Five Sailing Myths, Debunked

BY: Dan Caffrey |May 5, 2016


Sailing Tall Ship WIndy jpg

There are few things sadder than a sailboat stranded in harbor during the long winter months. Thankfully, now that warm weather is finally upon us, sailing enthusiasts can begin to unfurl their sails and hit the water once more. But before casting off to sea, you might want to know which boating facts are actually, well, not facts at all. We found five common myths about sailing that might be of use to you, especially if you’re planning to marry your first mate while onboard.

Myth: Sailboats Always Have the Right of Way

Just like cars, boats have their own complicated rules of the road—er, waterways. For example, when two boats cross paths, one must serve as the “stand-on” vessel (the boat that continues on its course) and the other must serve as the “give-way” vessel (the boat that turns to avoid collision).

So, how do you decide which is which? It’s tricky. Whereas a motorboat has to give way to any sailboat whose engine isn’t running, a sailboat with its engine running is technically considered to be a motorboat, and the two captains must determine who has more maneuverability before making a decision. Stick to that rule, and it’ll help you prevent any nautical fender benders.

Sailing on deck jpg

Myth: Lakes Are Always Calmer Than the Ocean

Lakes may be smaller than the ocean, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re calmer. Since all of the water is contained in a finite area, the waves tend to be closer together, resulting in more frequent motion when the wind is blowing. It’s also easier for waves to bounce off the opposite shore and further jostle the waters. So, while you’re not likely to run into a shark in the Great Lakes, there are plenty of other hazards to look out for.

Myth: You Should Never Sail in the Rain

Although you should always keep tabs on the wind and never go out in a lightning storm, rain by itself can actually be a boon when sailing. Raindrops tend to calm the waters by suppressing wave formation, and a savvy sailor will know how to harness the rain’s downward force and turn it into momentum for the boat. Just be sure to check the weather report ahead of time, wear waterproof gear, and take care not to slip on the deck.

Sailing detail jpg

Myth: Anything is Legal on International Waters

Credit The Simpsons for popularizing this myth (Mr. Burns once called international waters “the land that law forgot”), but it’s still just that—a myth. While there are huge swathes of the ocean not owned by anyone, every ship has to fly the flag of its country of origin, and thus obey the laws of that country, no matter where it’s sailing.

Only Half-Myth: Your Boat Captain Can Perform a Marriage Ceremony Onboard

Can your boat captain marry you onboard? Of course he can! But only if he’s an ordained minister or someone else who has the authority to do so. Outside of that, a captain has never been allowed to marry two people just because he’s captain. No one’s sure exactly where this myth comes from, but we suspect Captain Stubing and The Love Boat may have something to do with it.

Ready to hit the waves, but not sure where to start?

Read what a tall ship captain has to say about different styles of boating before picking a worthy watercraft.

Photos: Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon.