor, providing a secure connection.
  • Double Fisherman’s Knot: Joins two ropes together, often used for making an extension line or attaching two lines of equal thickness.
  • Rolling Hitch: Secures a line to a cylindrical object, providing a grip that tightens with tension.

Knowing these sailing knots will help sailors confidently handle various situations on the water and ensure the safety of their sailboat.

Safety Tips for Sailing a Small Sailboat

Here are some important safety tips for sailing a small sailboat:

  • Always wear a life jacket. You must have a well-fitted life jacket on at all times while sailing for safety in case of an accident.
  • Check the weather conditions before setting sail. Avoid sailing in storms or high-wind conditions as they can be dangerous for a small sailboat.
  • Be familiar with your boat. Understand how to operate and maneuver your sailboat properly, including handling the sails and using the rigging.
  • Keep a close eye on the water depth. Shallow waters can pose a risk for grounding or capsizing. Avoid areas with submerged rocks or other hazards.
  • Know how to swim. It is important to have basic swimming skills to ensure your safety in case you fall overboard or need to swim to shore in an emergency.

In a true historical event, in 1912, Arthur Ransome , a renowned author and avid sailor, successfully sailed a small sailboat named Swallow from Belgium to England despite rough weather conditions. His determination and sailing expertise ensured his safety and the successful completion of the journey.

Some Facts About How To Sail A Small Sailboat:

  • ✅ Sailing a small sailboat requires understanding wind strength and direction. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ There are different points of sail, including close hauled, beam reach, broad reach, and running. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ When starting to sail, it’s important to let the wind push the boat out into open waters and then turn the boat around to face the wind. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ Steering a small sailboat is done using the tiller, where opposite movements of the tiller are used to turn the boat. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ Trimming the sails involves adjusting the mainsheet and jibsheet for optimal sail shape and direction. (Source: Our Team)

Frequently Asked Questions

1. what are the points of sail and how do they affect sailing a small sailboat.

The points of sail refer to different angles in relation to the wind and determine the speed and direction of a sailboat. Sailing close-hauled, at a 45-degree angle to the wind, is one point of sail. Sailing directly downwind is another point of sail. Understanding the points of sail is crucial for setting the sails and positioning your body weight for balance.

2. How do I steer a small sailboat?

Steering a small sailboat is done using a tiller, which works similarly to steering an outboard motor. Moving the tiller in one direction rotates the rudder and steers the boat in the opposite direction. Start with small movements and get used to the reverse steering technique.

3. How do I trim the sails properly?

Trimming the sails involves adjusting the mainsheet and jibsheet to achieve the best shape for the direction of sailing. Tighten the mainsail until it stops flapping, and adjust the jib slightly to achieve proper trim. Keep the space between the jib and mainsail even for smooth sailing.

4. What are the different turning techniques in sailing?

There are three types of turns in sailing: tacking, jibing, and no-wind crossing. During tacking, the sails are crossed over to the other side of the boat while moving to the opposite side. Jibing involves turning the boat downwind, and the sails are switched to the other side. No-wind crossing refers to adjusting the sheets based on wind direction without changing the boat’s heading.

5. How do I slow down or stop a small sailboat?

To slow down the sailboat, let out the sheets until the sails flap or luff. If already facing a headwind, simply let out the sheets. To stop the boat, turn it to face the headwind. Practice stopping at a safe distance from the dock to determine the boat’s stopping distance.

6. How important is practice and patience while learning to sail a small sailboat?

Practice and patience are essential when learning to sail a small sailboat. It takes time to become proficient in handling the boat, understanding wind direction, and making precise adjustments. Don’t rush the learning process and remember that practice will lead to improvement in your sailing skills.

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The Best Small Sailboat For Beginners. 8 Great Boat Options

Updated March 20th, 2024

best small sailboats for beginners

If you are new to sailing and want to get a boat, what should you get? There are tons of sailboats out there on Craigslist, eBay, and Marketplace. Prices can range from free to a hundred thousand or more. What should you get for your first sailboat? Keep reading below to learn a little more about sailboats and what you should look for. I also have my picks for the best small sailboat for beginners.

What makes a sailboat good for beginners?

I learned to sail in middle school and have done it regularly since then. I spent my college summers working as a children’s sailing school instructor at a few yacht clubs around the US. I’ve raced sailboats a ton too on all kinds of boats from collegiate buoy racing too overnight long distance races. After years of doing this, I am way more of a go sailing for fun kind of guy than someone who lives for the competition.

For anyone thinking about learning to sail, it’s not that hard to learn sailing basics. You can teach yourself watching Youtube vidoes but it wouldn’t hurt to take a sailing lesson just to learn the basic sailing terms and see a live hands on demonstration of how to sail.

Here is what I have learned over the years for which boats make learning to sail easier.

Easy to sail

You need a boat that is easy to sail. You don’t want to get a boat that capsizes super easily. You want a stable boat that can tolerate some mistakes without sending you into the drink. You want a boat that isn’t too overpowered so it won’t feel terrifying if the wind picks up while you are out.

Easy to rig

You want a boat you can rig and put together easily. If it’s a trailerable boat you need a mast you can put up and down without hurting your back or needing a bunch of tricks. A racing boat with a lot of sail controls may have a ton of things you need to hook up when rigging it and lots of adjustments depending on wind conditions. A recreational day sailing boat may have very few. As a beginner sailor looking for a boat, less is more. You want something that leans towards, lift the mast, put the sails on, hoist, and go.

What exactly is a small sailboat anyways? A read an article recently in a popular sailboat cruising magazine. They labeled a 36 footer as a “compact cruising yacht”. There is nothing compact or small about a 36 footer. Bigger sailboats react slower to steering and sail controls. A larger boat will have a lot more momentum when you are trying to get on and off the dock. The bigger the boat, the more load and force on all the lines and sails.

I recommend learning to sail first on something simple like a Sunfish. A little 14 foot sailing dinghy that can hold 1 or 2 adults. If your more ambitious and want to start with a boat you could go cruising in then a Catalina 25 or 27 are good choices. You really should not go any bigger than that for your first boat. A Catalina 30 weighs twice as much as a Catalina 27 and you can’t just easily push it around the dock. A 30 footer should be saved for your second or later boat.

Dinghy vs keelboat

Your first sailboat can be a dinghy without a keel or a keelboat. Small keelboats can make really good learning boats. With most keelboats you don’t need to worry about capsizing. If you go with a dinghy get something that is easy to upright.

Flying Scots are used for learning sailboats in many places including a sailing club I used to belong too. They are big stable and tubby. They are horrible to upright if you do manage to capsize them. You will need help from a powerboat to do it. If you go for a dinghy with no keel, it is better to stick to 15 feet or under so you can upright it without outside help. The 16 to 20 foot dinghy is where it can take some skill to self rescue yourself after a capsize if it’s possible at all.

If you decide to get a 20 to 25 foot keelboat, it is easiest to keep them at a marina with a hoist or preferably in the water. Trailer launching keelboats is a challenge even with a swing keel because of how deep you need to get them in the water to float off the trailer.

Minimal sail controls

When you learn to sail, all you really need are a halyard to hoist the mainsail, a sheet to control the mainsail. You don’t really need anything else to be adjustable. That is all you need to sail upwind, downwind, or any other point of sail. Everything else is extra for a beginner.

1 or 2 sails

When you learn to sail all you need is a mainsail. The near perfect learning sailboat is the Sunfish which has a lateen rig with only 1 sail. It has really simple controls and you can rig it wrong and it will still sail for you.

It is okay to learn to sail on a sloop rigged boat with 2 sails. A mainsail and a headsail or jib. Stop there.

You don’t need a spinnaker. Ask anyone who has raced sailboats and they will have stories about what went wrong with a spinnaker. Spinnakers are responsible for breaking more stuff on a sailboat than anything else.

There are boats out there with 2 or more masts such as a ketch or yawl. The second mast is called a mizzen mast. Don’t even think of getting one of these either. It’s just more distraction and things that can break or go wrong. You don’t want a cutter rigged sloop. These have 2 headsails which you again don’t need or want.

Tiller steering

Your first boat should have tiller steering. Don’t get a boat with wheel steering. The wheel mechanism has a lot of drag and slop in it and you won’t feel how the boat is reacting. A tiller lets you immediately feel the boat is out of balance. A tiller is easier to learn to sail upwind with by learning to push it towards or away from the sail. Wheel steering is less intuitive. Stay away from that big cruise with a wheel.

Trailerable boats vs marinas

I grew up in central Pennsylvania where we had small lakes to sail on. This meant a trailerable small boat when we got our first sailboat. I currently live in Michigan near the Great Lakes. Most boats I’ve had as an adult have lived at a marina and not at my house.

If you want to sail more often, keep it rigged at a marina so you have to do the very least possible to get it out on the water. I use my sailboats way more often when I don’t have to hook it up to a car, drag it to the lake, rig it and do the reverse to go home. The downside is cost. Keeping even a Sunfish at a marina or yacht club can cost a lot.

If you want to experience sailing on a low budget, trailering smaller boats is a fine way to go. If you want more convenience and your willing to pay for it consider keeping your boat rigged at a marina.

Portable boats (multi-section hull or inflatable)

There are a few new entries in the boating world that focus on making the boat easier to store and transport. These involve either inflatable hulls or a folding or multi-section hull. These let you store the boat in your garage, large closet or spare room. You can fit them in the back of a small SUV for transport without roof racks or a trailer. 2 great examples of these are the Tiwal inflatable sailboat and Minicat inflatable catamaran.

Commonly available and easy to get parts

Stuff will break on your sailboat if you use it enough. Some parts on a boat are really generic such as pullies, blocks and lines. Other parts are not such as boom or mast end fittings, rudders, etc… There are a lot of cheap boats out on Craigslist. There are a million old 15 foot 2 person sloop rigged sailing dinghies out there in people’s yards. Before buying any of these make sure that all the parts are there. Do not buy one without seeing it rigged with sails up first.

If your not sure find an experienced sailor friend who sails to go look at it with you. If anything is broken look up to see if you can get a replacement part. For many of these old boats, replacement parts are impossible to find which is why they are being given away for not much or free.

If a boat has an active racing class still, there is a good chance replacement parts are available. Racers go out in high winds and push the boat which means they break stuff. Boats like a Sunfish or Laser that are still produced and raced all over are easy to get sails and spare parts.

Keep it inexpensive

When you are buying your starter boat, know that it won’t be your last boat. You will learn what you like and don’t like and you’ll want another boat. There is a disease among sailors called “Threefootitis”. No matter how big a boat you buy, you will always want one at least a 3 feet bigger boat. Don’t spend a ton on your first sailboat. There are tons of Sunfish out there for under $1000 and even under $500. I once got one for free that was still in racing condition. The biggest boat you should consider, something like a Catalina 27, can be had for well under $5000. Under $10,000 for a fully optioned one with wheel steering and a diesel inboard.

See our guide to how much does a small sailboat cost to learn more about what it costs to buy a sailboat.

My top 8 picks for the best small sailboat for beginners

1 – minicat inflatable catamaran.

minicat inflatable sailboat

Minicat makes a line of inflatable catamarans. They are available in a few sizes and suitable for children up to a few adults. Minicat’s use an inflatable hulls with a multi-piece mast and trampoline. The whole thing can be put away in 1 to 2 bags that are 6ft x 1ft x 1ft. They will easily fit in the back of an SUV with the rear seats folded or easily tied to a roof rack.=

The Minicat can hit high speeds just like a solid hulled catamaran. They have a full length fin down each hull to generate power. They are as fun to sail as any traditional hobie cat or other beach catameran but much easier to transport and store.

The Minicat 420 is their most popular design. It is about the same size as a Hobie 14 and good for up to 4 adults. You can learn more about or get one from Great Lakes Watercraft .

2 – Tiwal Inflatable Sailboats

tiwal2 sailing

Tiwal makes a line of 3 inflatable sailboats. They range from a basic dinghy to a performance racer. They are capable of sailing with 1-3 adults and children depending on the model. They break down into bags that will fit in the back of most people’s cars.

They use modern rigs with furling or reefing options so you can use them in a variety of winds. They use drop-stich construction to be able to create a v-hull that gives good performance on the water. The Tiwal 3R has hiking racks for even more performance.

Tiwal sailboats have been seen on Below Deck Sailing Yacht. They are one of the favorite water toys for people cruising on big boats. They let anyone try sailing with a small, easy to transport, and affordable package.

Visit to learn more about their sailboats.

3 – Sunfish

sunfish sailboats

I personally learned to sail on a Sunfish. It is still one of the best sailboats to learn sailing on. It is a super simple boat design that is easy and fun to sail and virtually anyone can rig or launch it.

Sunfish are small, 14 foot sailboats with a lateen rig that only has a main sail. They are sometimes referred to as board boats. They have a flat deck you sit on top of. These are common at beach resorts around the world so almost everyone has seen one at one point or another.

They are extremely simple to rig. You put the mast through the sail/booms and into the hull. There is one halyard to raise the sail. They have one sheet to control the sail. Racers have figured out ways to rig more controls but chances are, any boat you buy used won’t have them. 2 adults can easily fit on a Sunfish for sailing around.

Sunfish are very forgiving and easy to sail. The square sided hard chined hull makes them feel stable in the water even in a lot of wind. If you do capsize they are easy to upright and self bailing.

New Sunfish are still being built and they are raced in many places so parts are sails are easy to get. If you do feel like giving racing a try, chances are there is somewhere you can do it. The boats are sturdy and durable.

To learn more about Sunfish go here.

4 – Laser

laser sailboat

A Laser is another 14 foot 1 or 2 person sailboat that falls under the board boat category. They are very common and raced all over the place. It is the most popular racing sailboat in the history of sailing. They are currently an Olympic class boat as well. They have been raced at the Olympics in every summer games since 1996.

Lasers are less stable and capsize easier than Sunfish. They are a bit faster and higher performance for those wanting a little more oomph. They are still manageable for beginners. They are one of the easiest boats out there to upright after a capsize. If you choose one, take it out on lighter wind days until you get the hang of it. Don’t start out on a day with lots of wind and white caps or you will probably spend the whole day capsizing over and over.

Lasers are available with different sized sails. The most common version is the standard laser. The next most common is called the “Laser Radial” which has a smaller sail and mast. Some boats will have both. If it’s your first boat I strongly recommend looking for a boat with a Radial rig.

The thing to watch for with Lasers is their mast step. This is where the mast goes into the hull. If you are looking for one, pour a glass of water into the hole and see if it stays there or drains into the hull. If it drains into the hull, walk away from that boat. The weakness of these boats is the mast to hull joint which weakens with time and lots of use. If the mast step holds water it is fine.

To learn more about Lasers go here.

5 – West Wight Potter 15/19

west wight potter sailboat

West Wight Potters are very small cruising keelboats. They come in 15 and 19 foot versions. The 15 footer can be towed behind almost any car. The 19 footer needs a good sized SUV like an Explorer. They are very simple sloop rigged boats without any extra racing controls. They have keels and are stable. There are lots of them out there and they are still being made.

These aren’t the fastest or flashiest boats out there. They are easy to rig, easy to sail and you can do trailer cruising on them. These are for sail regularly on Craigslist and Marketplace. They are known to be solidly built without any common failure points.

If you are looking for a small keelboat you can learn to sail with and tow around these are a great choice.

To learn more about West Wight Potters go here.

6 – Catalina 25 and Catalina 27

Catalina 27 sailing

Dinghy sailing isn’t for everyone. Some people are more interested in a cruising boat they can go places with and stay over night. If that is you then a Catalina 25 or 27 is a great choice. Catalina 25 and Catalina 27s are 2 of the most common small cruising keelboats out there. They were built from the 1970’s through late 1980’s. There were thousands of both of them built. I have owned 2 Catalina 27’s and had a ton of fun on both of them. They are easy to sail, dock and take care of. They are at the large end of what you should consider for a beginner sailboat but still manageable.

Both boats were available with lots of options. Catalina 27’s can be simple with tiller steering and outboards. They can be more decked out with wheel steering and diesel of gas inboards. Catalina 25’s are the same although they are all tiller steering. Catalina 25s have either a fixed feel or a retractable keel for trailering. As a trailer boat they are huge and you’ll need something like an F350 to tow it.

For your first sailboat, look for a tiller steering, outboard motor, fixed keel version. Look for a boat with a roller furling headsail. This makes the boat much more easy to manage. You can reduce sail area by partially rolling up the headsail if it gets too windy. This is much better for your first boat then buying one with multiple sails that hank onto the headstay that need changed as the wind changes.

Do some more research into the boat for problem areas such as deck core rot or “Catalina smile” before buying one. Price wise, you can find them for $1000 to $10,000 depending on options and conditions.

To learn more about Catalina 25’s go here. To learn more about Catalina 27’s go here.

7 – Hobie 16/14

Hobie 16 catamaran

Hobie 16’s are the most popular beach catamaran in the world. They are common at beach resorts all over the world. I have owned one of these before too. They are also actively raced so parts and sails are easy to get. The Hobie 14 is the slightly smaller and less popular little brother. Both are available used all over the place for cheap.

Hobies are a ton of fun to sail. You can go really fast flying a hull in one. If you get one of your first sailboat use a bit of caution on when you take it out until you get used to it. Don’t start out on a day the wind is nuking and hope it will go okay because it won’t.

These are fairly easy to rig. This is the most complex boat I would ever recommend to a beginner. The mast can be challenging to raise and lower but there are easy ways Macguyver it and make it not so bad.

They do not tack easily upwind. Like all multihulls they can get stuck in irons easily when pointed into the wind. Sometimes you have to give it a little backwind and opposite rudder to get spun through the wind. It’s easy with a little bit of practice. It won’t tack as easily as a monohull.

To learn more about Hobie cats go here.

8 – The 2 person 14 foot sloop rigged sailing dinghy

2 person sailing dinghies

There are tons of this type of boat available used everywhere. There isn’t any single one that is widespread around the US to mention a particular design. There are tons of 420’s and Flying Juniors, Capri 14’s, JY15’s, Islander 14’s, etc… out there. They are all meant for 2 people. They all have a sloop rig with main and jib and a retractable centerboard. They all aren’t that hard to rig. They all can be trailered behind any car.

They can be sailed by one person in light winds or 2 people in almost any wind condition. They can be self rescued by 2 people after a capsize without help. Keep this in mind if you think about sailing it alone on a windy day.

As mentioned earlier in the article. The thing to watch out for with this type of boat is making sure all the parts are there. Make sure it is in sailing condition before you buy it. If something is broken make sure you can replace it before buying it.

You might also like:

  • How Much Does A Small Sailboat Cost? Big Fun For Small Money
  • How To Pick The Best Windsurfing Equipment For Beginners

Sailing Author

Ryan C Co- Founder & Chief Editor

I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and learned to sail on a small lake with my dad on a Sunfish. After that we bought a 2 person dinghy which eventually turned into a Laser. After moving to Michigan and the Great Lakes I picked up a Catalina 22 and then upgraded to a Catalina 27. I’ve owned Catalina’s, Hunter’s, Odays and some others. My current boat is a 1994 Catalina 320. I’ve raced small boats and large boats, including several Mackinac Island Races. I love doing boat projects and spending time on sailboats.

[email protected]

Sail Universe

10 Sailing Tips Essentials to Make You a Better Sailor!

Sailing Tips

What top 10 sailing tips will help you enjoy sailing in the most fun and safe way? You might be surprised to know that it all starts long before you step aboard your sailboat. Use these little known secrets for day sailing, weekend cruising, or for coastal and offshore sailing .

1. Pack the Right Clothes

There’s a saying that goes something like this “There is no such thing as bad weather-only bad clothes “. Makes a lot of sense-in particular in a dynamic environment like sailing. Put together a small duffel bag with the “must have” sailing gear.

Include a foul weather jacket, complete change of clothes, wide-brimmed hat. That way, if you get spray or rain or stay out longer than expected, you will stay dry and warm (or cool) in most any sailing weather.

2. Bring Your Own “Grab Bag”

Among our top 10 sailing tips… make up a personal “must have” bag. Match the contents to the type of sailing you do. Your grab-bag will be the one thing you grab in an emergency.

If you need to leave the boat for any reason, you need common items like extra keys, wallet, cell phone, change, and identification in order to get home safe and sound. Pack your personal grab bag now to give you peace of mind for safer sailing.


3. Carry a Sailing Knife

Sail World carried a tragic story a short time ago about a young teenage girl. Her sailing dinghy capsized. She had attached herself by a hiking harness to the boat. When she capsized, the boat turtled (turned over–bottom-up) on top of her. She was unable to untangle herself from the harness and drowned.

It’s understandable that folks tend to shun knives and similar equipment on their belts. It’s a bit weighty, adds bulk on a hot day, and many like to sail unencumbered. Find a small compact knife that will fit into a sheath or has a clip that will fasten to your sailing shorts.

Carry it when you go sailing. Not below packed in a bag–but on your shorts or pants. If you need to use it for cutting rope or in an emergency, it will be with you, ready in the blink of an eye.

knife 10 sailing tips

4. Build Up Wrist Strength

Did you realize that wrist injuries and soreness plague sailors? You use your wrists to steer the boat, crank on winches, hoist or lower sails, lower or raise the anchor, move forward or aft on the boat, or brace yourself below in the cabin when heeled over.

Use a soft ball like a tennis ball and squeeze; hold for ten seconds; release. Repeat this while you walk or sit several times a day. This simple exercise will help build up this often-forgotten vital muscle fast and easy and lessen the chance of injury aboard any sailboat you sail aboard.

5. Listen to the 24-hour Weather Forecast

Expect to be out longer than you plan. Turn on the Weather Radio and listen to the forecast for the next 24 hours. How will the wind shift? Will this create a long hard slog to windward back to the marina slip or pier?

If you go out for a day sail, consider sailing windward early on so the sail back will be an easy reach or run. Look for anchorages along your sailing route in case the weather turns foul. Become weather-wise to keep your sailing fun and safe for you and your sailing crew.

Hallberg-Rassy 340

6. Know Your Anchoring Techniques

No piece of vital sailing gear gets ignored more than the boat anchor. Make sure that the anchor aboard any boat you sail on will be ready to lower within 10 seconds.

Check the parts of the anchor from the bitter end of the anchor rode where it ties to your boat, all the way down the rope rode, anchor chain, anchor shackles, and all parts of the anchor itself (ring, shank, flukes). Keep this #1 life-insurance gear in tip-top shape for worry-free sailing worldwide.

7. Inspect Your Sailboat from Bow to Stern

Start at the bow and check the anchor, lifelines, turnbuckle fittings, cotter pin integrity, standing rigging like boom vangs, traveler lines, mainsheet and Genoa sheets.

Look for chafed line, missing cotter pins, bent anchor shank or distorted turnbuckle barrels. Take five minutes to check your boat before you get underway to save you the headache of an unexpected fitting failure underway.

10 sailing tips

8. Use Nautical Charts Along with Electronics

Read the opening screen of any electronic GPS or chart plotter and the disclaimer warns about total reliance on that gear. Purchase the paper charts you need for your sailing area.

If you day sail, carry aboard a large-scale (magnified) chart of your sailing grounds. If you coastal cruise, you need navigational charts of the coastline, approaches to harbors, and inner harbor areas. Offshore sailors need the same and more. Paper charts back up the electronics.

Electronics can never replace paper charts. Stay safe and sound when you carry the paper charts you need for sailing safety.

9. Practice Boat Maneuvers and Control

Spend part of each sailing day and practice one specific maneuver. Toss a fender overboard and tack or jibe to see if you can sail your boat up to the fender, stop alongside the object with the sails luffing, and retrieve the object.

The more your practice intricate maneuvers the better you will be at sailing in tight quarters, turning your boat around in an emergency, or coming alongside afloat, pier, or mooring buoy under sail alone.

10. Read and Learn About Sailing Each Day

Legendary sailor and author Hal Roth once said “ A good sailor is always studying and learning and asking questions “. Whether you are stuck in a place far from the coast, waiting for winter to end, or find that you just don’t have time for sailing right now–never, ever stop learning.

Each day, set yourself a goal to learn something new about sailing. Learn a new sailing term, read up on the latest sailing equipment, or visit a sailing forum like Sailnet or Sailing Anarchy to see what experienced sailors have to say. Discover something new each day to become more comfortable and confident in sailing.

Follow these ten top sailing tips for smoother, safer, more fun sailing. This will give you the confidence and skills you need to enjoy one of the life’s greatest pleasures–wherever in the world you choose to go sailing!

================  Captain John shows you the sailing skills you need for safe sailing anywhere in the world. Sign up for a FREE issue of the highly popular “Captain John’s Sailing Tips” newsletter and learn how you can get instant access to over 425 sailing articles, sailing videos, newsletters and more at  SkipperTips .

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