Learning to sail as a family has opened a whole new world


We chat to the John family from Holmes Chapel in Cheshire who had little sailing experience before heading abroad for a week to learn to sail a cruising yacht.

They were introduced to the idea through a friend with a boat share in Portugal who had links to a sailing school. We hear about why the decided to do it, the training they received, why it was great for the family and what they plan to do next…Mum Helen explains:

How did you decide on a sailing holiday abroad?

We live about as far inland as you can be and we are not involved in yachting, but we are an active family; we go skiing and walking, and some friends of ours with a boat share took us out with them one time. We loved it and off the back of that my husband did an RYA Competent Crew and kept saying I’d really like it – so we thought we’d go abroad and give it a go in the [theoretical] sunshine!

Did any of you have any previous experience?

My son had sailed Toppers but my daughter and her boyfriend had never been out on a boat before. My husband, myself and son had been out in October and decided we were going to do our Competent Crew. Our daughter, who is at university, got wind of our plan and asked if she and her boyfriend could join too.

How did you hear about the sail school?

Our friend with the boat took all his courses through RYA-recognised training centre Learn2Sail in the Algarve, so we decided we would take our RYA Competent Crew with them and my husband would take his RYA Day Skipper, opening doors for us to charter yachts abroad. It’s a wonderful feeling now to know we could go to Greece, go to the Caribbean, wherever…

Why was sailing a great option for your family?

It’s nice to be able do something together out in the fresh air. Sailing gave us all an equal footing and now we have something in common to talk about where we are all on the same level.

Did you all have an equal go at the practical tasks?

Our instructor was great at involving everybody. The boys were obviously desperate to get down the front and be rescuing in the Man Overboard drills, especially my 16 year-old son who wanted to be grabbing the sails down or pulling on a rope confidently. But Mark made sure we could all steer around the course, tie the knots or any of the day to day jobs that needed doing.

How did Dad find the next level up?

Well, Day Skipper is an extra level of skill - he really enjoyed all the chart work and the plotting and taking bearings – he had to plot a course and he was really excited that we were on the course and we did follow it and get to where we going.

It is loads more work and my husband didn’t go on a course for the theory – he did it from home which was quite onerous, but he really enjoyed it and was excited to be learning something new.

Why was taking a course a good way to learn for you?

I knew about pulling in jibs and things like that from going out on my friend’s boat, but rather than just to be told, “pull that sail out to this point,” we were told why and it was put into the context of wind direction and sail position. Being coached gives you greater understanding which meant we got the most out of our week.”

Best part of the course?

Doing something I never thought I’d do. My husband is delighted to have his RYA Day Skipper – it’s quite a feeling to know we could charter a boat and get it out. It’s opened up a whole new avenue for holidays that we can all do as a family - even my daughter who is nearly 20 still wants to come. My younger son was also really inspired about working on the water saying: “This could be a life”.

Why RYA Training?

Taking a course helps you get the absolute best out of your week, gives you loads of confidence and going through the RYA means you can be sure of the highest standard of teaching.

Will you be continuing your sailing journey back in the UK?

Definitely. My husband Andrew has now booked onto an RYA Short Range Certificate (SRC) Course and we are now thinking about a boat share. We can’t wait to get out on the water again to improve our skills. Our advice to anyone wanting to have a go is even you have the faintest glimmer that sailing might be nice just get out there and do it!

Find out more about the RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper courses and how you could start your own sailing adventure and learn new skills and open the door to new opportunities.

Visit the RYA’s course finder portal to find the right course and location.