Learning To Sail

What should I know before learning to sail?

In Canada, the sport of sailing falls under the auspices of the Sail Canada and provincial sailing associations. Sail Canada sets one national training standard which is taught by instructors certified to Sail Canada standards by provincial sailing associations. Most reputable sailing clubs, yacht clubs, and commercial sailing centres are members of Sail Canada and/or their provincial sailing association. Westwood Sailing Club is a member of both Sail Canada and the Ontario Sailing Association (OSA).

The Sail Canada instructional program has two distinct streams: a "Learn to Sail" program, intended for sailing small, unpowered sailboats known as "dinghies", and a "Learn to Cruise" program intended for larger live-aboard-type sailing yachts which have more complex systems and a greater range. These programs are detailed on Sail Canada website's Sail Canada Learn to Sail page.


Dinghies or yachts: a sailing course or a cruising course?

Dinghies and yachts both require knowledge of sailing. In both cases a sailor must know how to set their sails correctly, and how to handle a boat in various situations. However, when it comes to actually learning to sail, there are great differences in how one goes about handling the boat, and what one has to learn.

Dinghies are very light boats, which are sensitive to changes in wind direction, wind strength, waves, and the crew's balance. They can be very tippy. Under certain circumstances, they can capsize (however, they can be righted and drained very quickly). The person at the "helm" of a dinghy has a great deal of control over how the boat sails. A dinghy sailor usually does many tasks at the same time: steer, control the sails, and adjust several other controls.

Yachts - often called keelboats, due to the heavy metal keel, which prevents them from capsizing - are much heavier vessels and are less vulnerable to changes in wind and waves. They have more complex systems - fuel, mechanical, electrical, etc., and require special expertise in maneuvering under power, anchoring, docking, etc. Because of their size and complexity, yachts often require several crew members working at different tasks in order to sail effectively.

Since dinghies are more sensitive, they provide great feedback and offer excellent training for sailing. They are more responsive to the wind - if the sails are set incorrectly, the boat slows down. If the problem is corrected, the boat almost immediately speeds up again.

In this dinghy sailor's opinion, if you want to learn to sail in the best way possible, learn to sail on a dinghy. If you then want to learn to sail yachts, you can do so after having gotten a good grounding in the basics of sailing. On the other hand, if you're about to take delivery of an expensive yacht, or if you don't like to get wet or spill your drink, you may want to look into that cruising course.


Where can I go to learn to sail?

Sailing courses are offered by yacht clubs, sailing clubs, and commercial sailing centers. And of course, look no further: we provide Sail Canada-certified courses on our 2-person Albacore sailing dinghies, we recruit actively, and as a community club we are very inexpensive. And our boats are available for our members' use.

Learning to Sail at Westwood

CANSail 1 & 2 / Basic Lessons: what's the format, how does it work?

The basic sailing course at Westwood is known as White Sail. It actually combines two courses, CANSail 1 & 2 of the Canadian Yachting Association Sail Canada Learn to Sail program.

There is a choice of several separate self-contained CANSail 1 & 2/White Sail sessions, each starting at different times during the season.

Our evening CANSail 1 & 2 classes take place Monday and Wednesday nights, from 6pm-9pm, over approximately 12 classes (see our Learn to Sail page for details). Classes start at 6pm in the evening. On a typical evening, students arrive and "rig" (set up) their boats, and are given a briefing on the night's on-the-water activities. At around 6:30 or 7pm, the boats head out on the water, with the instructor in attendance in the Club powerboat. At sunset, usually around 8:30pm, the boats come back in, and students de-rig their boats. There is then a post-sail debriefing and/or a theory session, and class is typically dismissed by 9:30pm.

There are also weekend classes in May and June, running in the morning or afternoon.

We are offering two weekday classes as well, starting in mid May and in early June.

Following the class students are encouraged to hang around and socialize, and take advantage of the barbecues and the deck. In the past, many classes have opted to hold organized dinners following classes.

For the first on-the-water class, volunteer skippers will be on hand to assist in helping students become familiar with rigging the boats, and to accompany new students on their first sail.


What does the Rigging Clinic involve?

Taking place during the second day of each CANSail 1 & 2 class, the Rigging Clinic is a demonstration of how to "rig" (set-up) and launch one of our Albacore sailing dinghies. We also try to provide some information about what to wear when sailing, and general orientation information about the club. Additional Rigging Clinics are usually held on a weekend afternoon, and take about 90 minutes.

The rigging clinic is highly recommended for all new members.


Do I need to know how to swim?

Our sailboats do sometimes capsize, so the Club does require a basic level of comfort in the water. All class attendees are required to wear a Personal Flotation Device whenever sailing. If a new or potential member has great difficulty with the idea of being tossed unexpectedly into the lake, we may have to (graciously and diplomatically) offer a refund and decline membership.


Which CANSail 1 & 2 session should I take?

It basically comes down to your schedule and inclination. If you're keen, don't mind the cold, and want to make the most of the sailing season, then a May session is best for you. If you prefer warmer weather and still want to make the most of the season, then the June session is best for you. If you want the warmest possible weather and the calmest winds, then the July session is best for you.

If you are considering the earlier season classes, we strongly advise that you consider spending $100 on a light wetsuit. Speak to us at one of our Open Houses for more information.


I can't make all the classes, how important is attendance?

Very. Our course format is very condensed. It's possible to miss one, or maybe two classes, but with 12 classes, any missed time may have a bearing on whether you successfully pass the course. The instructor might not be able to pass students with low attendance.

We also ask that all students arrive for class before 6pm. Our boats can only remain on the water until sunset, so any lost time early in the evening will cut into precious on-the-water training time.


How important is it to practice outside of class, how do I get out sailing?

Our experience has been that students who practice the most get the most out of the course. We offer organized Social Sailing Thursday nights: arrive at the club by 6pm, ask for the Beach Captain, and let it be known that you are a new sailor looking to get out for a sail. You will be matched up with a more experienced sailor, and away you go. You are also welcome and encouraged to come down on weekends, make some new friends, and get out sailing.


What kind of equipment and/or clothing will I need?

At a minimum, you should ensure that you have a Personal Flotation Device, rain gear, and appropriate footwear. To find out more, follow this link to discover What the Well-Dressed Sailor is Wearing This Season.


I'm interested in catamarans, how do I learn and get ranked on catamarans?

Once you've successfully completed CANSail 3 Course, you can take one of our Catamaran Classes.

These are informal lessons taught by a Sailing Instructor or experienced catamaran sailor.


I've sailed before, should I take the CANSail 1 & 2 or CANSail 3 course?

If you have had a great deal of dinghy sailing experience in 2-person dinghies, or if your prior sailing experience was on Albacores, then you may want to consider the Advanced CANSail 3 course. Taking a course, even with sailing experience, is also a great way to meet some club mates and find future sailing partners if you are new to the club.

Otherwise, you probably should stick with the CANSail 1&2 course. While the Albacore is a great training boat, it is quite versatile, and our experience has been that Basic to Intermediate sailors who learned on other classes of boat take some time to adapt to the Albacore.

If you're not sure, you should talk to us.


Do you offer children's sailing courses?

Strictly speaking, no, since Westwood is an adult sailing club. However, we do share our boats and facilities with daytime community programs which provide recreational activities and sailing lessons for children.