foredeck of a sailboat

Sailing Tips From American Sailing Textbooks

By: American Sailing, Sailing Tips

American Sailing textbooks provide you with the basis of knowledge required to earn your sailing certifications.  If you want to begin your journey to becoming a certified sailor through American Sailing, take a look at our textbooks and begin your journey to becoming a competent sailor.

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Get a taste of some of the tips that you will find in our textbooks. These seven tips apply to most situations on a sailboat, no matter if you are a complete novice or an old salt.

The Lookout Rule 

“Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all means available appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”  – Rule 5 from the Navigation Rules (International-Inland) from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security United States Coast Guard.

In other words, always keep a lookout for other boats, hazards, your crew and changing conditions.  Scan the horizon regularly and keep an eye on your vessel.

Safety tip If you need to go forward on the deck to be a lookout, remember that, when sailing, the safest path forward is along the windward (high) side of the boat, keeping your weight low at all times. If a task requires you to be on the leeward side, take extra care. Use the handrails on top of the cabin for support as they are inboard and more rigid than the lifelines. Remember too, “One hand for the ship and one hand for yourself.

Know the Points of Sail 

Understanding the points of sail is important as it allows skippers to make strategic decisions about where to sail and how to trim their sails in order to optimize speed and efficiency. Also, understanding the points of sail and the proper terms enable sailors to communicate more effectively to describe their position relative to the wind. 

Tip Take a look at the Sailing Challenge App. The Points of Sail module is a great tool to mastering your knowledge of the subject. The Sailing Challenge app is a cutting-edge gaming app designed as a fun learning aid to help illustrate the principles of sailing in a rich interactive and entertaining format. Available on Windows | Mac | iPads | iPhones.

Tides and Currents

It is important to have a basic understanding of tides and currents to maintain safety while sailing. Ultimately, local conditions will dictate your sail plan, but understanding high tides and low tides can help in preventing from going aground and familiarity with currents can help with navigating a sailing route.

Tip The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has various tools and information on tides and tide predictions. You can create annual tide predictions for over 3000 locations around the United States. NOAA Tides and Currents Info.

Heaving To

Understanding this procedure allows a skipper to keep a boat relatively stationary. This technique allows the crew to rest, make repairs or wait for changing conditions, such as a bridge to open or clear. Also, it is an ideal way to stop for lunch on a day sail.

Tip If you want to heave-to on the tack you are currently sailing on, the easiest way to do it is to tack twice, rather than trying to haul the jib to windward.


Engaging in proper seamanship includes the skills and knowledge required to operate a vessel in a safe and efficient manner. These skills include navigation, boat handling, safety, and communication with the crew.  Seamanship covers everything on a boat, from tying a knot to trimming a sail to following orders.

Tip When you become a skipper, on your own or any other boat, you take on responsibility for the safety of your vessel and everyone on board, so these inspections should become routine. If you know your safety equipment is in good condition, you won’t need to inspect it before every day sail, but you should show all new crewmembers where it’s stowed and how to use it. You could also offer every member of the crew a life jacket to wear should they choose to do so.

Prepare for Emergencies

Always be prepared for emergencies by carrying safety equipment, such as life jackets, flares, and a first aid kit, and knowing how to use them. Also, experience will teach you how to determine whether an incident is an irritant you can remedy with onboard resources or an emergency that require outside help. If there is any doubt, call for help.

Tip Sea fog of the kind that forms when warm moist air meets cold water is usually clearly visible from a distance, lying like a thick cotton blanket on the sea surface. If you can’t avoid steering into it, make sure you know where you are and where you should be going before you do

Plan Ahead

Start your cruising adventures in familiar water. As you gain knowledge of the sailing area, its weather, and the boat, and your confidence as a sailor grows, you can make more ambitious plans.

Tip Calculating an estimated time of arrival (ETA) is important when planning a cruise. Do it with best-case and worst-case numbers (think change in the weather), and be prepared to change your plans if the worst case will have you out in conditions (after dark, for example) you’re not comfortable handling.

ASA Textbooks Complete Collection

While reading a book can certainly provide some foundational knowledge of sailing, it is not the same as learning to sail through hands-on experience. Sailing requires practical skills such as maneuvering the boat, adjusting sails, and responding to changing wind and sea conditions, which are best learned through direct experience on the water. Once you’ve laid the foundation by reading the textbooks, it is important to complement your reading with actual on-the-water practice. This will help you develop the skills and confidence to sail a boat safely and competently.