Exactly How Long Does It Take To Learn To Sail?

Sailing can be a relaxing recreation activity or an exhilarating means of travel. Sailing is something you can enjoy at any age, no matter where you’re located. Before you can fully enjoy the rewards that sailing has to offer, you must first learn enough to be able to safely and competently captain a craft.

How long does it take to learn to sail? Learning to sail probably won’t take as long as you’re expecting. There are many factors that influence the exact amount of time, but the basics of safe sailing can be picked up in as little as 1 to 2 weeks. Depending on your situation and your goals, getting squared away should take no more than a single season.

Of course, even experienced sailors will tell you that they’re always learning and that there will always be more to learn about equipment, navigation, and weather. If you start with the areas we discuss in this article, you’ll be off to a great start.

What You Need to Know About Learning to Sail

When you talk about learning to sail, you might be thinking of anything from a 14’ Sunfish dinghy to the 285’ Maltese Falcon. You could be envisioning a cruise around an inland lake, the calm Caribbean waters, or open oceans.

The good news is that the physics of sailing are the same for any size craft and apply to any waters you wish to sail. Still, every craft will present you with unique challenges. On top of that, even the calmest waters can take some getting used to. It is important to make sure that you’re prepared to handle your craft and keep yourself and others safe before you set sail.

The most important things to account for in your learning process will also be the keys in determining how long it will take:

  • Experience, Exposure, and/or Research
  • Your Preferred Learning Style
  • Geographic Considerations
  • Exit/Reentry Requirements
  • Your Sailing Goals

Experience, Exposure, and Research

It seems obvious, but it’s still worth mentioning. Any previous experience with sailing will be a valuable asset to you when you set out to re-learn after a long time away or add new skills to your repertoire. Even if you only spent a few weeks sailing and it was decades ago, this will make it easier for you to pick up skills and remember important elements of the process.

Maybe you’ve never sailed before, but you’ve had the opportunity to spend time on sailboats. Depending on how much attention you paid to the activities of the captain and crew, these experiences could be almost as valuable as previous experience sailing. This is especially true if you’re opportunities to observe were on a craft similar to the one you want to learn on now.

Everybody has to have their first sailing experience sometime, and even if yours hasn’t come yet, you can still get a head start on the learning process by doing research. Spending time with books, the internet, or listening to experienced sailors talk are all good ways to reduce the amount of time that it will take you to learn.

Your Preferred Learning Style

This element goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. It’s just common sense to note that time spent learning by your preferred learning style will be more efficient than time spent learning by some other means.

There’s a lot to understand and remember about how to sail safely and do it well enough that you can relax and enjoy your time on the water.

If you prefer to learn by reading and studying, then you can do this at your own pace and be ready to make the most of your opportunities to put what you’ve learned into practice when you finally get onto a boat.

If you prefer to learn by doing, the time it takes you to learn to sail will depend on the amount of opportunities that you have to get out on the water and how good your teachers are when you head out with them.

Geographic Considerations

How long it takes to learn to sail can be influenced tremendously by the challenges that your geographic location presents.

  • Will you be the only boat on the water, or will you be learning in close proximity to major shipping lanes?
  • Will you be learning on an inland lake, a protected bay, or the open ocean?

Every geographic location has unique features that you’ll need to be aware of in order to safely navigate those waters. Sometimes it’s as simple as remembering that there is a log or rock to worry about if you approach the dock from a certain direction. Other times it involves currents, changes in wind direction and speed, traffic on the water, and more.

If your environment is simple, you will be able to get out in a boat and learn by trial and error fairly quickly. If your location presents some serious challenges, you’ll need to make sure you’re ready for them.

Exit/Re-entry Requirements

Just as important as the characteristics of the waters you’ll be sailing are the factors involved in getting your craft out of and back into a mooring. A collision in a crowded marina can be an embarrassing way to start a relaxing day of sailing. At the same time, if you’re not confident in your abilities, worrying about re-entry the whole time your out is no way to relax.

If you’re fortunate enough to be learning in an environment that is low-pressure, you can get right down to business. If your craft is tied up in a slip at a busy marina, you’ll have to spend time getting comfortable with getting in and out before you can say that you’ve learned to sail.

Your Sailing Goals

This factor depends entirely upon you. How long it will take you to learn to sail is ultimately a question of how much you need to know before you consider yourself a sailor. How much you need to know will depend entirely on what you want to be able to do it a sailboat.

There is a lot more to know about sailing if you want to circumnavigate the globe than you’ll need to putter around on a small inland lake.

Do you want to let devices handle some things for you, or do you want to learn how to do everything yourself in case technology lets you down?

When you set out to learn to sail, you are opening up the door to learning about first aid, maintenance for your craft, navigation, rough weather procedures, and much more. How much you want to learn and what you want to learn about it will be the only question for you to ask as you continue on your personal journey to becoming a better and more knowledgeable sailor.

Hoist the Mainsail

No matter where you’re starting out from or how far you plan to go—there’s no time like the present to get started and no wrong way to get the ball rolling.

Sailing is both fun and challenging. How you approach, it will determine the exact balance of the two. If you do what feels right for you—you can’t go wrong.

Whether you start out with an independent study, professional training courses, or by spending time with experienced sailors, you can quickly pick up everything you need to know to be able to safely set out on your own.

Maybe your only planning on learning enough to handle a day sail by yourself in familiar waters. Don’t be surprised if, before long, your looking at larger craft and longer journeys. Once you know the basics, the world will be your oyster.


I am the owner of sailoradvice. I live in Birmingham, UK and love to sail with my wife and three boys throughout the year.

Recent Posts