How Long It Takes to Learn to Sail: The Definitive Answer

Like anything in life, learning a new skill requires time and patience to get the hang of things. When it comes to sailing, that’s no different. “How long does it take to learn to sail?” is not an uncommon question among up and coming sailors, so I wanted to lay out the answer as simple as possible.

So how long does it take to learn to sail? It can take anywhere between a couple of days and a couple of weeks to learn to sail a sailboat safely. If you want to attain a sailing certification that proves your ability, this will take you 10 days. However, it can take years to become a master sailor, often referred to as a Yachtmaster.

Put simply, it doesn’t take very long to get comfortable sailing and finding your way around a sailboat. However, not everyone feels comfortable taking on the full responsibility of being a skipper even after getting certified, so there’s a bit of nuance required when answering “How long does it take to learn to sail?”

How Long It Takes to Learn to Sail

Learning to sail is one of the most rewarding experiences anyone can embark on because the end result is so empowering and can provide you with the ultimate feeling of freedom. However, the level of knowledge required to overcome the many obstacles a sailor can be confronted with while out on the water takes a lot of training, which simply requires a bit of effort over a certain span of time.

Now, some people are just naturals when it comes to sailing and are able to pick it up like picking up a hat. Give them a couple of days on a sailboat and they’ll be able to get around easy enough. While that’s certainly the case for some people, it’s definitely not the case for most. There are plenty of people, including myself, that need more quality time on a sailboat to get the hang of things.

If you’re anything like me, you need a decent amount of practice in something brand new along with a touch of theoretical. Learning how to sail can easily take 1-2 weeks of daily sailing where you gain a bit of theoretical knowledge and use it throughout the days. That’s really why sailing certifications require about 10 full days of sailing along with written and practical exams to test your sailing knowledge.

I, for one, am a huge proponent of hands-on learning that’s continually practiced during a span of time. By putting aside 1-2 weeks of dedicated effort to learn to sail at a sailing school near your, or better yet on a sailing holiday afar, you’ll be able to pick up the essentials before chartering your first sailboat.

As I mentioned before, there are certainly some people who’ll be able to pick up sailing very easily, even within a couple of days. I’ve definitely seen it. However, it’s quite difficult to pick up all of the essential knowledge of navigation, safety procedures, VHF operation, light and sound signals, sailing terminology, and the rest. These topics require continuous effort and practice, none of which can be done in a short amount of time.

There are also instances where people won’t feel comfortable sailing even after going through a multi-week sailing course and really hammering out the fundamentals. A lot of sailing, at least in the very beginning, requires a certain level of confidence and a lack of confidence can easily impede people to execute on the knowledge they gained.

My suggestions for anyone interested in learning how to sail is to take a sailing holiday and just learn it. Take two weeks off and go somewhere that you’ve never gone to before and learn as much as you can during that time. Immerse yourself in the theory and practice as well as the culture and lifestyle of those who sail. After an experience like that, you’ll be ready to charter a sailboat during calm weather with ease.

Doing It All at Once vs Spreading It Out

Everyone’s schedule is different and requires a bit of planning when entertaining the idea of learning to sail. Depending on your schedule, the amount of time it takes to learn how to sail will be affected. With that in mind, you’ll need to figure out what works best for you and how you can go about learning to sail in a reasonable amount of time.

As I mentioned previously, taking two weeks or even just 10 days to learn to sail can be one of the greatest gifts you could give yourself if you’re truly interested in learning to sail. The amount of consistent time you’ll spend immersing yourself into sailing will give you a huge advantage in the amount and quality of knowledge you’ll attain.

If you choose to do it all at once, I highly suggest going on a sailing holiday somewhere around the world. There’s no doubt that it’ll give you an entirely different perspective on life and even frame your experience learning to sail in a very good light. It’ll also force you to get out of your comfort zone by being in a different place surrounded by different people, which can be encouraging factors when learning new skills like sailing.

With that in mind, not everyone has the luxury of doing it all at once. Being able to spread it out over time is essential if it’s difficult to take so much time off to focus on sailing alone. I personally got my international sailing certificate in two separate sailing holidays each lasting 5 days. Within a year, I had my certificate and was able to sail as a skipper.

Chunking it into a couple of trips is a great option because many courses that lead to a certification last around 5 days, so taking only a week off is the only requirement. However, this still might be difficult for some. If that’s the case, I would block out 5 weekends in a row, find a sailing school that’ll teach you during those weekends, and hammer those sailing lessons out until you either get a certificate or simply have enough confidence to sail.

Whether you’re able to do it all at once or you need to spread it out, you’ll be well on your way to learn to sail within some weeks of consistent effort. You can do it!

Is Sailing Certification Necessary?

I brought up the fact that you can get a sailing certificate over the course of a couple of weeks, which can permit you to more easily charter a sailboat the next time you head to a marina. While getting a sailing certification isn’t necessary when it comes to properly learn how to sail, it most definitely puts you on the right track.

How long it takes to learn how to sail when it comes to the various sailing organizations is dependent on what level of competence you’re looking to attain. Do you want to simply be a crew member or are you interested in being a skipper (captain)? Are you fine with staying relatively close to the coastal line or do you want to embark on a blue water adventure?

If you want to be a helpful crew member on a sailboat, then it won’t take you more than 4-5 days to get there. When it comes to becoming a skipper, you can easily double that to about 10 days worth of sailing. During those times you’ll learn exactly what it takes to sail.

How long does it take to learn how to sail when embarking on a seabound or oceanic adventure? Well, that’s a completely different timeline compared to coastal sailing and, when it comes to certifications, will take many nautical miles of sailing within a certain amount of time as well as several months of education.

If you’re interested in getting a sailing certification, you definitely want to check out the most popular sailing organizations (IYT, RYA, ASA, and US Sailing) in the world. They all offer first class sailing education along with international approved sailing certifications.

Related Questions

How long does it take to sail the world? Depending on the sailboat you plan on taking, it could anywhere between 1 and 10 years to sail around the world. Some say that it takes on average 4 years to sail around the world depending on your sailboat and how often you rest.

How long does it take to sail the Atlantic? Sailing from Southern Europe to the Caribbean is a common route for sailors when crossing the Atlantic and can take 2-4 weeks depending on the size of your sailboat and the number of hulls. Catamarans (which have 2 hulls) will often make the crossing faster than monohulls.