MIT Sailing Course—1981

Looking back at the recent past, like all those “remember when” emails your friends send
to you, is usually amusing. But history can also be useful. Consider this Massachusetts
Institute of Technology instructional film from 1981. The title of the class is “Sailing and the Tech Dinghy,” and it is freely available online as part of MIT’s Open Courseware offering at

No matter that the production data was 35 years ago; the fundamental technique of making a boat move across the water under wind power has not changed.

And this material is as basic as it comes. The aim of the course is to teach newbies to set up and sail a simple cat-rigged sailboat on protected waters. While some of the information is peculiar to the rig of the Tech Dinghy, most of it is just good, fundamental sailing.

The Tech Dinghy was designed by Professor George Owen in 1935 and built in batches by Herreshoff in Bristol, R.I. It was the first dinghy designed and built for college sailing, and essentially launched the first U.S. college sailing program. Over the years, the MIT Sailing Program has taught the art of sailing to thousands in these boats. The Techs are forgiving and responsive for the novice and notoriously quirky for experienced dinghy sailors.

Best of all, the videos are divided into convenient, bite-size chunks. The clips typically run about 30 seconds each, so sailors-to-be can review the material quickly and be sure they grasp the important details. 

To use the course material, just download it. Unfortunately, the videos are low resolution, so you won’t gain anything but a squint by trying to see them at full-screen size. 

The 27-page course manual is a PDF that covers the basics of sailing and seamanship in a clear, conventional manner. I suggest a “read a little, watch a little” approach to the course, taking it in chunks of a half hour or less. This will let the information sink in before you take the next bite of knowledge. Being a classroom text, this book presumes you have a human teacher helping you along, so enlist the help of a sailing friend for your journey into the world of combustion-free motion. 

Tom Dove