Position in a sailboat

One of the very basic things that often gets overlooked is the position of the helm in a small sailboat. I often have people ask, "where do I sit?" or "how do I sit?" in my sailboat. All sailboats are a little different but most are the same and the same principles exist for where you position your body, how you hold the tiller extension and main sheets.

Body position (where do I sit?)

In general the helm or skipper should be sitting up on the very side of the boat. If you have a very small gunwale (the edge of the boat) then you may wish to sit down on the seat. The general rule is that you want to be as far away from the centreline of the sailboat as you can get. This puts you in the best position to:

  • Control (steer) the boat;
  • Trim the main sail using the main sheets;
  • Maintain awareness of how much the boat is heeling.

Helm/skipper sitting in a good position on the side of a sailboat

Sit further forwards

You should also be as far forwards as you can go without letting go of the tiller extension. This position is usually the point where you can keep the tiller straight with the tiller extension had right next to your hip or on your thigh (see pictures). You should be right at the main sheets or further forwards of the main sheets.

"Sit further forwards" is feedback I often give to my students. It's also feedback I could give to many people I see sailing who are not enrolled in a lesson. Sitting further forwards solves many issues you might have with control and speed.

A boat with helm that needs to sit further forwwards

Holding the Tiller Extension and Main Sheets

Both the tiller extension and main sheets are held with a microphone grip. That looks exactly as you might think. As if you were holding a microphone or singing in front of the mirror with a hair brush? The tiller extension is in your back hand and the main sheets are in your right hand. The main sheets should never be wrapped around your hand. Hold a single strand and drop the remainder of the sheets into the bottom of the boat.

A helm in a good position with good tiller extension grip

Open position

Something I often talk to people about as well is being in an open position. Don't bend forwards bend backwards at the waist. Use the hiking straps (the seat belt material in the bottom of the boat) to put your feet or toes underneath. You don't have to be a super athlete and put all your weight on your feet and engage your core. Just don't lean forwards over your knees. This is a closed position.

In an open position you have more control over your boat. You can see the jib and out in front. You're not off balance and can feel the balance of the boat better. Don't crunch yourself up, be comfortable and open.

Different conditions and points of sail

Your position in the sailboat may change subtly in different conditions and for different points of sail. It depends on whether you are sailing a single or a double person boat, a boat with a spinnaker and keelboats are different as well.

The above are general rules that will get you started. After this, take lessons with a qualified instructor and ask questions if you have them. We start to talk about points of sail on CANSail 1. Different conditions start to come into play more in CANSail 2 or 3.