Sailing on the River Thames
How do I get started?
Like many other sports, the best way to get into sailing is to join a club. There are many excellent sailing clubs along the River Thames, all of which will welcome you as a member, whether you are a beginner or expert. Visit the Royal Yachting Association to find your nearest club. Bisham Abbey Sailing & Navigation School at Marlow offers a range of RYA courses for Juniors and Adults.
The RYA recommend you take RYA 1 and 2 qualifications before sailing – all RYA-affiliated clubs run courses for beginners. One of the lessons is to right an upturned boat, and for this you should be able to swim.
How much does it cost?
Club membership fees vary – with some clubs offering a lower cost membership if you want to sail only during the winter months. Many organise Open Days, or Try-a-Boat days when potential members can visit and try a boat free of charge, under the guidance and supervision of experts.
Many clubs offer sailing dinghies for lease or hire. This facility is normally open to experienced sailors only, but check this out with the club.
If you’d like your own boat, these come in a wide variety of sizes, types and prices. It might be better to buy a used boat to begin with – the notice board at your local club is a good starting point. Buying a boat this way means the seller is on hand as a club member, and you will probably be offered a free trial before you buy. Another good source of boats is the advertising sections of specialist magazines.
Apart from the boat itself, you will need a lifejacket. Protect yourself from the cold water (and every sailor falls into the water at least once!) by wearing a wet suit. This is not mandatory but very worthwhile. Other accessories to consider include sailing shoes, and a dry top/spray top that protects you from spray and keeps you warm in cold weather.
Can I get lessons?
All RYA-affiliated clubs have qualified coaches and are available to train newcomers to a level enabling them to take to the water on their own – namely the RYA Certificates (Level 1 Start Sailing and Level 2 Basic Techniques).
For single hander dinghies this course lasts on average five days (sometimes over two-and-a-half weekends, or five day-long lessons over a period).
Two-man boat courses last similar periods. Discuss your preferences with the club’s training principal or the commodore before committing yourself.
Can I do this as a family?
Sailing is an excellent family activity. You can buy dinghies to suit any number of crew, from single-handers to four (or more) people.
Unless you are intending to become a dedicated racer, we recommend you join a family-oriented club. Some clubs encourage parents (members who can sail) to teach their own children to sail, and provide a dinghy and safety boat at minimal cost. Many clubs offer boats for hire to members, subject to availability.
Can I sail if I have a disability?
Being disabled is no barrier to sailing your own boat. There are different types of training for different levels of disability, and courses are offered throughout the UK.
To find the nearest club organising courses for people with disabilities check out the “Sailability” secion on the Royal Yachting Association website. Here you will find a list of regional organisers, any one of which will point you in the right direction to go sailing.
I already have a sailing dinghy - can I just go out on my own?
If you own a sailing dinghy, you can use club waters only if you are a member of the relevant club, or if you get permission. You can sail on the River Thames, without cost, once you have registered it. To find out more information on how to register, see the Environment Agency website.