What Makes a Good Sailor?

Published on February 2nd, 2017

Since its launch in 1983, the American Sailing Association has been on a mission to teach people to sail safely and confidently. Over the years, they have come to identify the seven qualities that help to make a good sailor.

The top of the list is intuition. We’ve all been on boats with people who just seem to know innately, more than anyone else, where the wind is and where it’s going to be. The boat goes faster when they are in charge and they have an anticipation and understanding that is on another level. Sure, some of it is from experience, but some if it isn’t. Intuition is a magical thing and great sailors have it in spades.

Solid Understanding of Fundamentals
Of course we would say this but it’s true – core fundamentals are critical to being a good sailor. Obvious perhaps, but so many sailors have holes in their game. One walk along any dock in America and you’ll find some interesting takes on how to tie a cleat hitch. Knowing knots, points of sail, weather information, vocabulary and all of the other basics have to be second nature for a person to be a good sailor.

Jack of All Trades
MacGyver would have been a good sailor. Things go strange on boats. Fittings pop out, things fall overboard, lines snap – there’s no telling how a boisterous sea might change your day. For this, an ability to think on your feet and improvise is the quality of a good sailor. There is nothing so comforting as being around good sailors who, when faced with a problem, simply start figuring out solutions based on the materials on hand. Boats don’t carry spares of everything so innovation often reigns supreme. Some of the most ingenious creations in the universe have been developed by good sailors on long passages in small cruising boats.

Truly good sailors are never the ones screaming and throwing tantrums. They are the ones figuring things out while someone else is screaming and throwing a tantrum. But beyond being calm under duress, good sailors are usually just calm in general. It’s a disposition that serves nearly every sailing situation and good sailors know it. To be calm is to be clear of mind and clarity is an enormous advantage when sailing. Breathe people…

A Boat is a Boat
Someone who really knows how to sail can hop on any boat and make it hum. He or she will do a quick inventory of how the particular systems on the boat operate and in a matter of minutes will be an integrated crew member or skipper working as if they have been on the boat for years.

In sailing or anywhere else, nothing substitutes for sheer experience. Miles under the keel in most instances can provide all that is needed to become a good or great sailor. In most cases, with a solid footing in the fundamentals, it brings with it the aforementioned calmness, the quick understanding of any boat’s systems, the ability to innovate and improvise. Although experience might not be able to provide God-given intuition like the Russel Coutts and Jimmy Spithills of the world, it will certainly take you farther down the road than most.

Holding Your Rum
And lastly a good sailor has to be able hold their rum. It’s been a time-honored tradition and it will always be this way. If you are throwing up in a parrot mask you donned after your seventh margarita you lose points. There’s too much at stake to be a lousy drinker. Have fun but stay cognizant – you can dance that weird dance of yours and still think about whether the anchor is holding.

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