Sailing on Lake Michigan

High School sailing explained:

The Boats – most of the boats used are called “420s”; these are 14 feet long, and have a main and jib. The boats are dinghys, and do not have a keel – instead they are ballasted, or held down, by the weight of the crew. Some of the sailors will occasionally sail single person boats called “Lasers”, but these are usually the more advanced sailors, and that is only done for part of the season. Chicago Yacht Club also has a fleet of keel boats called Sonars, and these are used for additional training.
The Crew – The 420s are sailed by 2 person crews; the crews can be co-ed, but there is no requirement that they be mixed. Sailing is a sport that doesn’t rely solely on brawn, so women can compete against men at a very high level. Indeed, teenage girls often have greater attention spans than teenage boys, which gives them an advantage in races.
The Coaches – The coaches at Chicago Yacht Club are employed by the Club; they train the teams from 6 high schools: Payton; Latin, St. Ignatius, Hinsdale Central, New Trier; and, the Rickover Academy. The High School Program has approximately 100 students in it.
The Yacht Club – Chicago Yacht Club sponsors the High School Program as part of its Junior Activities. The Club provides the boats, coaches, coach boats, Sailing Center, and liability insurance. The heart of the High School Program is the Sailing Center at Belmont Harbor (the South End).
Practices – Are held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at CYC Belmont Harbor. Which days a particular sailor sails depends on whether they are on Varsity, Junior Varsity or Freshman teams.
Racing – Most of the racing takes place at Regattas (a regatta is a series of races). Regattas are generally Saturday and Sunday events, and can be either home or away. “Away” in sailing can be quite far, from Minnesota to Michigan, and occasionally to the East or West Coast. We belong to the Midwest Interscholastic Association (MISSA), as do many other high schools around the area.
Races – Fall is the fleet racing season. Fleet races are when the boats all start at the same time (to a series of sound signals), and sail a designated course such as the one below. Spring is Team Racing, which is too complicated to explain here.
Scoring – Sailing works on low point scoring system, first place receives 1 point, second place 2 points, etc. Most fleet races use 2 Divisions, A & B, which use the same boats in rotation. So for example, the A Division will sail 2 races (a “Set”), and then the B Division will take the same boats and sail a Set. The races are relatively short, and sometimes 4 or 5 Sets can be sailed in a day. Most crews have alternates sailors, who will rotate in for one or more of the crews. Teams win or lose based on a combination of their A Division and B Division scores for the entire Regatta. Prizes are also awarded for the top teams in each Division.
Seasons – The Fall season runs from late August to the middle of November. The Spring season starts when the ice goes off the water, and ends around Memorial Day. There is also a Winter and Summer high school season, which is not school-specific. This is run by the Yacht Club and is the CYC Race Team.
How Do I Join the Team? – High School sailing has exploded in popularity over the last 5 to 10 years. This growth has strained the resources available to provide a quality program, and we have had to cut sailors in the last couple of years. So the program is not “learn to sail”, but is “learn to race”. Tryouts are held for new sailors in August, and prior sailing experience is strongly encouraged. Many area yacht clubs, including CYC have excellent summer sailing programs, and it is unusual for sailors who do not participate in such a program to make a team.
What are the benefits of Junior Membership? – CYC allows young people under the age of 23 to join the Club at a reduced rate, and significantly lower dues. For a high school sailor the initiation is currently $75, and the dues are $28 per month. For this the sailor receives a substantial discount in the fees associated with the high school program, and full access to the Club.


  • 1. What kind of boats do the teams practice in?
    • Varsity and JV sailors primarily practice and compete in 420s. The Freshman/Sophomore team also practices in Sonars. In the Fall, sailors may practice in a Laser if they own their own boat. Additionally, there may be one or two regattas where sailors compete in FJs, which is very similar to a 420.
  • 2. How do sailors get to practice?
    • This varies depending on the team. Most teams organize carpools to and from practice in personal cars.The New Trier Sailing Team provides bus transportation to practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, due to the distance of the school and size of the team. This bus is mandatory for all sailors who wish to attend practice. Team co-captains will arrange carpools for Varsity practice on Wednesdays.
  • 3. What do sailors do for lunch during Saturday practices?
    • Sailors are given an hour for lunch mid-day. They can either pack a lunch or go to a local restaurant. Most sailors walk to the nearby Chipotle.
  • 4. What’s the difference between Varsity and Junior Varsity?
    • The Varsity team will primarily compete in Championship qualifiers and regattas, while the Junior Varsity team will compete at the local regattas. Varsity members are expected to prioritize sailing over all other extra-curricular activities. Varsity has additional practices on Wednesdays, while Junior Varsity has additional practices on Saturdays (when not competing in regattas).
  • 5. Do the sailors need to go to every practice?
    • Sailors are permitted to take two personal days off from practice each season. This can be for sick days, homework, studying for an exam, or vacation. The varsity team is treated as a varsity sport. Sailors are expected to prioritize practice and regattas over dances or other commitments. Please schedule doctor’s appointments outside of the practice times.
  • 6. What do I do if my sailor is unable to come to practice?
    • Please fill out the absent document - Click Here. Additionally, notify your coach. 
  • 7. What if practice is cancelled? How will I know?
    • If weather is not suitable for sailing and coaches decide to cancel practice, they will contact the co-captains of each team. The co-captains are then responsible for contacting all team members to pass along the message.
  • 8. Does my sailor need to go to all regattas?
    • No, it is not necessary to go to all regattas. However, it is expected that sailors on the Varsity team will prioritize regattas over other activities. We also encourage Junior Varsity sailors to participate in local regattas. When the number of sailors able to participate in a regatta is limited, priority will be given to sailors who have regularly attended practice.
  • 9. Where do the sailors stay at regattas?
    • When at local regattas, sailors will stay at their own homes. When out of town, we will organize housing with the sailors hosting the regatta. It is possible that on occasion sailors may need to stay at a hotel, and in this case chaperones will be responsible for monitoring and supervising the sailors.
  • 10.Do chaperones go to regattas?
    • Yes, each team will have a chaperone for the regatta to supervise and help with transportation. Chaperone positions are volunteer based.
  • 11.Do sailors travel for regattas?
    • Regattas can be both local and out-of-town. We are fortunate that Chicago is in the center of the MISSA district, so most regattas are pretty close. Occasionally sailors may travel by car to Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin to compete. If a team qualifies for Nationals, the championships may be farther and require an airplane flight.
  • 12.How do sailors get to regattas?
    • It depends on where the regatta is. If it is local, sailors will be asked to find their own transportation to and from the regatta. We recommend organizing carpools within the team. For out-of-town regattas, chaperones will drive sailors to the regattas, most likely leaving after school on Friday to allow for a good night’s sleep prior to the start of racing on Saturday. 
  • 13.What time do the sailors leave for regattas?
    • If the regatta is local, sailors may leave early the morning-of. If the regatta is out of town, sailors will leave Friday after school and return after racing on Sunday night.
  • 14. Will my sailor ever need to miss school for a regatta?
    • Most regattas are on weekends and within driving distance, so sailors will leave after school gets out.However, in the case of national qualifiers and championships, it is possible that sailors may need to miss a day or two of class to allow for travel. In this case sailors will notify their teachers in advance to acquire all necessary homework and assignments.
  • 15. Is there a cost for regattas?
    • Each regatta has an entry fee that sailors are responsible for covering. Each team may institute an additional cost for local and out-of-town regattas. This fee will cover gas, food, and other expenses.
  • 16.What gear does my sailor need?
    • Fall Season: A Type III Coast Guard Approved lifejacket (required), spray gear (top and bottom), close-toed booties, warm layers (such as long underwear; ex. Under Armour), a towel and dry clothes to change into after practice, water bottle, and sunscreen. We also recommend sailing gloves to prevent blisters and a wet suit if your sailor gets cold easily. Please note that sailors should not wear anything made from cotton, as this material does not dry quickly nor does it provide warmth when wet. As the Fall progresses and the weather gets colder, sailors will also need warm wool socks, a hat, and warm clothes to wear under their spray gear. 

      Spring Season:
      Everything from the fall season, plus: a dry suit (this is required for practice), a fleece jacket and pants, warm wool socks, a hat, and warm gloves (these can either be made specifically for sailing, or rubber dish glove work well to keep hands dry).
  • 17. Does my sailor really need a dry suit? They’re expensive!
    • If your sailor is participating in the spring season, dry suits are required. We also recommend them for the later-half of the fall season as well. These are essential in preventing hypothermia and most MISSA regattas require them as well. We recommend trying to purchase a dry suit from a graduating team member or contacting the Director for a suggestion of where to get one.
  • 18. My child has never sailed before. Can he/she still sail with their high school team?
    • If your child has never sailed before, they can attend open tryouts for the possibility to be placed on the Freshman/Sophomore team. The Frosh/Soph team practices on Saturdays. We strongly recommend signing up for the Chicago Yacht Club summer High School Pipeline program to learn how to sail and race to increase your sailor's chances of making their High School team.
  • 19. My child is in 8th grade. Can he/she sail with their high school team?
    • If your child is in 8th grade and has sailing experience, he or she is welcome to practice on Saturdays with their high school team. Please ask the Director for permission prior to attending practice.
  • 20. What is your policy on alcohol and drugs?
    • Chicago Yacht Club has a Zero-Tolerance policy. When at practice, regattas, or representing the Club, sailors may not consume alcohol or use drugs. If a sailor is caught with either of these substances, they will be immediately be sent home at their own expense and further disciplinary action will ensue, which may include suspension or expulsion of the individual or the team.