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How Land Sailing Works

Land Sailing Safety
When you're likely to reach speeds of 50 miles per hour, it's a good idea to wear a helmet.
When you're likely to reach speeds of 50 miles per hour, it's a good idea to wear a helmet.
Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Land sailboats often go four to five times the speed of the wind. With a minimal wind of 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour), you can be racing along at 40 to 50 miles per hour (64 to 80 kilometers per hour). When the wind speed is higher, boats may go two to three times the wind speed. Speeds of 80 miles per hour (128.7 kilometers per hour) are not unusual.

If you're flying along that fast in a boat with no real brakes, you could run into trouble. But land sailing is usually one of the safest of the extreme sports, if sailors use common sense. The first bit of common sense is using protective gear. Land-sailing tours and rentals insist on its use, and most land sailors use it as a matter of choice.

The main types of protective gear are:

  • Helmets: a top priority.
  • Seat belt: Those who go land sailing on beaches usually don't wear seat belts for fear of turning over into the water and becoming trapped. But in the United States, where they are sailing on dry lakes or other hard surface, most people do buckle up.
  • Goggles or other eye wear
  • Gloves
  • Pads: Knee and elbow pads are usually good. The need for other pads may be determined by the type of boat and the position of the sailor -- what body part is likely to take a beating. Some people use shin pads; some use back protectors.

The larger the area for sailing, the safer. On a huge dry lake, there's little to run into. If you have trouble figuring out how to slow or stop the boat, you have room to figure it out. So, how do you stop the boat? Essentially, you stop it by steering it directly into the wind. Coming to a complete halt may take quite a distance. Sailors in smaller boats may drag their feet to help when the boat has almost stopped. Larger, enclosed boats have something like a parking brake to bring the craft to a stop once its speed is down to 4 or 5 miles per hour (6.4 or 8 kilometers per hour).

Those who sail in smaller settings take more risks. In parking lots, sailors can run afoul of light poles and curbs. Problems can arise in popular land sailing areas. If too many boats are sailing close together, some are likely to run into each other.

One of the obvious safety advantages of land sailing over its water cousin is that land sailors are unlikely to drown. If something goes wrong, a land sailor can get out of the boat and start walking.

Until your skills are well developed, it's a good idea not to sail too far from camp or vehicle. If you injure yourself, you don't want to have to trek a long way across a dry desert lake to your vehicle [source: Bassano].

For more information on sailing and other sports, check out the links on the next page.