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How to Sit and Steer Straight

Believe it or not, figuring out how to sit in a dinghy and steering in a straight line is usually the most difficult task for a new sailor. Like learning to ride a bike or drive a car, sailing dinghies for the first time can feel quite awkward, but don't worry, with some practice you'll catch on quick!

How to sit in a dinghy

Take a look at the way these sailors are sitting.

Notice how they all share the same habits:
  • Sitting on the side opposite to the sail(s)--this is because the boat leans away from the wind direction (called heeling) and your weight will help keep it more level.
  • Sitting with their hips facing the middle of the boat (perpendicular to the direction of travel)
  • Holding the tiller extension/hiking stick (not the tiller!) with their aft (back) hand
  • Holding the mainsheet with their forward hand
Practicing these habits will seem awkward at first, but as you learn more about sailing you'll see why they make sailing easier and actually less awkward.

How to steer straight

Steering a sailboat in a straight line can be difficult. Here's a few tips:
  1. Look straight ahead at a fixed point on the horizon, like a tree or a house. This will help you keep in a straight line.
  2. Sailing dinghies respond dramatically to small movements of the tiller.
  3. The tiller doesn't stay centered on its own, like a steering wheel or bike handlebar.
  4. Pushing the tiller in one direction will cause the boat to turn towards the opposite direction.
  5. Pushing the tiller too far to one side will cause the boat to stop moving instead of turning.
  6. The dinghy has to be moving forward (or backwards!) before it will be able to turn. If your boat is stopped, center the tiller and let the boat gain momentum before steering again.