Boating | Six Simple Categories

Boating Categories

How do we define ‘Boating’ for Beginners?

Whilst our interest is primarily sailing yachts, it would be remiss of us not to mention the alternative ‘boating’ options available to the beginner. After all, they all provide a basic grounding in the skills and principles of piloting a boat on the water.

If you are a sports fan you are probably familiar with the terms ‘Laser‘ or ‘Finn‘ from watching Ben Ainslie win his Olympic Golds or a ‘Wing-sail Catamaran‘ from watching the America’s Cup, most recently starting out of Portsmouth. You may have seen pictures of a certain football club owners ‘Mega-Yacht‘ [sorry can’t mention names, the team plays in the wrong colour blue] or maybe you have just tried your hand at waterskiing behind a ‘Speedboat’ whilst on your holidays in the Med.


“There’s nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.”
― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind In The Willows

These are numerous ways you can get out on the water ‘boating’ however the term BOAT cannot be defined precisely given the variations in type. Search ‘Boat Types’ on Wikipedia and you find references to 31 sub-categories and 191 pages of boats. To some the definition needs to be specific to a class or size of boat or the number of masts and position of the sails, to others it may be more generic, so for the minute let’s keep this simple and stick with the latter. We will delve into the detail (of Sailing Yachts) at a later date.

Boating – Basic Categories

Here we have a summary of the generic boat types you are likely to consider when you want to start ‘boating’ with some general guidance toward gaining some experience of each:

  1. Sailing Boats

    For our definition purposes, sailboats primarily get their propulsion from the force of the wind although many have auxiliary engines for use in calm water or for close-quarter manoeuvring.
    NickyNoo, a Sailing Yacht, fits within this summary category so this is where our focus will be as we add articles and develop the #Sailing section of the site.

    • Small Sailboats

    Boating - Dinghy
    Two Man Dinghy

    Ideal for the beginner a Dinghy (the ‘Laser’ and ‘Finn’ noted above are types), small Keelboat or short-handed Catamaran offer the best opportunity to get out on the water for the first time and get to grips with the basics of sailing and build your confidence. They are suitable for all ages and abilities and they also provide the most affordable option to get started. Many local Sailing Clubs offer them to members for hire or even for free in some circumstances so it is always worth getting in touch with them.

    Learning could not be easier with RYA Training Programmes available to suit your own personal circumstances and as a beginner you will learn the basics of launching, rigging, sailing the boat in all directions (tacking / gybing / steering) and capsize recovery.

    Fact: As a young girl, Dame Ellen MacArthur’s first boat was an 8ft dinghy and we all know what she went on to achieve!

    Credit: Royal Yachting Association – RYA

    • Yachts

    A sailing boat used for recreation and pleasure, the term Yacht is not usually used for boats under 40ft (12.2m) in length although  we will assume there is some flexibility here. There are many variations defined by their Sail Plans: masts / sails (noted above), rigging, cockpit position and interior accommodation design. Yacht sailing offers more options given they have auxiliary motor power and on board accommodation (usually to a high standard). This enables the possibilities of day-trips on the estuary, coastal or off-shore sailing and long haul voyages, each offering a different challenge to your sailing ability.

    Again starting off needn’t be expensive as there are many opportunities to hire a yacht or join a RYA Training Programme that suits your ability and experience. Completing a Competent Crew course will ensure you have all the basic skills to become an active crew member on most yachts. Aside from the practical element, there are plenty of options to expand your knowledge by studying and completing the Day Skipper and YachtMaster™ courses, at your own pace, through the RYA and their various accredited online organisations.

    There are also plenty of options to join as crew with opportunities usually available through a local sailing club or an online search for delivery crewmembers, whereby you assist in the transport of an owned yacht to a new [marina] destination.

    As your confidence and experience grows and you find yourself in a position to take ownership of your own Yacht then the main constraints become those of time and opportunity to sail.

  2. Power Boats

    For our definition purposes, Powerboats get their propulsion from a petrol or diesel motor engine and are primarily used for recreation or sport.

    • RIBs & Sports Boats

    RIBs (Rigid-hull Inflatable Boat) offer power and speed if you are looking for a more exhilarating time on the water. An average 6m (19ft8in) RIB with 110hp engines can reach a top speed of 30 knots (~35mph). RIBs are ideal for a day out with family and friends racing through the water in discovery of new places along the coast. Our friends in Christchurch would often ‘pop across’ the water in a RIB to Salty’s in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight for a seafood lunch and some ‘light’ refreshment.

    Boating - RIB

    A Sports Boat, most of us familiar with the ‘speedboat’, allows for high speed and improved handling on the water. Fun and exciting, they are ideal for recreation and water sports – we mentioned the waterskiing earlier.

    The RYA National Powerboat Scheme is an ideal, and inexpensive,  way to get to grips with the basics of handling a RIB or Sports Boat with boats often being provided by the training centre(s) as part of the course.

    There are also opportunities to get involved or volunteer as crew for safety boats at racing events or boat regattas.

    • Motor Boats

    As with Yachts, Motor Boats come in many different forms ranging from a ‘Runabout’ of 20ft (6m) seating 4-6 people with no formal sleeping accommodation to the high powered ‘Express Cruisers’ in excess of 40ft (12.2m) featuring an open cockpit and control station (bridge) and often quite luxurious interior accommodation. These are ideal for cruising longer distances at speed or for recreational trips along the coast.

    Boating - Motor Cruiser
    Motor Cruiser coming into Port

    Again, there are many ways to get out onto the water with Motor Boats readily available to hire for a time period that suits your plan. An alternative option, as with Yachts, is to search for opportunities to act as a delivery crewmember.

    Similarly to the options above, the RYA Motor Cruising courses can get you started with all the basics to confidently and competently handle a motor cruiser.

  3. Canal and River Boats

    These are boats used for the Inland Waterways and whilst a little more sedate than their Coastal cousins they offer their own brand of recreational pleasure and boating challenges. The skills of piloting your boat around the hazards of the rivers and canals present the need to use alternate techniques than those used on the vast open expanses of the coast.

    • Canal Boats

    Boating - Canal Boat

    Canal Boats, or Narrow Boats as they are often known, are used mainly for recreation however it is now also a common occurrence to live on board the boat. There are many companies offering Canal Boats for hire and they should all offer instruction for safe handling and navigation for beginners or those requiring a refresh. If you want to be a little more prepared the RYA Inland Waterways Course(s) will give you the confidence to safely enjoy your time on the canals.

    • River Boats

    Boating - River Boat
    Sue on the Norfolk Broads

    River Boats, or Cruisers as they are often known, are specifically designed for navigating inland waterways, rivers and lakes. Mainly recreational they are usually of a high standard of comfort and luxury. As with Canal Boats they are readily available to hire, even with no experience, as you will receive instruction on the controls and safety equipment on board and be shown how to manoeuvre and to moor up safely. This is how Dave and Sue learnt the basics of Boating having spent many a weekend on the Norfolk Broads in the years before NickyNoo was even contemplated.

Which One?

We have summarised six basic categories of ‘Boating’. Each have their own merits and the boat in which you to take to the water is purely a matter of personal choice and circumstance. You do not have to limit your options to a single category, if possible take the opportunity to try them all. No matter the choice, you will learn the basics of handling a boat, safely, and have fun in doing so. Enjoy.

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