Quick Sailing Tips and Techniques

Chris Riley by Chris Riley Updated on July 29, 2019. In nauticalknowhow

I like to begin my first sailing lesson by explaning that there are three basic rules that MUST be followed to be a successful sailor or crew member. They are simple rules and easy to remember.

Rule 1: When handling halyards, make sure that:

  • both ends of the halyard are in your hands
  • one end is securely attached and the other is in your hand
  • both ends are securely attached to something

Why you ask? So one end of the halyard doesn’t fly to the top of the mast causing the skipper to ask you to do the same and bring it back down.

Rule 2: When working with winch handles, make sure that:

  • the handle is in your hand
  • the handle is in the winch and in your hand
  • the handle is stowed in its proper safe location

Why you ask? A winch handle left unattended in a winch or on deck can suddenly be lurched overboard by a sudden wave or a slip of the foot. Speaking of lurching overboard, it is usually the skipper’s command to the one committing the violation as he explains that those cost $75.00 as you hit the water.

Rule 3: When sailing on a beautiful day, make sure that:

  • you don’t try to sail where the birds are standing
  • you don’t try to sail where the birds are standing
  • you don’t try to sail where the birds are standing

Why, you ask? Guess!

More quick tips

Always at your fingertips

Keep a nail polish bottle (complete with brush) full of your favorite varnish. It will come in handy to cover scratches, dents, etc. prior to the wood discoloring.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

For a quick evaluation of a nightime crossing situation, note the position of the vessel being observed in relation to a star. If the star and the vessel remain in the same relative position for several minutes, that signals that a constant bearing exists and you should start to make plans accordingly.

Rubber Boots

Have a leaking mast boot? Replace it with a waterproof and inexpensive repair. Wrap an ace bandage tightly around the bottom of the mast. Find that can of Dip Whip that you have been putting off using to whip the ends of all those frayed lines. Paint three coats of Dip Whip over the ace bandage. The result is a flexible, waterproof repair that will last for seasons of use.

Thanks to Ed Schorr for adding a few more quick tips. His email message follows: — Capt. Matt

Dear Capt. Matt,

I am a faithful reader of your web site, I really enjoy the fact sheets and courses which are available. I’m also a small boat sailor myself, catamarans actually (NACRA 5.8) and I race quite frequently (both regattas and long distance races). I noticed this week’s tips for vacationing sailors and thought you may have missed a couple of things which I encountered during a recent race in Florida.

If you do end up sailing on a nice day where the birds can stand (because they weren’t there when you decided to sail to where you are now stuck and the chart did not indicate a recently grown mud flat);

  • Beware of local sea life which you may not be accustomed to like the Portuguese Man-of-war or Stingray.
  • Make sure your VHF is working BEFORE you leave shore. Notify someone of your sailing plans for the day and when you plan on returning.
  • Bring an appropriate amount of food and water (non-salted variety) for a long day out as the local conditions may get bad (really windy) or worse (no wind).
  • If you ground out and decide to push the boat off, the bottom you are about to step in may be very soft. You may get stuck as your boat decides to sail away.

Like I said, I sail small boats which can sail with only four inches of the boat in the water so we encounter some strange conditions in that respect. During our race we also found that the crew weight was not needed on the trapeze off the side of the boat but off the rear cross-beam due to the point of sail and heavy wind and sea conditions (a reach with twenty to twenty two knots of wind and four to six foot seas).

Thanks again,




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