Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

After teaching sailing school for nearly 30 years, I’ve seen every mistake a student can make. I’m not talking about when the sailing instructor allows you to accidentally gybe in controlled conditions to teach you to pay attention. I am talking about the preparation for which your sail instructor did not get to control and plan.

Here’s your chance to arrive at sailing school already earning “Teacher’s Pet” status by avoiding these beginner mistakes!

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes
Hat and long sleeves are the way to go!

Not Wearing the Right Clothing

I’ve had students come to class wearing black denim jeans, and black polo shirts. They fry! In warm summer weather, cooler colors feel… cooler. I’ve read articles about why dark clothes are worn in some areas to try to understand why many cycling companies produce black kits.

“Researchers have studied the heavy black robes worn by Bedouins in the desert. They say the key there is thickness. The outer layer of fabric does get hotter because the black color absorbs more heat. … To sum up: Light-colored clothes in the summertime during the day, and get naked at night. But thin black clothing transmits that heat to the skin, making a person hotter.” This is from National Public Radio’s Summer Science: Clothes Keep You Cool, More Or Less

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

Ultraviolet Protection Factor shirts, hats or visors, comfortable clothing that is not tight and allows you to move around more quickly performs the best. Covering up is recommended.

These days, not just any UPF shirt will do – make sure yours is also an environmentally-responsible choice like this one from Stream2Sea. Not only is it reef-friendly and chemical-free, but it’s also made from rPET recycled fishing net materials! How cool is that? Save yourself 10% with my “KimW” discount code. That helps me afford more sunscreen, and your price is the same. Plus, you are helping save the environment and support a local female-run business!

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

Not Bringing and Drinking Enough Water

Even in the shade, the sun is reflecting off the water, and with the breeze evaporating all the sweat off your body, it’s easy to become dehydrated.

Bring an environmentally-friendly bottle or two of your own, and then keep refilling it. Even if there’s not ice in the water, just keeping hydrated is important.

I carry a water bottle with me all day, every day, wherever I go. A convenient one is light and durable. For travel, I use a Hydrapak Stash Water Bottle because they are BPA- and PVC free; and they collapse down to the size of a hockey puck.

At our sailing school, we provide water in single-use plastic bottles for all our boats. We absolutely cringe at the volume of plastic waste we create by doing this. We have been looking at cost-effective alternatives – maybe providing a reusable bottle to every sailor, and hauling a tank of water down to the boat? If anyone has solved this dilemma; please comment below!

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

Not Wearing Enough Sunscreen, Not Reapplying Sunscreen, or Bringing Toxic Sunscreen

I am always amazed at students who arrive for a sailing class with no sunscreen. We have a whole drawer full of sunscreen the people have left on the boats, but we are sorting through them as much of it is toxic to humans and sea life.

Those containing oxybenzone and octinoxate are so poisonous that they have been banned in Key West, Hawaii, Bonaire and Palau! Read more about that here: SunscreenBans: Just How Bad are Oxybenzone and Octinoxate?

If you are fair–skinned and tend to burn; be prepared! Being on the water all day means a lot of sun from above and from reflection off the water. Bring your favorite reef–safe sunscreen, and reapply as needed.

Also, spraying aerosol sunscreen is dangerous. The mist from the sunscreen will settle on the boat, making it very slippery and treacherous for everyone. Plus, when we wash the boat… all those toxins go into the water.

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

For daily use, I’m loving this tinted variety from Stream2Sea. While their mineral, reef-safe version does not make your face pale; this tinted version saves me time by working as a foundation as well.

They offer 20 spf for faces and 30 spf for bodies, anything above that is overkill, and they are the only sunscreen tested and proven to not harm coral larvae. With all the sunscreen bans of toxic sunscreens; make sure you show up to the boat with one that will make your captain glow. Or, at least marvel at your dedication to using environmentally-friendly products!

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

Spare Sunglasses and Reading Glasses

One time I had a student who was wearing prescription glasses, and they were lost overboard. I don’t wear glasses, so it never occurred to me that now she could not read the chart, she could not see the navigational markers, she could not make out on coming boats. How terrifying!

Either secure your classes around your neck with the strap if you depend on them, or bring a spare pair. Or do both!

My dive partner brings a “throwaway” pair of sunglasses on boats – good quality, but not terribly expensive. I have one pair on my head and two more in my bag every day I sail.

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

Not Bringing a Hat

I know, I know, I actually used to absolutely hate wearing a hat. I went through a phase of my youth where I am or a straw hat on the boat all the time. Then I graduated all caps, then to canvas surf style hats, then to visors.

Although when I began sailing full-time I did not really like wearing a hat, I realized that your face and neck get really burned if you don’t wear one. Also, when you create your own bit of shade on the boat; you are cooler!

After years of trials, one of my students arrived with the most perfect sailing hat ever. So perfect, I wrote an entire article about it: In Search of the Best Sailing Hat Ever.

Here’s a link to the straw hat worn above. It runs large, so I ordered: Volcom Men’s Quarter Straw Hat in Small/Medium  Or, here’s the same hat, but the larger version. It’s called: Quiksilver Men’s Pierside Straw Hat in Large/XL. They are the same except for the logo patch and sizing. I wrote an entire article about it: In Search of the Best Sailing Hat Ever

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

Dangling Jewelry

I’ve had sailing school student show up with dangling earrings. I am already cringing! I suppose I imagine the worst; which might be them getting caught in a jib sheet and getting ripped out of the ears.

Years ago, one of my sailing friends, Jerrilynn on Naked Option was wearing a plain wedding band on board. She wasn’t doing anything dangerous like heavy weather sail trim. She was simply going down the companionway, I think to fetch a bottle of water or something. A powerboat came by throwing a big wake. The boat rocked violently, and her wedding ring actually got caught slot where the hatch slides. It shucked all the flash off her finger. It was really bad. I promised her that I would mention this to everyone in my class from here on out, and I have.

Students come to class wearing large protruding diamonds. I suggest they remove them and put them somewhere safe in their coin section of their wallet in their backpack down below. No one on the boat is going to take your jewelry; except maybe Davy Jones’ locker! Save your sparklies for tonight at the yacht club!

Unexplicably, I am less concerned about the men’s wedding bands. Many men have gained a little weight since they were married, and the bands are often snug. Traditionally, a lot of men are a lot more used to working with their hands. Maybe they are more practiced with not getting their rings caught.

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

Wearing Dark-Soled Shoes

Generally, most dark–soled shoes are frowned upon being worn on the boat. Lighter color soled shoes are preferred, as they do not mark so much.

Even if you have dark-soled shoes that say “non-marking,” sometimes they still mark, and they make your captain nervous!

Be sure to check the tread of your shoes. You may have picked up a rock in the parking lot. One tiny pebble can wreck havoc on a teak and holly cabin sole! You will leave a little dents in the cabin sole everywhere. That results in the entire cabin floor being removed and refinished – thousands of dollars of labor and supplies.

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

Not Reading Course Materials In Advance

For the sake of your hard-earned money, and your valuable time, and the time of the other students; make sure you read your course materials. The more of everyone’s time that you take up with basic knowledge that you arrive already knowing, the less time there is for the on-the-water course content.

The ASA – American Sailing Association has some wonderful reference books. When you sign up for a 101 Basic Keelboat Sailing Certification class, this is the book you will receive. If you prefer to read well in advance, many ASA schools will deduct the cost of the book from your class registration if you already have it.

That means no penalty for studying ahead! Click this link to find Sailing Made Easy and a few other good choices for beginning reading.

, Don’t Make These Beginning Sailing School Student Mistakes

Boat Etiquette

Try not to park yourself in the companionway. You could be blocking the helmsperson’s view of the depth sounder, and the speed meter. Also, blocking anyone from retrieving their sunscreen or water.

Standing in front of the helmsperson while approaching the dock blocks their view. It is natural for everyone to stand up and start looking toward the dock, anticipating what line they will carry with them, and on which cleat they will place it. However, try not to stand in front of the helmperson, especially if they are rather short. You are blocking their view.

What to Read Next: Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Or, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail


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