Zero Sailing Knowledge

Zero Sailing Knowledge is Unacceptable

By: Learn To Sail

A few years ago ASA shared this story about sailing knowledge and the importance of having a capable crew along for your sailing adventure. The message is still important and we felt we would reshare the article in order to shed light on having a good grasp of sailing skills before embarking on a sailing adventure.


Recently, a news story came down the wire that involved an elderly couple who were embarking on what they projected would be a four-year circumnavigation. Four hundred miles off the coast of Barbados, and more than 2,500 miles into their voyage  Stan Dabrowny, 74, slipped and fell from the boat. His wife Elizabeth, 69, saw him fall and quickly threw some life rings to him. But here’s the bad news. Mrs. Dabrowny, like many “first mates”, had zero sailing knowledge and wasn’t able to manage the boat in any way after the accident. Apparently, the steering system was intentionally locked and she had no idea how to unlock it, so the boat sailed away from Mr. Dabrowny.

zero sailing knowledge

So while Dabrowny floated in the sea, Elizabeth’s dramatic situation was just beginning. With no clue as to how to sail the boat, she was completely at its mercy as it sailed towards an unknown coastline. She used the sat-phone to make a broken and confusing call to her daughter who was able to put out the word that her parents were in trouble. This resulted in a coordinated rescue of Elizabeth from a passing ship, but Stan has yet to be found.

It’s obviously a terribly tragic story but also a supreme cautionary tale.  Many of us know this story all too well – a partner that is happy to be part of the experience but not one that will learn how to sail. It seems logical enough – “I’ll go out in the boat with you because we like it (you especially), but I’m not going to become a ‘sailor’.

At first, that seems more than fair, especially the part about them going out with you on the boat all the time. But the truth is, on a two-person crew, both people have to have enough knowledge to help the other in a pickle.  This is the part of the story where we want to urge you to take a 101 class and get certified in 103 while you’re at it. Of course, we do, but short of that, at the very least, insist the crew-person knows how to drive the boat well enough to act appropriately in an emergency.

Here are four extremely basic skills that should be bare necessities for a non-educated crew-member with zero sailing knowledge.

  • Throwables
    Everyone should know where and what can be thrown into the water should someone fall overboard. Seat cushions, PFDs, life rings, whatever – they should be familiar and those items should be handy. If there is a Lifesling hooked to the transom, they should know what it’s all about.  
  • Slowing/stopping the boat
    This one is the one that really should involve some basic 101 education, but for this purpose, we will assume there is none. With that in mind, a crew person should at least know what it means to luff the sails by heading upwind and letting out the sails so the boat slows down without going into irons, tacking, jibing, or losing control. This action will at least keep the boat in proximity to the MOB. It will require a bit of practice to instill this concept but it will be practice well spent. 
  • Motor operation
    If a boat has an auxiliary motor, the crewperson should know how to start it and operate it in a basic way – forward, neutral, and reverse. It’s important that he/she has the skills to drive the boat back to the MOB and pop it in neutral without injuring anyone. That knowledge could be the most important thing anyone could ever learn. 
  • Call for help
    It sounds so simple but you’d be surprised how many people don’t even know where the VHF radio is! So, that’s the first thing – make sure everyone knows where the VHF is located. The next thing is that crew knows how to turn on the unit and that channel 16 is the place to call in an emergency. Maybe tell them about that squelch dial too…

Once again, these basics are suggested with the understanding that the crew person has zero sailing knowledge like Mrs. Dabrowny. We strongly encourage that inexperienced sailors take an ASA course or series of courses so the sailing experience can be more deeply shared and that it is as safe as it can possibly be.

Learning to Sail

  • ASA 101: What You’ll Learn ASA 101 is your in troduction to Basic Keelboat Sailboat and is your key to a lifetime of sailing.
  • How To Sail Sailing a boat is part art and part skill but few activities offer such a variety of pleasures as sailing. Something special occurs when you cast off the lines and leave your cares at the dock.
  • 7 Tips For The Beginning Sailor There are the obvious things you need when you go sailing, sunscreen, a hat, a windbreaker, non-skid shoes, and wind. However, what do you really need to be ready to head out on the water?
  • How To Learn To Sail You won’t have to buy a boat or learn a new language or buy a new wardrobe to get a taste for sailing. You can dictate how much you want to experience.
  • Learning To Sail Is Just The Beginning Sailing means different things to different people. At ASA we understand that learning to sail is just the beginning of a relationship with a lifestyle that is infectious. Where will sailing take you? We have a few ideas but how you view sailing is the most important.
  • What Is Your Role on a Boat? What type of sailor are you and what role do you take on the boat? Your ASA sailing education will prepare you to be a skipper on a sailing vessel and with that comes the responsibility of keeping your crew safe and ensuring the safety of the vessel you are sailing.
Docking Made Easy