5 Top Tips for Shorthanded Sailing 

Taking charge of a yacht as a couple can be an intimidating prospect. We get a lot of questions on the subject of shorthanded sailing. Many charterers have just passed their RYA Day Skipper course and are leaving for their first time without the instructor on board. It is also common for guests to be used to sailing with family or friends and be alone for the first time when they are used to having many hands to help.  

Even if you have a fully crewed yacht following these tips can pay dividends ensuring smooth deck work and a happy crew. Too many cooks can easily spoil a broth if they don’t know what to do. A lot of our guests will come on holiday with crew who have never been sailing before but are eager to help. An inexperienced crew can be just as much of a challenge to manage as handling a yacht shorthanded.  

However, it’s not something that should be of great concern, as with a little bit of planning and preparation, you can easily manage a yacht, even with just two people. 

short handed sailing tips

Equipment and choosing the correct yacht: 

All modern yachts are designed to be sailed shorthanded. It is worth mentioning when you are booking your holiday though, as some of our yachts, particularly the Bavaria Vision 42s, are specifically designed with this in mind. Features and equipment that can specifically help are common on many yachts in any charter fleet. Firstly, an autohelm is a valuable piece of equipment when sailing shorthanded. Secondly, the position and style of the running rigging can also help. Sheets tailed back to winches that are easily accessible from the helm are a great benefit, as are electric winches. Third, in-mast furling on the main sail is much easier to handle than traditional slab reef sails. This much maligned innovation really comes into it’s own when you need a sail that’s easy to handle. A little bit of discussion when booking a yacht can reap great benefits when sailing. Choose a charter company with experienced staff who know what they are talking about and can help make your life easy. You should also consider when you come to the Ionian. The area can be very busy in the peak summer months and most harbours are too small for the number of yachts that try to moor every evening. May, June, the end of September and October are much quieter and you will find it much easier to moor with a selection of berths available.  

Pick a sensible route / itinerary: 

In a similar vein discuss your options with us when you are looking at which harbours you intend to stop at. We offer assisted mooring on the first few days of the holiday every week of the year. And in the main summer months we offer an informal flotilla to assist with mooring every night, without the social obligations many companies include. Your planned stops, if you are alone, should be easy ones. To ensure you get a spot on the quay don’t leave it too late coming in to the harbour on an evening. Long-lining is one of the hardest maneuvers when shorthanded. A back-up plan in case the harbour is full is a good idea. We can also suggest bays you can anchor normally in without having to long-line. More and more harbours in the Ionian now have pontoons you can pre-book so you know you have a berth. If you can, choose harbours you have been to before until you feel more confident. 

Shorthanded Communication:  

Communication is one of the key aspects of short handed sailing. Both people must fully understand what is going to happen and in what order for any given maneuver. The easiest way to accomplish this is to discuss what you are going to do before you do it. This will help get both people on the same page and head off any misunderstandings. Go slowly and talk everything through before you do it. A system of hand signals can also be incredibly useful, particularly when dropping the anchor. With the wind, confusion and the noise of the windlass we see many couples shouting at each other, unable to understand if the helmsman is calling for more chain or to stop dropping! A simple thumbs down to drop, and thumbs up to pull in chain can work wonders!  

short handed sailing tips

Reef early: 

When short handed sailing, whether you are novices or experienced shorthanders, always err on the side of caution and reef early. There is nothing more likely to dent confidence than struggling to reef a sail when the yacht is out of control. If you are concerned, when raising the sail for the first time put one reef in. It is very easy to shake out a reef and add more sail when you are going slow and the boat is stable. However, the opposite is true when you have more sail than you want. Take it easy, you are on holiday! There is no need to go fast for the first few days until you feel happy! The same can also be said for motoring into harbour at 6 knots! Everything happens quicker when you are going fast, so give yourself the chance to deal with things at a slower pace. 

Shorthanded Preparation: 

The final and, probably the most important, element of shorthanded sailing is preparation. Sailing instructors do not drill the 5 P’s endlessly for no reason! Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. The most important times for preparation are when leaving and arriving at a harbour. Before your departure on a morning, you should have a clear plan of what you will do to get the boat out of the berth and where you will go after that. It should be clear who is responsible for each action, and how to prepare the yacht for sailing. Similarly, when arriving on an evening get the yacht ready before you enter the harbour. It is understandable to want to secure a spot as you see other boats entering ahead of you. But if you don’t have mooring lines ready, fenders positioned correctly and the dinghy in the right place, then all you are going to do is get in the way of other yachts. Shorthanded yachts take longer to get ready for any maneuver than those which are fully crewed. Once you appreciate this you have already won half the battle. 

short handed sailing tips

This post was written by Tom Fletcher