Volvo Ocean Race winner, Olympic medallist and MUSTO ambassador, Ian Walker, gives advice on how to get into sailing and why it is one of the best things you can do!

Fresh from providing sailing commentary during the Rio 2016 Olympics, MUSTO ambassador Ian Walker gives YBW readers advice on how to get into sailing.


Start sailing

“Sailing is a sport that can be enjoyed equally by men and women of all ages and abilities.

Like most sports it is best to learn while young but unlike most sports you can enjoy it well into retirement.

You absolutely do not have to start young to enjoy sailing for years to come!

You also do not have to live by the sea as there are many lakes, reservoirs and rivers that have sailing clubs well inland.

I never sailed on the sea until I was 14 and Ellen MacArthur, one of Britain’s best known sailors grew up in Derbyshire about as far from the sea as you can get.

One obvious way to get started is to complete an RYA recognised dinghy or yacht sailing course at a club or sailing school.

This is not the only way though! I was never taught or coached at a young age – I learnt most of my sailing by crewing for people who were better than me and needed a crew.

Boat owners (especially in yachts) are often looking for crew which gives opportunities for everyone to get afloat.

I would always rather take a willing volunteer over someone lazy but with more experience! Crewing for someone who knows what they are doing is an excellent way to learn and that is how I started in a Mirror dinghy when I was 8.

Ian Walker Volvo Ocean Race

Ian Walker at the helm of Azzam during the Volvo Ocean Race. Credit: Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

The best advice I can give is to find your nearest sailing club and get down and meet the members. They should be welcoming to potential new members and they often have open days or learn to sail courses.

You don’t need lots of expensive kit or a boat to get started and if you enjoy the sport you can probably buy a 2nd hand dinghy for the same price as a set of golf clubs!

Sailing is not all about racing and in my experience cruising with the family is one of the best holidays you can ever do. Maybe a skippered flotilla holiday is a good way to have fun on the water and learn the basics at the same time.

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Sailing for kids

For kids it is even easier as most sailing clubs probably have junior programmes and junior sailing regattas/weeks. They often have club boats for kids to borrow.

My kids absolutely love sailing in Junior fortnight at our club, not so much for the sailing, but for the chance to hang out and enjoy the social side with boys and girls of their own age.

There is no better feeling as a parent than to see your kids learning new skills and enjoying the new life skills that sailing brings.

What you need to know when you start sailing

For newcomers sailing can appear daunting and confusing not least because all sailors use a different language.

Every part of the boat and sails has a specific name and so do all the manoeuvres.

If you don’t know your luff from your clew or your gybe set from your windward side, don’t panic! Things can be explained simply and ‘pulling the red one’ is just as acceptable as tailing the spinnaker halyard!

All these words give an impression of a whole new world of knowledge and skill but believe me you will pick it up fast and the people who sound all knowledgeable very often know less than you may think – we all started somewhere!


Another fear, especially in bigger boats is seasickness.

The bad news is that if you get chronically sea sick then this is not the sport for you. I have seen people being sick just walking along the dock looking at the boat!

I think everybody will get sea sick at some stage but the good news is that probably half the population only seem to suffer if it is very extreme and the rest can often control it with drugs, sea bands or some other homeopathic solution.

The key is to stay on deck as much as you can and when you aren’t on deck get in your bunk as fast as you can!

Why sailing is special

Few sports offer as much variety as sailing. It can be as much of a physical or mental challenge as you wish and the harnessing of technology and nature makes it a sport for the future.

I am 46 and still racing at the highest level but as soon as my racing careers comes to an end a whole new world of cruising will open up.”