Boating 101: How Sailing Teaches Leadership Skills

By Ben Church.

Leadership lessons pop up in all aspects of life but skippering a sailing yacht offers a glimpse of the deep end.

With weather, wind and waves to contend with, a crew to cajole and keep safe, navigation to be worked out, and an expensive boat to maintain, strong leadership is a must.

Racing ups the ante and the stress levels. The skipper must also ensure the boat is being sailed fast, the crew are motivated, and strategic decisions are made quickly and decisively.

“You’re effectively playing chess on water and you’re managing risk all the time,” said Britain’s Ian Walker, who is a double Olympic silver medalist and Volvo Ocean Race-winning skipper.

Sailing is an adventure, but it can be dangerous, with myriad hazards at play, from nature and the sea, to bone-crunching equipment and human error. Team work is a must, and that starts with the skipper.

Unlocking potential

Tracy Edwards, the first person to skipper an all-female crew in the then Whitbread Round The World Race, believes squeezing the best out of a crew is perhaps the most vital skill to have as a leader. After all, it’s the crew that ultimately wins races.