I’ve noticed a strange phenomena that I believe is due to the rise in sailing Youtubers and bloggers like myself. More and more sailors are going to sea without any training at all. They decide to take the leap, move aboard a boat and set sail. I’ve seen it over and over – praise given for being so brave, for following your dreams, for not knowing anything but “doing it anyway.” Is it really praise worthy or foolishness? We take a risk every time we go to sea, but I would never have done this without training first. Training comes in many forms. It can be formal, like a sail-training expedition, or it can be informal like working your way up the haws-pipe starting from mess mate, to deckhand, to mate, etc. Or, it can even be through experience and learning from a variety of people, starting small and working from there.
I always feel lucky when I get to meet one of my readers. I’m thankful when they say they are inspired by me, or that they learned something from my blog. But this time, I felt differently when he said, “I had no idea how to sail, but when I saw your blog I thought, ‘If she can do it, so can I.’ So I got a boat off of Ebay and set sail.”
Do I really look that stupid in my blog? Did I present myself as someone without any training who foolishly went to sea alone anyway?
Somewhere I failed to send the message that I find most important – Sailing is serious. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I was a professional sailor with a USCG Master license years before I purchased Daphne. At the time, I had 10 years of sail-training experience, as an instructor. Despite significant experience in fog and night sailing, my first few months aboard were all coastal sailing and only on clear sunny days. I took risks in baby steps. It isn’t necessary to have the kind of sail-training that I had. We all get there through different paths, but training is important. I wouldn’t buy a helicopter and “just take off.” But if I did, no one would call me brave. They would call me foolish. Let’s call a spade a spade.
That same person boasted of all the crazy situations he found himself in – on the brink of an accident, confused about a vessel approaching, unsure how to fix a problem, injured and misusing the med kit, shining his anchor light while underway just to be “more visible,” etc. etc. He joked that there were many times he felt at his last wit and the only thing he knew to do was wish on a star. Yet every time it seemed to work out and he continued on. He was lucky he pulled out of those situations without a scratch. He wasn’t even aware of his luck. The sailors around him and his guests aboard were also lucky that they didn’t get hurt.
Another strange phenomenon that I’ve noticed is that someone buys a boat, calls himself a captain, and promises to train you if you sail with him. He will post the opportunity on a Facebook group or an online crew exchange and leave professionals who have been trained in fire fighting, medicine, emergencies at sea, maritime law, etc. etc. looking like fools. But listen carefully, if you choose to sail with that self-proclaimed captain you met online – please – at a minimum ask to see his license, ask for a sailing resume, and a recent survey of the boat. An experienced captain will appreciate your concern for safety and skill. If I picked up a scalpel and called myself a surgeon would you trust me to cut open your heart?
Yet another trend is cruisers becoming sail trainers. I find this a slight concern because many of them have experience on one (or just a few) boats under their own guidance, or the guidance of one (or just a few) skippers. If you look for a sail-training program, be cautious of programs like this. Investigate them thoroughly. Some are truly passionate about sail-training, but many are simply looking for ways to make money while sailing. When Ben and I started our sail-training business, it was because we are passionate about sail-training, and that is evident in our decades of not just sailing experience, but sail-training experience on a variety of boats.
Some people say you can learn by doing. Start small and move on to bigger challenges. Yes, this is one way to increase your skills before going to sea. But be cautious – I’ve seen too many people practicing over and over incorrect and sometimes unsafe ways of doing things because they are self-taught or only learned from someone who was also self-taught, who learned from someone else who was self-taught. This way of learning is uncertain – it can be highly successful, or it can give false confidence. Diversify your training. There are a lot of talented professional and recreational sailors out there to learn from. Sail with a lot of them! That is the best way!
This story is becoming to common – someone takes to the sea without skills and returns without a scratch. It makes it seem that training and real skill and problem solving abilities aren’t necessary. But I’m telling you – they are. And, quite frankly, I’m scared by the general shift in attitude regarding the seriousness of the ocean. She doesn’t play nicely. She doesn’t like fools. Sometimes she doesn’t even like those with years of training and experience. She makes no distinction between a fool and a pro and will rage so unexpectedly, catching even the most proficient sailor off guard. So – go to sea with as much preparedness as possible. Get training.
Oh – and one more thing – always wear your PFD!
Am I too tough? Maybe. Or maybe I’ve just seen too many near accidents due to lack of training. So – please share you ideas in the comments below on how newbies can get training before they go to sea.
Here is one idea: You can take training with Ben and I – both USCG Licensed Captains with over 20 years of professional sail-training experience before we even started our own business. We aren’t recreational sailors wanting to find an income while sailing. We’ve been professional mariners and instructors for 20 years each (actually 19 for me). If we are booked, or our style doesn’t fit your personality, contact me anyway and tell me what you are looking for. I will connect you with a few other great sail-training programs and instructors that I know. This isn’t the only way to get the training you need – there are plenty of other options to pursue and I encourage everyone to try many (courses, friends, jobs, etc). I want to see trained sailors on the water, and aspiring sailors taking the right steps.