Marissa Neely
Latest posts by Marissa Neely (see all)

Tips for setting sail

In 2018, my partner Chris and I made the decision to abandon life on land for life afloat, purchasing a 1979 Cheoy Lee 41’ sailboat named Avocet, in Ventura, California. Since then, we have not only redone every inch of our boat to make her more structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing, but have recently cast off the dock lines to go on an indefinite sailing trip that’s referred to as “cruising.”

To the unknowing, it may seem as if we are rich kids living off a trust fund or perhaps early crypto investors that made it big; neither could be further from the truth. In reality, we are minimalists who work hard and choose a humble lifestyle that often gets tied up in an idea of grandeur. This misconception is often what keeps people from dabbling with sailing since the barrier to entry can be intimidating. But here’s the best-kept secret about sailing: you don’t need deep pockets to get started. There are hundreds of ways to learn how to sail on a budget, because the majority of sailors are on a budget. All it takes is a little research, some time, and a lot of persistence. So, here are some ways you can harness the wind even if you aren’t wealthy:

Take a Lesson

Chris handling the lines (Marissa Neely)

Chris handling the lines (Marissa Neely)

If you google “sailing schools” you will find a number of courses designed to help you earn the title of “sailor.” The American Sailing Association (ASA) offers a wide variety of hands-on courses for newbies and experienced sailors, teaching everything from the basics of boating to tactical maneuvering. If you sign up for ASA 101, Basic Keelboat Sailing, you will lay the foundation to become a confident small boat skipper. Check with your local yacht club or sailing club to see if any ASA courses (or equivalents) are offered.

Attend an Open House

Luckily, sailors are social creatures and always looking for an excuse to gather. Therefore, yacht clubs and sailing schools often host open houses where you can get to know the instructors and the boats, and sometimes even go sailing for free. It’s an easy, low-stakes way to see what sailing is all about and meet some sailors that can help answer your questions and maybe even invite you out for a sail. The more boats you step aboard, the better!

Ask a Friend

Do you know a friend with a boat? Great! Ask them how they got into sailing or even better, if they would be willing to teach you how to sail. If they are hesitant, ask if they know of anyone that could teach you. This is definitely a bit risky since experience is hit or miss, but it is a more affordable (if not free) option.

If you are welcomed aboard, remove your shoes before stepping on and ask what you can bring. If they say nothing you still may want to bring something (snacks, additional clothing, etc). Ask the captain first to make sure there is space — storage comes at a premium aboard some boats and the last thing you want to do is upset the captain!


Although this is a pricier option, it gives you the opportunity to experience the highs of sailing and exploring new places on a boat with a licensed captain. Tell the charter company beforehand you are interested in becoming a sailor, and maybe they will match you with a captain who is willing to share some knowledge. There are charter companies like West Coast Multihulls in California (and Mexico) that offer charters as well as sailing lessons through ASA, so perhaps tune your search for a company that caters to both chartering and teaching for the  chance to get the best of both opportunities. Invite your friends or family and make a vacation out of it.

Boat Shows

The Avocet crew, Marissa and Chris in Mexico (Kenna Shine, SV Sitka)

The Avocet crew, Marissa and Chris in Mexico (Kenna Shine, SV Sitka)

Boat shows are a wonderful way to infiltrate the sailing community and make valuable connections that can help get you on the water. Not only are there brand new boats to drool over there are usually sailing school representatives, local yacht clubs, and charter companies handing out fliers and even boat show discounts. Search online for your nearest boat show and add it to your calendar.

Always Something To Learn

Chris grew up in a sailing family and learned how to trim sails before he could walk, but I didn’t even step aboard a sailboat until I was 14. Chris was the one who taught me aboard his 21’ sailboat, Geronimo, a boat we still sail today. Since then, I have continued to embrace sailing and became a USCG Licensed captain in 2022. However, despite our combined experience we are still learning new things every day. That’s one of the most exciting parts of sailing, it never gets stale.


The author, Marissa Neely and her husband Chris sailing aboard Avocet in 2021 in California

The author, Marissa Neely and her husband Chris sailing aboard Avocet in 2021 in California (Scott Racette, SV Azimuth)

Marissa Neely and her husband Chris live aboard their 1979 Cheoy Lee 41’ Avocet. They cast off for cruising in 2022 and are now enjoying the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. You can follow their journey on YouTube (Sailing Avocet) or blog site


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