Sailing in a Buddy Group

If you are from a sailing background and belong to a sailing club with its own premises, you will often have a safety boat available to help out in rescues. You will still be expected to be able to self rescue, but the safety boat is the back up in case you need help. If you are from a canoeing background you are much less likely to have had any safety boat and you will be more used to providing back up for each other. The OCSG doesn’t have premises and we go to many different lakes. We also go to large lakes where canoes could be spread out over several miles. A safety boat wouldn’t work as a back up for us, so we use a different way of providing the back up to help if self rescue isn’t working.

In the early years of the OCSG, before the Buddy Group was thought of, we would often set out together for a cruise to a location several miles away. It soon became obvious that the group could become spread out over a few miles, usually with the least experienced sailors at the back. If the person at the back capsized, they might not be spotted.  We came up with the idea of getting together before setting off and agreeing to sail together in small Buddy Groups. We have a sign-out sheet near the launch area, where members agree to sail together, staying with the other members in the Buddy Group for the duration of the cruise.

Buddy Group size

We have found that the optimum size for a Buddy Group is 3 sailors. If the group becomes much larger, it is difficult for each member to keep track of all the others in the group. When the group is too large it tends to get spread out and if the last person capsizes they may not be seen.
Paddling canoeists tend to paddle at a similar speed so find it easier to stay together; but  sailors tend to travel at different speeds and also have to tack upwind, so it is easy to get spread out.

Sailing upwind

When sailing upwind it becomes more difficult to stay together. More experienced sailors with bigger rigs can travel at twice the speed of someone with a smaller rig. Those sailing fastest will often be looking upwind and concentrating on their sailing performance. This is only natural and, while concentrating on your own sailing is a good thing, we need to look around regularly to check that the group is still together. If you find that you are getting well ahead, the best thing to do is to sail round to the back of the buddy group. This keeps the group together, is less discouraging for the slower sailors and is more sociable anyway.

Tacking upwind

When sailing upwind you will need to tack several times to get to your destination. Ideally you should try and tack at the same time and place as the others in your group. If you end up on different tacks you can become separated by a large distance. Again having a small buddy group of 3 makes co-ordinating this easier. Choosing your buddy group carefully, to be with similar boats and rig size, makes it easier to stay together.


It is best to have a plan when you sign out with your buddy group. You should all have an idea of your common destination and how long it will take to get there. It is important that you talk to each other in your group as you pass close by, to check that everyone is still comfortable with the plan. Everyone needs to know you are all happy with the conditions and that they don’t need a break. One thing that can happen in a group is that someone becomes unhappy with their progress and wants to turn back or land for a rest. It is important that others recognise this. The faster sailor going back to the last in the group, to check they are happy is a good way of keeping the group together. If the slowest sailor is constantly being left far behind they are more likely to want turn around early and head back.

Peer rescue

Sailing as part of a small buddy group is a good way of learning to sail better. You can see what others are doing and exchange ideas. If the weaker sailor is struggling as the wind picks up, the front runner going back and encouraging everyone to reef early should help to keep the group together. Most importantly, if something does go wrong or someone capsizes, there is help at hand to assist if self rescue fails.