6 Common Mistakes Made by First-Time Sailers

Sailing is an incredibly enjoyable way to spend a beautiful day, but like any other activity, practice makes perfect. If you wouldn’t go for a drive without knowing what you’re doing, it stands to reason that you shouldn’t take a sailboat out if you don’t know the ropes or have an experienced sailor with you to help out.

There are plenty of mistakes sailors make that wouldn’t be noticed by just anyone. It is crucial to take note of the most common errors, because some of them are big enough to derail your day of fun on the water.

1. Getting Caught in Winches

When a line wraps around a winch and is pulled in, anything that is between that line and the drum will also be sucked in. This is why experienced sailors always keep their hair tied back. It’s not just the wind-thrashing you’ll want to avoid; you can easily lose a finger or a get hair ripped out by winch-pinching.

2. Pulling on a Loose Line

There’s something about a tail of line that makes us want to pull on it, to figure out where it’s attached. But if it’s a halyard, the loose end will quickly climb the mast, faster than would seem possible. About halfway up, the weight of the line running down the mast will probably outweigh the line running up. The only way to recover from this is a quick scramble to the top of the mast—and hopefully, that wasn’t the only halyard available, or you’ll have to free-climb. 

3. Not Closing Thru-hulls Overnight 

Closing all the valves that could let in the ocean water will keep a small maintenance oversight from sinking your boat. And thru-hulls that get opened and shut several times a season will also be less likely to freeze open (or shut).

4. Flogging your Sails

The better sails are treated, the longer they’ll last. The quickest way to shorten a sail’s life expectancy is to flog it, letting it thrash in the wind.

When jibs stored on headstays that aren’t furled tightly enough. the breeze comes up, pulls a piece of leech free, and soon there’s a huge flag blowing the boat around. Not only will the jib be damaged, but the tranquility of the anchorage or marina will be disturbed. A tight furl is likely to prevent any unraveling. However, a secure sail still may not always be 100% guaranteed.

5. Starting the Engine Without Checking for Lines 

Many sailors will start their engine to return to dock. Always check over the side before the prop engages, to make sure a random jib sheet or dockline hasn’t fallen into the water. Unless you like swimming better than sailing, you won’t be happy if you have to unwrap something from the shaft.

6. Steering the Wrong Way When Backing Down

Sailboats can be difficult to backup. You may not be able to tell which way to turn the rudder. Push the tiller toward where you want the bow to go so the stern will move in the opposite direction. This is the exact opposite from wheel steering. 

Many people choose to learn from a sailing club. From instructors to other experienced sailors, a sailing club offers numerous opportunities for someone new to the hobby to improve their skills and plan a safe expedition.

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