Set Sail

Know your knots. You'll learn a few basic knots in class that you'll need to use on the boat. Practice until you can tie the knots with your eyes closed. Knots frequently used in sailing include the figure eight, sheet bend and bowline.

Watch the wind. To sail, you must learn to read the wind's speed and direction.
Pay close attention to changing weather conditions and currents, as well as other boats around you.

Stay centered. Keep your body low as you move around the boat, and switch positions quickly and carefully. Always remember the old adage: "One hand for you, one hand for the boat."

Gearing Up

Sailing requires you to move quickly around the boat's often slippery, wet surfaces. Here's how to prepare for wind and waves.

Clothing Choose comfortable, layered clothing that allows you to move freely. Avoid apparel with dangling items that could get caught in the many lines and moving parts on a sailboat. Depending on where you sail, you may need waterproof overalls, a jacket and warm-when-wet synthetic fabrics. A swimsuit and light cotton shirt may be enough for cruising warm waters.

Personal Flotation Device Often referred to as a "PFD," a life jacket is almost always mandatory during classes and when racing. Sailing centers usually loan you a PFD during a course. There are three kinds of PFDs (Type I through III), which vary in buoyancy and design, from hanging over your neck to fitting like a vest. Ask your instructor what's best for you.

Shoes Light-colored, non-marking shoes will prevent your feet from getting hurt and the deck from getting scuffed. Wear shoes with traction to prevent you from slipping.

Gloves Protect your hands from line (rope) burn by wearing gloves. They will also help to keep your hands warm and dry.

Sun Protection A hat or visor and polarized sunglasses combat strained vision and eye damage. Always wear sunscreen when sailing, as reflected light from the water, in addition to the sun above, can cause painful sunburns.

Sailor Speak

Expect to hear some of these terms on a sailboat:

Starboard: The right side of a boat.
Port: The left side of a boat.
Bow: The front of a boat.
Stern: The back of a boat.
Main: The large sail that is hoisted on the mast located in the center of the sailboat.
Jib: The sail forward of the mainsail, also referred to as a headsail.
Spinnaker: A large, often colorful sail used when sailing downwind, also referred to as a kite.
Line: Any rope used onboard.
Sheet: Line or rope used to control a sail.
Trim: To adjust a sail by using the sheet.
Tack: To change direction by turning the bow through the wind.
Jibe: To change direction by steering the stern through the wind.
Heel: The lean of the boat caused by the wind.
Chart: A nautical map.
Michelle Slade is a freelance writer and sailing journalist based in Marin County, California.

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