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A Kid's Guide to Sailing Boats

Written By: Peter Whiting

People of all ages enjoy sailing. After all, it's a great chance to get out on the water with family and friends. Some parents start bringing their children out on the water when they are still babies. Babies and toddlers can't actually help sail the boat, but older kids can start taking on tasks and be contributing members of the crew. In fact, many sailboat crews are just families out to enjoy the water together. Learning to sail is a fun experience that can teach you a variety of important skills you can use on boats and in the other parts of your life.

The Benefits of Learning to Sail

Learning to sail has many benefits. It's great to get outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Sailing also requires everyone to focus on the task at hand, which is a great way to build a longer attention span. It's also a confidence-builder: Getting better at sailing can give you a sense of accomplishment. And learning to sail can teach you a lot about spatial awareness, too. Spatial awareness is your ability to sense how big things are and where they are in relation to each other. When you're steering a boat, you need to be aware of how big the boat is and how close it is to other objects, like buoys, islands, other boats, or the dock. You'll also get better at navigation when you learn to sail. You'll have to be able to figure out which way you want to go, which way the wind is blowing, and how you can combine that information to get the boat to go in the right direction.

Sailing Terms

Sailing has its own vocabulary. Luckily, the terms are easy to learn. For instance, port is the side of the boat to a person's left as they stand facing the front of the boat. Starboard is the term for the right side of the boat. The bow is the front of the boat, while the stern refers to the rear of the boat. The helm is the wheel or tiller that steers the boat. Heeling is when a sailboat leans over as the sails fill with air. Windward is the high side of the boat when heeling, while leeward is the low side of the boat when heeling. Remember that the sails are held up by lines, not ropes. There are names for different kinds of sails as well. The big sail is called the mainsail. The second-biggest sail is known as the jib.

Sailing Basics and Safety Tips

Sailing is fun, but it's important to follow some basic safety rules. First, always wear a life jacket. Also, never go out sailing during a storm or when the winds are high. Always bring safety equipment such as a flashlight, rain gear, and a first aid kit. It's also important to remember the height of the mast when going under bridges or power lines.

One of the most important skills to learn when sailing is how to trim the sails. Trimming the sails is when they are eased (let out) or trimmed (hauled in) to catch the wind. Sailors know when to ease and when to trim by paying attention to signs like telltales, which are small pieces of string attached to the mainsail and jib.

Just like cars, sailboats must obey traffic rules! The boat with the right of way is called the stand-on, while the other boats are referred to as the give-way vessels. Who has the right of way depends on the positions of the boats, which way they're headed, and what types of vessels are involved. The most important thing to remember is to avoid hitting swimmers, objects, and other boats, even if it means letting a give-way vessel go first.

Tide, Wind, and Weather Conditions

Sailing is affected by the weather, wind, and tide. Learning to read the wind is an important skill for a sailor. It's also important to stay out of stormy weather. Another thing to consider is the tides. The tide going up at high tide and dropping at low tide creates tidal currents, which also can be affected by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun. Sailors typically keep a tide chart on their vessel because they need to know the timing of high and low tides.

Beginner Tips

One of the first things all new sailors should learn is how to capsize their boat and how to right it. Most sailors will experience their boat flipping over at some point, so you should know how to get it back right side up and ready to sail. Practice this in calm water. When you're sailing, always know where the boom is and make sure it doesn't hit anyone. Sail with someone more experienced, so they can teach you their own tips and tricks and make sure the trip goes safely. And only sail on sunny, windy days.

Try Different Roles

There are many different jobs on a sailboat. The first mate watches the schedule and organizes assignments for the crew. Mates handle the halyards and sheets. Deckhands keep lines from falling overboard and keep them ship-shape to prevent other crew members from tripping. The helmsperson is in charge of steering the boat. The lookout tells the helmsperson about the location of other ships on the water and also watches for debris and other hazards. The steward brings drinks, snacks, and warm clothing to the crew. The DJ is in charge of the music. The engineer tests and monitors the power and battery levels of the boat. You might even have a biologist on board to keep an eye out for wildlife. There really is a job for everyone on a sailboat!

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