Quick Start Guide for novices

What to wear

Make sure that what you’re wearing won’t absorb or hold water, which could make pulling yourself back into a boat after a capsize more difficult. Items of clothing like wellington boots, padded ‘puffa’ jackets, heavy ‘hoodie’ tops, or ‘lumberjack’ shirts are all to be avoided, and cotton clothing will not only absorb water, but will also increase the ‘windchill’ cooling effect and could contribute to the wearer getting dangerously cold. 

We suggest wearing quick-drying clothing made from man-made polyester fibres, and a pair of old trainers. If you have them, wearing a wetsuit and wetsuit boots is even better, but don’t go to the expense of buying them until you’re sure that sailing is your sport, since some wetsuits can be costly.

We will provide a wind and rainproof top and trousers, a buoyancy aid, and a protective helmet until you’re ready to invest in your own. 

What to expect at a Sailing Club session

If you’ve not been to a Sailing Club session before, it can be a bit bewildering, so follow the steps below:

  • Beforehand, keep an eye on the Club’s social media, in case the weather isn’t suitable for going out sailing or we are unable to run the session afloat safely. We may run a session ashore if this is the case, so don’t assume that the session is cancelled if the weather looks horrible.
  • Due to COVID-19 restrictions, changing facilities may be limited or unavailable, so you are advised to arrive at the venue wearing what you intend to go sailing in.
  • Make sure you have brought with you dry clothing and shoes to change into if you do end up in the water, a towel, and everything on our ‘What do I need to bring with me?’ list [insert link] 
  • When you first arrive at the venue, make sure you register with the Shoreside Duty Officer, give them your completed membership form and pay your membership and session fees.
  • One of the Club’s volunteer team will then help you find an appropriately-sized weatherproof top and trousers, buoyancy aid, and protective helmet.
  • We will then pair you up with someone with appropriate experience and sailing abilities in a boat which will best suit your first steps into sailing. (If you’ve been sailing before, we’re happy for you to sail on your own, although in order to safely maximise numbers on the water, we might ask you to take someone out on the water with you.)
  • You will be helped to get your boat ready to go sailing either by whoever you’re paired with or one of our volunteer team, and then you will need to assist getting the boat down the slipway in preparation to go out of the water. Please don’t launch your boat until the on-the-water safety team is ready for you and you are told it’s safe to.
  • Before you go out onto the water, we will normally give everyone a safety briefing, which will outline the area where we intend to sail, any expected hazards, safety signals, and what to do in the unlikely event of an on-the-water emergency. Please listen, and follow instructions.
  • Towards the end of the sailing session, we may end up playing some fun games which might involve capsizing the boat and/or you ending up in the water. Although it is perfectly safe and lots of fun for those used to it, it can be a bit scary if you’ve not capsized before, so if you would prefer to stay out of the water please let the person running the session know. We would prefer you to enjoy your first sailing experience with us!
  • After you get back to shore, please help get your boat (and everyone else’s boats) up the slipway and packed away. If you’ve got cold we advise changing into dry clothes and putting on a warm jacket first, and letting one of our volunteers know.
  • Once all the boats are packed away, we may have a short ‘debrief’ to help everyone improve their sailing techniques, so please don’t jump in the car until we’re finished.

Sailing boats and how they work (YouTube links)

‘Dos and Don’ts’ for new sailors.

So you’ve been sailing with us a few times, and you (hopefully) love it! It’s extremely easy to want to rush out and spend, spend, spend on your new hobby, and think that you’ve enough knowledge to take on anything!

  • Do feel free to ask questions. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, and most experienced sailors will be delighted to explain anything you don’t understand.
  • Always wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid when you go afloat. It may help save your life.
  • Don’t rush to buy a boat (just yet!) You’re welcome to use one of ours whilst you’re learning and you’re working out whether you enjoy the sport. Once you think you’re ready to take the plunge, our experienced volunteers will happily advise you on what classes of boat will match your budget, situation, and abilities.
  • Don’t buy brand new expensive wetsuits for junior sailors. In our experience, kids grow so rapidly that the wetsuit you bought them at the beginning of the sailing season won’t fit by the end of it. Cheaper sources of clothing can be found online (eBay, etc) or in some local supermarkets during the summer. Again, we are happy to advise you on your potential purchases.
  • Do keep coming along to Stornoway Sailing Club sessions, as it is a good way of practising your new-found skills in a safe controlled environment. You will also increase your sailing knowledge, make new friends, and discover other aspects of the sport which you may not already know!
  • Do check the weather forecast and current conditions. Respect the elements, as it’s all too easy to get into trouble if you don’t.
  • Do tell someone where you’re going, and approximately when you’ll be back if you’re going out sailing on your own. Use the RYA Safetrx app or website to let the Coastguard know of your plans so someone will be looking for you if the worst should happen. Contact Harbour Authorities to advise them of your plans, so they can be aware of your presence and warn other vessels of your whereabouts.
  • Do check your boat over before going on the water. Does everything function as it should? Is the drain plug in? It’s much easier to recognise and fix things in the more controlled environment of the slipway or marina than when you’re out sailing.
  • Do keep a good lookout for other vessels when you’re on the water, have a good knowledge of the nautical ‘rules of the road’, and take avoiding action if necessary. Steer well clear of commercial traffic, which may not be as manoeuvrable as you are.
  • Do be cautious and have a back-up plan. Risky decisions usually end badly!
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