How Long Does It Take to Learn to Sail a Yacht? (How to sail)

how long does it take to learn to sail a yacht

It’s one thing to know something in theory, and another to do it in practice. Sure, yacht sailing might look like something anyone can do, until you actually find yourself standing at the helm with all of those curious contraptions in front of you.

Maybe you’re just wondering how long does it take to learn to sail a yacht? Or maybe you’re seriously considering buying a boat and being your own captain. Whatever the case, this short guide on learning how to sail a yacht should steer you in the right direction.

How Much Time Will It Take?

Well, that depends. How quickly do you learn? Just like some people might understand the specifics of driving a car the moment you put them behind the wheel, others might take a few weeks of practice to really get into the groove.

In some cases, people might learn to sail a yacht on their first few days while others could take several weeks to really understand how everything works. However it’s pretty unheard of for a person to take months before they figure everything out.

That said however, don’t expect to feel confident sailing a yacht after just a week of training. On the contrary, developing that confidence can take months even if you already know all the basics and specifics of sailing.

To get a better idea of how long it might take, it would help to look at how long yacht sailing training classes typically last. The usual sailing certification course will take roughly 10 days, including both practical and theoretical classes to help you develop a holistic understanding of the sailing process.

How Can You Learn to Sail a Yacht?

There are lots of different ways that you can try to learn sailing a yacht. Of course, this ultimately depends on what’s available to you and your most comfortable learning style. Some options include:

Enrolling in a Class

This has to be the single most effective way to learn yacht sailing. Classes put you in the hands of experts who provide complete information as well as both theoretical and practical application. Classes can last two weeks, more or less. And some may even provide certification at the end to fully equip you for your new sailing hobby.

Asking a Friend

If you have a friend or a relative who’s pretty adept at yacht sailing, then you could always ask to be taught. This is often the approach that people take if they want something more relaxed and controlled since you won’t have to worry too much about meeting requirements or performing practical tasks if you’re not ready for it yet.

Checking Resources Online

Although you probably won’t learn how to sail a yacht by just reading and watching videos, you can’t deny that online resources can provide a pretty solid theoretical foundation for people hoping to learn how to sail. Just keep in mind though that you’re still going to want to have some sort of practical skills application to put that knowledge into practice.

In terms of timing, there’s a lot to gain out of slowing down your pace. Stretching out your sailing sessions builds confidence and reinforces what you’ve previously learned. This also means that you get to repeat certain steps of the process every time. More often than not, people learn best when they sail more frequently over several months.

And then of course, there are those who choose to learn everything in one go. These are usually the people who have the luxury of time on their side. And although it might not provide the same slow and steady learning pace, if can definitely work if you’re a fast learner with little apprehension.

What Are the Challenges of Sailing a Yacht?

how to sail a yacht

Everything is difficult until you learn how to do it. That said, there might be some challenges as you learn the ropes of sailing, but with time and practice, it should be a piece of cake. At the start though, you might run into a few difficulties, including but not limited to:

Sail Trim Management

Those sails aren’t going to work themselves. Sail trim adjustment is both an art and a science, requiring a good understanding of wind patterns and how they affect your movement. Failure to properly understand trim control means you might overwork your engine, move in the wrong direction, or even not move at all.

Technical Jargon

If you’re new to sailing, then there’s going to be a whole new vocabulary you’ll have to learn. This includes everything from the names of the instruments, to directional terms, labels, definitions, functions, and processes.

Anticipating Weather Conditions

Yes, you can always just check the forecast. But they’re not always going to paint you an exact picture of what you can expect. And if you’re just starting to learn, even slight wind changes can throw off your sailing entirely. As you gain experience, you should be able to adapt to unforeseen weather conditions. But if you’re a beginner, it can be the cause of major stress and confusion.


Fact: navigating your yacht will take a whole lot of math. You’d be surprised how many numbers and equations are involved in trying to map out where you’re going. Fortunately, there’s no reason for an amateur skipper to head out too far into the water, so you might not have to struggle with navigational stress unless you really push for the high seas.

What Are the Different Levels of Competency?

Unbeknownst to a lot of beginner sailors, there are actually levels of sailing competency. This should tell you where you’d be allowed to sail a yacht, and under what conditions. Levels of competency are as follows:




Level 1

Five days or 100 miles of sailing experience; ICC or RYA Day Skipper in certain locations

5-20 knots; basic navigational skills and knowledge of charts

Level 2

10 days or 200 miles; RYA Day Skipper; ICC required in certain locations

10-20 knots; understanding of tidal flow and navigation in open water

Level 3

20 days or 400 miles; RYA Day Skipper; RYA Coastal Skipper; ICC with higher experience; some locations may require a certificate of competence

10-25 knots; understanding of tidal variations, ability to sail in strong currents and construction of a passage plan

Different sailing locations will require different levels of competency. For instance, you can only sail in Grenada, St. Lucia, and Seychelles if you’re a level three sailor. That’s because most of these locations see quite a lot of tourist traffic. With waterways crowded with visitors and locals, accidents are all too common especially when sailors aren’t quite as experienced.

On the other hand, there are certain locations that will allow you to sail with no experience at all. Most waterways in California are a free-for-all, requiring zero certification, license, or experience. But then again, that also means that you might have to be extra careful since many of the other boats on the water might also be commanded by inexperienced sailors.

Is Sailing Certification Necessary?

For the record, the International Certificate of Competence and the Royal Yachting Association certificate is not required by law. However most states will require that you have a license to sail a yacht in order to access their waterways. As of present, there are only eight states that still don’t require yacht sailing licenses, and this includes California, Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming, Maine, South Dakota, and Arkansas.

Some locations and destinations will require an ICC, RYA, or both, especially if these places are known for their high traffic waterways. The same goes for yachts that exceed a certain size, since they can be tougher to sail especially in crowded areas.

Remember that there are varying laws and regulations per state, so it helps to ask around before you go sailing in your yacht. For good measure, you might want to get certification anyway since this protects you against potential run-ins with law enforcement and the authorities in case of potential problems on the waves.

If you’re looking to become a commercial sailor, the requirements change drastically. There are various licenses for commercial yacht sailors, including the US Coast Guard Captain’s License and the Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel License. Again, the necessity for either depends on the specifics of your sailing conditions.

Aye Aye, Captain!

How long does it take to learn to sail a yacht? Well, that depends on you and how much time you’re willing to spend on it. There are lots of specifics involved, and it’s definitely not going to be a one-and-done type of learning experience.

On top of that, you’re going to have to consider the legalities and requirements of sailing in certain locations, especially if you’re thinking about taking your yacht to various places. Fortunately, it’s nothing impossible. So with time, some patience, and a whole lot of dedication, you should be able to learn the ropes and set sail with confidence.

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