Summer Sailing Camp Checklist

By Tom Burden, Last updated: 6/14/2019

2 kids sailing an Open BIC

Having fun on an Open BIC. These youngsters are wearing full wetsuits (provided), and are ready for a wet and wild adventure. More info on this camp is availble from the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club.

Sail Camp can be the highlight of your child’s summer, where lifetime friendships can blossom, and where your child can become a committed sailor for decades of enjoyment.

To help you prepare your child for this experience, I have provided some generic suggestions. Please follow the instructions provided by your camp, as they will differ depending on the specifics of the camp.

Some camps provide boats for your child. Others require you to bring your own boat. The camp, community sailing center or yacht club will provide this information when you first begin the application process. If the camp requires your child to have their own boat, used entry-level boats are available at modest cost. In this situation, many yacht club junior programs offer affordable boats for charter. Many also provide grants to make boats available for free.

Classes of Boats

Sailing camps use a wide variety of small dingies, small, light keelboats, and even beach catamarans. The most popular US classes of boats for junior sailors are:

  • For beginner to intermediate sailors: Prams like the Optimist, El Toro, Sabot or Open BIC
  • For older, larger, more advanced sailors, typically of high school age: One-person dinghy: Laser 4.7, Laser Radial, Laser Full Rig and Sunfish. Two-person dinghies like the CFJ and C420
  • For advanced sailors: 29er skiff
2 Girl Scouts flying a spinnaker on a 420 dinghy

These Girl Scouts are learning to fly a spinnaker on a 420 dinghy.

Some Important Advice

Mark everything: Write your child’s name on boat parts (if it’s a bring-your-own-boat program), clothes and camping gear. The average ten-year-old can’t keep track of their belongings!

Disconnect from the virtual world: Often, camp rules state that no electronic devices (smartphones, iPads, laptops) are allowed.

Leave the toys at home: Many camps have rules against bringing skateboards, skates, scooters, bikes, or speakers.

Fun is paramount: Be sure it’s about fun, and not just about racing. Many camps put a heavy emphasis on racing, and your goal is to build a lifelong connection with the sport. Be sure there is a balance in the camp curriculum, because not every child has the skills and passion for winning races.

What to Bring

Camp rules and situations do vary, but here are some typical basics to include:

kid on an optimist pram dinghy

The Optimist Pram is the world’s most popular dinghy for younger junior sailors, with World Championships for kids up to age 14.

Camping and Personal Items

  • Flashlight with good batteries
  • Insect repellant
  • Personal items (toothbrush, hairbrush/comb, shampoo, soap, wash cloth, etc.)
  • Swimwear
  • Shoes for land and water: Sneakers, sandals
  • Sufficient clothing for a week, for both daytime and nighttime wear (including a jacket, if the temperature drops at night

Commonly Required Items

  • Sun Protection: Absolutely necessary, as sailors will be required to apply lotion every morning and again after lunch! Consider this a safety item for your near-term comfort (sunburn prevention) and long-term health. For more on this, see our article, Understanding Sun Protection.
  • West Marine 3/4 finger sailing gloves

    West Marine 3/4 Finger Sailing Gloves

  • Hat and sunglasses, with retainer straps: Absolutely necessary, as these are the sunscreen for you eyeballs! Good: any baseball-style cap with retainer.
  • Spray top: Possibly will be needed, but only in an offshore or coastal location. Most of these camps are on lakes. The challenge is dealing with heat and sun, not cold or wet.
  • Bibs: Not likely to be required (as above, only in a cold, coastal environment). Worn by sailors in the CFJ and similar boats. Probably not drop-seat bibs, as these are for women in an offshore, cruising situation.
  • Wetsuits: Needed for sailing a Laser 4.7, Laser Radial and Laser Full Rig, or a 29er, but ONLY in cold-water conditions like San Francisco Bay. Zhik products and Ronstan Skiff Suit are great choices.
  • Trapeze harness: Needed for some C420 and definitely for 29er.
  • PFDs and whistles: USCG Approved Front Zip PFD is a good choice for more advanced racers, as are the others in the Daysailer category. Beginners will do fine with the Runabout Kid's Life Jacket, Youth 50-90lb. We don’t advise parents to spend big on a beginner kid who may or may not enjoy sailing. Many camps supply PFDs for their campers, so check this before you buy.
  • Bags and packs: Ronstan Dry Bag is a great choice. It’s an optional item for the more advanced sailor. Popular with the kids in our local yacht club’s junior program.
  • Ronstan dinghy boots

    Ronstan Dinghy Boots

  • Dinghy boots:Ronstan Dinghy Boots are a popular choice. They enable sailors to keep their footing, and prevent injuries to their feet from slipping and contacting the daggerboard trunk, etc.
  • Towels: Bring shower and beach towels, marked with your child’s name like everything else.
  • Sailing gloves: Absolutely necessary. West Marine ¾ Finger Sailing Gloves are a great choice, but Harken, Gill and Ronstan also make excellent gloves.
  • Watches: Necessary for race starts. The Ronstan Clear Start Sail Watch is the most popular choice. Any watch must have a countdown timer, be waterproof and simple to operate.
  • Water bottle: Extremely important in the heat to protect yourself from dehydration. Consider a non-throwaway bottle to save the environment, marked with your child’s name. It should be attached to a 4'-6' lanyard of very light line.

Other Optional Items

  • West Marine Sail Telltales can be easily applied to sails. They are a big help for dialing in the right sail trim, especially in light-air sailing.
  • Ronstan Arrow Style Windvane is popular for kids, because they are affordable and nearly unbreakable.
  • Seafit Boat Bailer Sponge is necessary for prams, CFJ or C420. West Marine Dinghy Scoop Bailer attached to boat with length of light Polyester Braid Mini-Spool line is needed for these same boats. Not needed for Laser family or 29er.

About the author: West Advisor Tom Burden was head instructor in a summer sailing camp near Livermore, California for four years, taught college and adult sailing at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center, and was a volunteer coach at the highly successful Richmond Yacht Club junior program for seven years.