If you've never been on a sailing holiday you're missing out on a lot. Okay so your partner might not be a sailing fan, but that doesn't mean that a sailing holiday can't be a fantastic solution for the whole family.

Why are sailing holidays so good? If your working life finds you spending too much time at a desk, staring at a computer screen or at a traffic jam from behind the wheel of your car, then there's no better holiday than to be outside and physically active.

A sailing holiday is the perfect stress-buster. Rather like a skiing holiday, a sailing holiday offers the chance to combine fun activity with relaxation, socialising and good food. As one of the UK's lsrger sailing holiday specialists, Sunsail, puts it: "If you want a holiday that makes you feel more alive; if watching the world go by feels like missing out; if your dream holiday is about sun, water, adventure, new experiences and jumping in feet first, then welcome."

Yacht at anchor in the Ionian photo Sunsail

A yacht in an idyllic anchorage in the Ionian. Photo courtesy of Sunsail.

The advantages of a sailing holiday

1) It's outdoors with all the enjoyment of the fresh air. Of course, if you haven't seen the sun for some time, don't forget that the water reflects the sun, so sun protection is even more important than on the beach.

2) By being active you can work off some of that holiday food. You'll also enjoy your food (and drink) that bit more after all that fresh air.

3) You can get a sense of achievement as you learn new skills or brush up on old ones. Many sailing holidays offer tuition, and you can often work towards qualifications if you wish.

4) It's fun - especially if you're the type that soon gets bored lounging around.

5) It's sociable - you are guaranteed to meet new people, and chances are they will be like-minded and could end up firm friends for life.

6) On a sizzling hot day, it's a great way to cool off. It's usually cooler out on a boat with the breeze to offset the heat, and if you're learning a new skill like dinghy sailing, the water is warm if you are unfortunate enough to capsize.

7) You can be as active as you like; there's no reason not to take a morning or a day off to "sail a sun lounger" with a good book.

8) Sailing is a real escape from reality, especially if you take part in a race, giving you a proper break from the stresses of everyday life. You'll find any worries are pushed right out of your mind.

9) You will be well looked after, especially if you're used to domestic dinghy sailing. Instructors will help you rig, launch and take your boat when you get ashore, leaving you to concentrate on having fun.

10) There really is something for everyone. Just as there are so many different types of boat, there are different types of sailing holiday, and many will also offer different activities for different family members.

What kinds of sailing holiday are on offer?

There are a huge range of sailing holidays for you to choose from, from beach-based holidays that put sailing centre stage (see Beach club holiday: dinghy sailing family fun), to those that focus on other activities and just have a few dinghies on the beach for visitors to use. You can choose a charter holiday, either chartering your own boat, perhaps with friends, as part of a flotilla, or opting for a skippered charter, or simply a berth on a larger boat. To learn more about the options read Top 10 boating holiday ideas.

Dinghy beach-based holiday specialists Minorca Sailing offer a high level of tuition and a fabulous range of boats.

Dinghy beach-based holiday specialist Minorca Sailing offers a high level of tuition and a fabulous range of boats.

Beach based sailing holidays

There is a wide range of beach-based sailing holidays, many in the Mediterranean, but also further afield. Specialist sailing holiday companies like Neilson, Mark Warner, Ocean Elements, Seafarer Sailing, Wildwind and Minorca Sailing are certainly a good place to start looking.

Some centres offer a range of other activities, making them an ideal choice if you have a non-sailing partner or children. Others are more focused on various types of sailing, but even then, as long as there is a beach and a pool, the non-sailors' needs may well be catered for as well.

Accommodation ranges from hotels to villas, with differing levels of luxury. Some holidays are fully catered, or offer food on site, while others give you the option of self-catering. Basic sailing kit should be provided, but it's useful to take your own gloves and footwear, if nothing else. These are usually available for sale, but choice can be limited. For more see our feature  Beach club holiday: dinghy sailing family fun.

yachts charter holiday Caribbean Sunsail

As well as being active, sailing can be very relaxing and have its lazier moments. These yachts are enjoying a quiet anchorage in the Caribbean, just one of Sunsail's vast array of charter destinations.

Yacht charter holidays

Yacht charter fits into three basic categories; bareboat charter, flotilla and skippered. Bareboat is obviously an option for the more experienced and independent holidaymaker, but many companies offer pre-holiday training courses that will teach you enough to get sailing on your own, especially if your destination is a particularly safe and sheltered one.

Flotilla holidays offer a bit of independence with the reassurance of joining a small group of boats. You will find specialists such as Sunsail and Neilson offer holidays including some basic training, with the option of doing a sailing course in the UK before you go.

If you unable or unwilling to take on the full responsibility of a vessel yourself, you can opt for a skippered charter. You will find a host of independent yachts offering charter holidays, as well as the major charter holiday companies. It will, of course, add to the cost of your holiday, but if that means you have a better experience it will be worth every penny. For more see our Yacht charter holiday guide.

Universal Charters based in Hamble offer sailing holidays in the Solent and the English Channel, with both bareboat and skippered options.

You don't have to go abroad to enjoy a sailing holiday, for example, Hamble-based Universal Charters offers sailing holidays in the Solent and the English Channel, with bareboat and skippered options to take you to some lovely locations like the Channel Islands.

Taking children on a sailing holiday

Many holiday companies have specific provision for children. Beach bases usually have various kids' clubs or a creche on offer, and for older children there are classes intended to encourage them to learn to sail and enjoy the water themselves. Depending on the age of the children involved, charter holidays can also be a great way for the family to enjoy an activity together, with all the fun of a camping holiday, plus the added spice of a yacht to sail, new destinations and beaches to explore along the way.

A Sunsail charter yacht heads into harbour in Croatia.

A Sunsail charter yacht heads into harbour in Croatia.

Other sailing holiday options

There are a number of larger sailing yachts that offer holidays on a berth basis. These range from yachts competing in large foreign regattas, like OnDeck, to luxury cruising yachts complete with swimming pool, like the high end holidays offered by companies like Star Clippers.

Joining a regatta crew can be ideal if you are traveling alone, and is a good way to tick off a dream event without the hassle of chartering your own boat. A luxury sailing cruise can be a good way to experience some of the thrill of sail, and might provide a gentle introduction to its magic for a non-sailing partner.

As well as sailing holidays, you might want to consider other types of boating holidays, such as canal holidays, or water related activity holidays such as windsurfing or surfing. There are also plenty of fun things you can do in the UK, see Engine-free thrills: 7 top watersports.

Planning your sailing holiday

As with any holiday it pays to do your research. Obviously the internet is a great resource, and you scan spend hours browsing your dream destinations. Printed brochures can give you an added insight, and most companies will send you a brochure on request. Do gather recommendations from friends and colleagues as their real life experiences and opinions can be invaluable.

Another good place to start is at a boat show where you can meet and chat to holiday company staff. At the shows, the stands, especially in the winter, are usually manned by the people who you'd meet in resort, so they can give you a real insight into the welcome you are likely to expect. January's London Boat Show is a good example, where you will also find many destinations with their own stands, enabling you to add to any online research you may have done beforehand.

If you are looking at different options, make sure you are comparing like with like as some basic prices do not include tuition or boat hire, and some will include food while others will not. Also check the list of boats available as some destinations will offer a greater selection of craft than others.

While there are deals to be had if you can afford to be flexible, for anyone with specific dates or destinations in mind, it's worth booking to ensure you don't miss out. For anyone without school age children, there are fabulous deals outside school holiday times, when weather conditions can be as good, if not better than during the high season.

Finally, after your holiday, make sure you follow up with sailing at home for anyone you may have converted, see Get your family boating in 6 steps.

Written by: Gael Pawson
Gael Pawson is the editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine and the founder of Creating Waves. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.