Sailing Experiences: The Ideal Christmas Present To Buy A Beginner Sailor

Posted on November 23, 2015 by Richard Shrubb under RYA, Sailing, Sailing Courses Comments Off on Sailing Experiences: The Ideal Christmas Present To Buy A Beginner Sailor

Sailing up Sydney Harbour

A lot of people dream of casting off and seeing the world from off the coast. But not everyone gets around to actually doing it.

I’ll never forget how, as soon as we left the dock at Milwaukee the heave of my sailing ship on a very gentle sea set a trainee’s stomach at full churn. Later that night I was doing some checks below and heard a desperate whisper of, ‘Watch your feet,’ referring to the puddle of vomit beneath the table the poor guy was lying on… For him, he learned he hadn’t the stomach for it, but others will get really enthused and want to progress their learning to the point that one day they start going up the ladder of their country’s sailing syllabus.

Here I have a quick look around the world to see what sailing experiences you can buy a beginner sailor for Christmas (or any other occasion) to see if they have the legs and stomach for learning to sail.

In the UK…

At one stage a world leading maritime nation, the UK has a dedicated programme run by the Royal Yachting Association called Start Yachting. It is geared around fun and designed to both give the sailor a light education while showing what life afloat on a yacht is like.

The sailor will quickly learn that a yacht rolls in much smaller seas than move a cross channel ferry (and could turn them green at the gills) but for all that, is about adventure and fun.

If you’re looking to send your loved one afloat for the first time, have a look around The Boating Hub for suitable beginner sailing courses in your area. I’d suggest that a good time to go would be in May or June, though there are gales year round in the UK – just less frequently in late Spring and early summer!

For the rest of the world there aren’t many dedicated courses of the kind of the RYA Start Yachting course, but there may well be a RYA training establishment near you. As we jaunt around the world in this blog, you will see equivalent days out but they don’t always have a specific teaching element.

The US

The American Sailing Association do offer a basic keelboat course but for the complete novice, you may want to sail something a bit bigger. There are dozens of tall ships plying their way around the East Coast, West Coast and Great Lakes for example – I did a year aboard one such vessel.

One trip that is available is aboard USA 11, the 1992 America’s Cup entry that takes people day sailing out of San Diego. This is a lot of fun and will give you a real taste of what it is like to race a yacht. 1990’s technology is nothing like what is used on the current flying AC45’s but is far closer to what you would enjoy in your local sailing club.

Canada – Introduction to Boating

National sail training organisation Sail Canada offers an Introduction to Boating course that involves a day afloat on the sea or lakes, getting a feel for what sailing is about. There is no exam and the only pass or fail is whether you want to go sailing again after the course. Not everyone will enjoy it. I don’t enjoy oil painting, but at least I’ve had a go at it…

As with the UK version, the Christmas shopper should consider early summer for the experience as the weather can be a tad rock and roll in early Spring and Fall!


I haven’t done it but apparently seeing Sydney Harbour from the water is so amazing that it’s one of the things you should do before you die! There are a number of sailing schools that offer a Discover Sailing course that takes three hours, and like the Canadian and UK equivalent, is designed to give you the buzz for life afloat.

Unlike the UK or Canadian version of the course, you can set your friend or loved one afloat on dinghies or yachts. Dinghies are about getting wet and having a blast before coming home for lunch. Yachts are about having lunch and the odd drink and are often far less physical.

One of the advantages of learning to sail in the southern hemisphere around Christmas is that it is mid summer. Your loved one may be talking about Wild Oats XI vs Comanche in the upcoming Sydney Hobart Race – get them sailing and one day they may end up as a crew-member in the fleet!

How Much Do These Sailing Experiences Cost?

All of these sailing experience days should set you back around UK £200 or US $300 or so (often much less) so is well within the budget of someone who could afford to do the sport. I am sending my partner sailing early next year to see if she has the stomach for it so I can decide whether to buy a family cruising boat – don’t tell her as it is a surprise!

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