Sailing is a wonderful pastime activity. Whether you’re on the open sea or on a lake, it’s an experience unlike any other, and as the wind blows into the sails to push your vessel forward as it cuts through the clear water, your mind will become clear, too.

Okay, maybe I’m sounding a bit too spiritual, but sailing has definitely helped me find that ideal mental and physical balance, and it has helped me grow as a person. It has taken me on undiscovered routes both close to home and far away, and I’ve met all sorts of people, made a lot of friends, too. I owe my love for sailing to a group of close friends who took me on my first sailing trip along the Californian coast some years ago, and I fell in love with it instantly.

Going sailing for the first time?  Here’s your first-timer’s checklist:


Most important advice: Pack light!

My first sailing experience didn’t go smoothly – I didn’t even know how to pack! I was already into scuba diving, surfing, I went on fishing trips every now and then, but this was different. I was unprepared. You don’t have to be. Hey, I’m here to offer some advice, based on my own experience, and I was a total newbie who learned along the way. I’m still learning.

Before I get into the details, I want to point out the most important piece of advice I can give you when it comes to preparing for a sailing trip: Don’t overpack! Pack light. Sailboats are limited in space so there’s no room for items you will maybe use. Bring only the things you definitely need or will use, nothing extra.

You’ll need the right clothes, the right kind and appropriate amount of food and water, medicine, tools and gadgets, and depending on how big your boat is, leisure items as well. That’s why I think making a checklist is a good idea, because that way, you’ll be more organized and you’ll easily notice if you’re packing too much stuff. Let’s take a look at what items should definitely be included on your checklist.

The right type of apparel

Although you’ll spend a significant amount of time in the sun while on a sailboat, there are plenty of winds and low temperatures and it can get cold even during the day, but especially at night.  The weather can also suddenly change and cause you to get caught up in a hurricane, so make sure to bring heavy garments that are waterproof.

Make it a point to pack a hat, which will shade your face from the sun and will make it easier to maneuver the vessel as you navigate the waters. Choose one that has a cord that fits under the chin to prevent it from blowing off. You’ll also want to have a durable pair of sunglasses on hand with UV protection to protect your eyes from the sun and maintain visibility. Remember to clean your sunglasses regularly, you wouldn’t believe how much salt can accumulate from all the sea water that’s constantly splashing on your sunglasses.

Going barefoot is considered the best way to navigate the deck as you sail, but it can be dangerous to do in the middle of a storm or in bad weather conditions. Pack a pair of enclosed shoes or sandals to protect your feet and be prepared. You can also bring along neoprene reef walking shoes to protect your feet from sea urchins or rocks when you take a dip in the water.

Pack low heels or dress shoes when you plan to dine at a sophisticated restaurant when visiting a city or country to ensure that you have formal attire available when it’s needed.


Most chartered vessels have a first aid kit on board for accidents or emergencies, but it’s important to still pack a few supplies to have on hand. Bring band-aids, aspirin, sea sickness medicine, and antibacterial cream. You’ll also want to pack a can of bug spray to keep insects away.



You’ll need to pack a flashlight to ensure that you can navigate the boat at night when you’re looking for your pajamas or want a midnight snack.

GPS devices are crucial to pack to ensure that you avoid getting lost and can make it to each destination safely with each route that you take.

Emergency equipment is also necessary to have on hand with a life raft, an emergency tiller, MAYAY instructions, flares, a life raft survival grab bag, and EPIRB/SART. This will allow you to seek help and survive a storm or disaster that can occur while you’re out on the open waters.


Downtime Items

Although you’ll likely be busy on the sailboat during your travels, it’s important to pack leisure items that you can enjoy when you have a bit of downtime. Pack books and board that you can enjoy in the afternoon sun or when spending time in the cabin. Pack a camera, because there will be more photo ops than you can imagine.

Currency and Important Documents

If you’re planning on traveling to different countries, it’s important to pack visas and passports that are required to visit the location. Bring hard copies to ensure that you’re prepared if you lose a copy on the sailing trip. You can also make digital copies and send them to your email to store them in a safe place that can be accessed if you happen to lose the hard documents. Travel insurance papers should also be included with the documents that you bring.

Food and Beverages

Research the charter company that you’re using to rent the sailboat to determine if they’ll stock the vessel with food or if you need to prepare your own meals on the trip. Pack enough food to eat while you’re on the water, but do your best to try the local cuisine of each place that you visit.

When purchasing ingredients and items to store in the cabin, make a list of each meal that you plan to make for each day of the sailing trip. Bring snacks to stay energized in-between meals and consider bringing extra food for the crew.

Pack plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially on days where you can become hydrated while spending the day in the sun on the deck. You can also pack a few bottles of wine or champagne for nights where you want to enjoy the sunset or when you plan an afternoon brunch.

Ginger can also be included on your shopping list, which is proven to alleviate motion sickness and can be consumed each day.

Skin Care Products

Proper skin care is essential while spending several hours a day out in the sun while on a sailboat. Pack sunscreen that contains SPF 30 for proper protection from UV rays. Use lotion and lip balm to alleviate dryness or chapped lips that can develop from too much exposure to the wind. Pack solid shampoo bars, which are great for traveling and will remove the salt that can accumulate in your hair during the day.


To summarize, your checklist should include:

– Clothes and footwear. Check out appropriate nautical wear.
– Tools, especially multi-purpose tools.
– Downtime items such as board games or snorkeling equipment.
– If you’re traveling abroad, you need the right currency and documents.
– Food and beverages, especially non-perishable items and canned goods.
– Skin care products to protect you from UV rays.

Remember, it’s important to be prepared. Once you’ve got that covered, go ahead and pack, take a deep breath and sail away!

This guest post was written by Sean J. Tolliver.  Sean is a personal trainer turned freelance writer and traveler with an affinity for sailing and scuba diving, always on the lookout for new destinations to visit. An adventurous Californian, he prefers a nautical lifestyle, but when he’s on dry land, you’ll find him typing or planning his next big fishing trip, probably with a freshly brewed cup of coffee by his side.  You can find out more about Sean here.

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The images used in this article are  licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license & sourced by Sean Tolliver :Analog Compass, Digital Camera Source:, photo by Cam DiCecca; Books and Sunglasses Source:, photo by Link Hoang; Sailing at Sunset Source:; Sunny Ocean View Source:, photo by Leeroy.

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