When deciding to go sailing, choose an appropriate beach and only go afloat when weather and water conditions suit your level of expertise. When arriving at the chosen sailing beach ask local sailors for advice before going afloat for their experience of the prevailing conditions. Check out the local weather forecast on a car radio, or ring the harbour master's office and any other maritime safety information service.
Take a look at all wind indicators which help to assess the conditions. Note the direction that flags are flying ashore and on moored boats along with any smoke trails. The behaviour of trees moving in the wind is another indicator as well as waves on the water. These will indicate the strength and direction of wind gusts.
Onshore winds feel stronger and if moderate or strong it will cause waves to break on the beach. An onshore wind makes it difficult to launch and sail off because it blows the dinghy back onto the shore, but makes it easy returning to the shore. When the water is shallow a long way out, the waves break some distance from the beach but if the shoreline is steep, the waves break on the shore.
Offshore winds true strength can be difficult to judge while on land. Its strength, sailing further from the shore has a tendency to increase beyond that which is suited to your sailing ability. An offshore wind makes it easy to sail away with the absence of waves on the beach along with being blown clear of the shore. Returning could be difficult with the danger of wind making it impossible to return to base.
On the sea, avoid going afloat in offshore winds when learning. On inland waters, make sure that another boat will be available if you need a tow back to base. Close to land, the sea is sheltered and there are no waves but further out, the conditions may be rougher than they appear from the beach.
Be sure to know the state of the tide by finding the direction of the tidal stream and the time it turns. Plan the trip so that you are sailing back with the tide. Verify tidal information in the tables by
surveying the shoreline: a wet shoreline means that the tide receding and a dry one indicates that it is coming in.
In shallow water when sailing off a beach, the effect of a tidal stream along the shoreline is not significant. This is because launching is done into shallow water where there is minimal tidal stream.
In deep water, the tidal stream will affect sailing away and return except when the tide is a weaker force than the wind. When in doubt sail away, pointing into the tide and use just the jib if the wind is behind the beam. Aim to turn into the tide to stop when returning. If the wind is behind the beam on approach, lower the mainsail and sail in under the jib.
When learning to sail, avoid shipping channels and if crossing a channel, do so at right angles to get across quickly. With a potential collision situation and unaware of the rules, keep clear by making a course alteration passing behind the other boat.
Check regularly for other boats and look astern for other vessels. The area behind the jib and mainsail is usually hidden from helmsman and crew when sitting out to windward. Have the crew check this area regularly, by moving leeward briefly.
Before sailing, assess the conditions:
- Is the wind strength suitable for your experience level?
- Which direction is the wind - onshore or offshore?
- Is the wind strength forecast to increase or decrease?
- What is the state of the tide, and when returning will it be in your favour?
- When on the water, is there any assistance nearby to help if necessary?
Having decided it is safe to sail, make sure a responsible person knows your plans - where you are sailing and when the time of your return. When you have returned, remember to tell them you have returned so that they will not notify the rescue services unnecessarily.
When on the shoreline make a check:
- Is clothing adequate for the conditions?
- Is the crew wearing personal buoyancy?
- Is all the sailing gear rigged properly?
- Are all the bungs and hatches in position?
- Are paddles on board and secured?
- Is there an anchor and warp aboard?
- Is all personal equipment stowed in waterproof containers?
By law in many countries, trailers should not be immersed in water as degeneration of the wheel bearings and braking mechanisms are road hazards. It is for this reason, except when launching keelboats and heavy dinghies, a boat dolly is the best means of transporting the sailboat from car to water and back again.
Damage is done to dinghies when moved while ashore as they are heavy and awkward to lift, so find a few people willing to help lift it onto its trolley. Position the sailboat with the weight centered on the boat dolly and tie the painter around the trolley handle preventing it from sliding off.
Check that all the bungs are in position. A lifting rudder can be fitted before launching but a fixed blade is left until the sailboat is afloat with the water deep enough to take it. Planning should also take account that once the sailboat is afloat, someone takes control of it while the boat dolly is returned the allotted parking place.
Face the sailboat into the wind prior to hoisting the sails, and launch with the bow pointing as near as practicable into the wind so the sailboat is in ‘in irons’ and does not have a tendency to accidentally sail away.
Before leaving from a weather shore, check the forecast. As the wind is blowing off the land, it is difficult to judge how strong it is further from the shore beyond the sheltered effect of the land. There are no significant waves close to the shore but sailing further out the wind increases and the waves grow in size.
Launching from a weather shore where the wind is blowing from the land to the water is fairly simple.
- Trundle the trolley into the water with the sailing dinghy floating prior to the water reaching your knees.
- Slide the trolley from beneath the boat and return it to shore as another person controls the sailboat.
- When ready, climb aboard and back the jib by so that the boat drifts backward into deeper water.
- Release the jib and sheet it on its correct side, lower the centreboard to its halfway position.
- Sheet in the mainsail, which gives additional power, before bearing away and sail out from the shore.
Returning to a weather shore involves tacking and this approach depends on whether the water close to the shore is shallow or deep.
- When sailing into shallow water, the crew raises the centreboard to clear the bottom, with the helmsman ready to lift the rudder blade when necessary.
- After raising the rudder blade, make gentle tiller movements as the rudder blade when in the raised position is vulnerable to breakage.
- Be aware that once the centreboard is raised, the sailboat makes more leeway, and sailing control is reduced.
- Plan the course into the beach, and discuss this with the crew.
- Make a check that there are no other boats preparing to launch or other obstructions.
- When reaching the shore, the crew steps out on the windward side and holds the sailing dinghy by the bow.
- Tack in close, and then sail parallel to the land until reaching the landing point.
- The helmsman points the sailing dinghy head-to-wind to stop.
- The crew gets out just behind the shroud, taking care to avoid stepping into deep water, and holds the sailboat
- The helmsman lowers the sails, removes the rudder, and raises the centreboard fully.
- Tack in to the shore, aiming for your chosen landing spot.
- When the water gets shallower, the crew raises the centreboard and the helmsman lifts the rudder.
- Make the final approach on a close reach.
- At the landing point, turn head-to-wind.
- The crew gets out and holds the sailing dinghy, while the helmsman lowers the sails, removes the rudder, and raises the centreboard fully.
A lee shore is exposed to the prevailing conditions and the wind and waves may seem daunting on the beach but are manageable further out. This is expected if the shore is steep with the waves breaking onto it even in moderate winds. The hardest part of the sail is moving off the beach and sailing through surf to calmer water.If the waves are reasonable, and conditions are suitable, determine how to sail away from the launching area taking account of wind and wave effects that may push the sailboat back towards shore. Options can be rowing, paddling or sailing the boat away from the shore.
Leaving a lee shore is complicated because sailing on a close-hauled or on a close reach is difficult, especially when the centerboard cannot be lowered fully due to shallow water. If the wind is directly onshore there is no choice but to start on a close reach until the centerboard can be lowered fully.
The wind often blows onto the shore at an angle which means there is a larger angle between the shore and one edge of the no-sail zone. Curved shores also provide a greater angle to sail in on one tack. Choose the tacking angle that gives the longest leg, therefore clearing the shore without the need to tack again.
Find this angle before entering the water by raising the sails then swinging the trolley until the sails are amidships. Sail the boat in the opposite tacking direction to which it points. A current or tidal stream presence in the launching area complicates leaving and returning. Its direction and strength determines the way to leave or approach the shore.
- Turn the sailboat head-to-wind and hoist both sails ashore when leaving from a beach in deep water.
- Decide on the tack direction and stand by the side that will be to windward.
- When ready to launch put the sailing dinghy half in the water and watch the waves as they approach.
- When a wave floats the boat, push it into deep water and climb aboard.
- Sheet in both sails, lower the centerboard and rudder blade when able to do so.
- Sail fast on a close reach to get through the waves and clear of the beach.
- Luff up to sail over each wave crest and then bear away.
- Hoist the jib before launching the sailboat,
- The helmsman climbs aboard and hoists the mainsail in shallow water.
- The crew holds the sailing dinghy by the bow and walks the boat out until the depth is about 1m or 3ft.
- Lower the rudder and centreboard when depth of water allows it, being careful not to allow them to hit the bottom which may result in them breaking.
Skill and judgement is required when returning to a lee shore. With the wind behind, it is an easy approach to a lee shore, but be careful with stopping techniques. Arriving at a lee shore in strong winds is dangerous because the waves will be steep and breaking, particularly if the shore is sloping into deep water. Keep to the windward side of the boat when disembarking, as breaking waves or a gust of wind can push the sailboat on top of you. Get the sailing dinghy ashore quickly.
Experienced sailors sail to the shore at full speed, round up in the shallows to face the wind, disembark and back their sailing dinghy facing the wind up to the recovery area. Less experienced sailors should heave-to some way off shore, lower and stow the mainsail, then sail in under jib only. When reaching the shallows the crew jumps out and holds the bow to windward while the jib is lowered.
- In shallow water, approach on a broad reach under full sail.
- When the water is about 1m (3ft) deep, turn into the wind to stop.
- The crew steps out on the windward side to hold the bow
- The helmsman lowers the sails, and removes the rudder.
- Some way offshore, turn bead-to-wind and lower the mainsail.
- Approach the shore under jib alone on a run or broad reach.
- Close to the shore, let the jib flap and drift in.
- Helmsman and crew jump out when the water is shallow enough.
When landing in large waves, make a fast approach on a broad reach raising the rudder blade at the last moment. Before the sailboat makes contact with the beach, both the helmsman and crew exit the boat on the windward side then run the sailing dinghy up the beach then turn it head-to-wind then lower the sails.
With the wind blowing along the shoreline, it makes an easy launching situation as the boat simply sails from and to the shore on a beam reach.