How Land Sailing Works

Land Sailing Conditions

To stop a speeding land sailboat, you turn into the wind.
To stop a speeding land sailboat, you turn into the wind.
Ryan McVay/Getty Images

If you try serious land sailing, you're likely to be high as well as dry. The most popular places for land sailing in the United States are on dry lakes in the high deserts in California, Nevada and other Western states.

Dennis Bassano, North American Landing Sailing Association (NALSA) president, estimates that about half of land sailors started out as sailors on water. The rest of them are often people who ride motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles or people who try other sports on America's high deserts and happen to see land sailors while in the area. People see how fast land sailboats can go and want give it a try. There's also a lot of crossover with ice boaters, who in the summer switch out their runners for wheels and take up land sailing.

The primary season for land sailing is March through November. In between, rains make the dry lakes muddy bogs. The federal Bureau of Land Management allows land sailing on some public lands and even encourages it. Powered only by wind, land sailing has less impact on the environment than many sports do [source: Bureau of Land Management].

Some popular land-sailing sites include:

  • Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conversation Area in northwestern Nevada
  • Ivanpah Dry Lake, on the California-Nevada border, near Primm, Nev.
  • The Alvord Desert in Oregon
  • El Mirage Dry Lake near Victorville, Calif.

People who don't live near dry lakes sometimes sail on beaches at low tide, although most American beaches are too regulated or populated. Some people with smaller boats sail on athletic fields, in parking lots or on airstrips, when they can get permission. It takes more skill to sail in these smaller areas, where the boat is more likely to run into an obstruction.

On the dry lakes, the atmosphere is likely to be dusty, and the temperatures can be high. Sailors won't notice the heat once they get going, of course. Unlike in Europe, land sailing sites in the United States tend to be remote, without many amenities. Many people combine sailing with camping.

Read the next page for some tips on land sailing.