Global Destinations Offer

Save 20% on sailing holidays across our worldwide destinations! View Offer 

0 DAYS :
0 HRS :
0 MINS :

Beginners Guide to Sailing

So, you want to spend some time on a sailing yacht but don’t know where to start? Welcome to our guide to everything you need to know to embark on a sailing adventure.

Sailing 101: How does the boat work?

The Anatomy of a Sailboat

To start learning your sailing basics, you first need to become familiar with the basic anatomy of a sailboat – while features will differ between sailing yachts, you can count on each of them to have:

The Basic Principles of Sailing

Now, how easy is it to sail? It will become quite easy and intuitive once you understand how you can work with the boat to get where you need to go. Here are the sailing basics you ought to know before stepping on a yacht. 

First consider: how does the wind make the boat move? To understand this, you need to know what windward and leeward mean in relation to sailing. If the wind is blowing across a boat (which it often is) then the winward is the one closer to the wind – this is the side where you’ll see the wind push against the sail. The leeward side is the one further away from the wind.

You always feel the effects of the wind on a sailing yacht – to stay your course, you have to constantly calculate how to sail against or with the wind to cancel out its effects. This means learning the points of sail.

There are six points of sail to remember: 

Becoming familiar with these terms now is crucial to becoming a strong sailor later on, as learning these sailing basics will determine how well you can adjust to changes in the wind.
Once you have these sailing basics down, you can also learn techniques like steering, tacking and gybing.

The Importance of Sailing Knots

It will also be helpful to have a strong understanding of sailing knots before you start officially learning how to sail. A variety of knots are used across a sailing yacht for different purposes and having some of the fundamental ones committed to memory will help you become a more useful sailor.

There are three types of sailing knots: 

Learn how to tie five of the most important sailing knots with our Basic Sailing Knots page. 

Yacht Vital Statistics

You may often see certain values attached to a yacht specification; here’s what they are and why they’re important:

This is only the start of the sailing terminology you will need to learn, but don’t worry. We’re here to support you every step of the way, which is why we have a handy glossary of Sailing Terms Explained that covers the A-Z of important words and phrases.

Where can I learn to sail?

Our guide to sailing is brief, but it’s just the beginning. Now that you’ve learned the basics of sailing, it’s time to consider taking sailing lessons – while you can teach yourself to an extent, there is a growing trend for charter companies and local authorities to make sailing qualifications a prerequisite to booking a charter.

Sailors don’t necessarily need licenses in many places outside the wider Mediterranean (Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Spain, Italy), but you will need a degree of suitable experience with a similar sized yacht in order to charter without a skipper.

You can earn the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) certification you need – or alternatively a Flotilla Starter course – at one of our sailing schools. We have three schools across Agana, Lefkas and Portsmouth. 
And not to worry, our classes are grouped by experience level – if you have no experience at all, or you’re still a beginner, there is an appropriate course for you. Sign up today, and soon enough you’ll be sailing across vast oceans and exploring islands and coastlines around the world.

Where should I go?

Once you’ve earned your sailing certification, the world is your oyster. Have a look at our destinations pages to pick your perfect sailing ground from our 25 bases in:

We’ve split our destinations into levels, so you can choose your holiday based on your skill and comfort level. These levels act as a guide to our sailing areas, encompassing tides, wind, weather conditions and navigational challenges that you may encounter. Explore the destination pages to learn more about the sailing conditions and best times to sail in each.

Which is the right yacht for me?

Now you know which part of the world you want to sail in, you need to decide which yacht to choose. 



When most people talk about sailing a yacht, they have the traditional monohull in mind. The classic yacht, they are designed to slice through the water, offering thrilling sailing, but less space than a catamaran. 

Monohulls have keels that sit much deeper in the water, and so they have to be acutely aware of water depths. These yachts are best for couples, small groups, flotillas, and people after a more dynamic sailing experience.



Spread across two hulls, catamarans offer a much larger and more spacious living environment, and sit higher on the water, meaning they can explore much shallower areas. They may surrender some upwind performance to the monohulls, but they are a go-anywhere exploring yacht, perfect for large groups.
If you would like a deeper understanding of the differences between monohulls and catamarans, see our piece on Catamarans vs Monohulls..

Yacht vital statistics

You may often see certain values attached to a yacht specification; here’s what they are and why they’re important:

What kind of sailing holiday do I want?

Bareboat charter


A bareboat charter puts you in control, as you literally charter the bareboat, without a skipper or crew. Perfect for experienced sailors looking to take the helm and discover true freedom at sea, independently sailing your own yacht. Jump on board our first-class fleet in 25 superb destinations. You will require qualification and/or a certain level of sailing experience to bareboat charter a yacht.

Flotilla holidays


A flotilla charter allows you to sail in the company of other yachts, guided by an expert Sunsail lead crew, who will organize your itinerary. Join a Flotilla in the Mediterranean. You will require some experience to join a flotilla without a skipper.

Skippered holidays

Sunsail Greneda 2014
Sunsail Greneda 2014

Experience sailing in the expert hands of a Sunsail Skipper. Skippered charters are available at every Sunsail base, and are ideal for the inexperienced. These are great for beginners or those looking to improve under the skipper’s watchful eye. If you’re interested in becoming a skipper, here are some sailing tips for first-time skippers.

What more do you need?

That was Sailing 101 – now you’re equipped with everything you need to know to start your sailing journey and begin planning your first charter. What are you waiting for?
To find out more, or book your next great adventure, call us on 0330 818 3679.


Ian Pedersen

Plan Your Dream Vacation