How Do I Choose the Best Sailing Courses?

David Bishop

Sailing is a fun and rewarding hobby for many boating enthusiasts, but it does require some training to learn how to properly operate a sailboat. Sailing courses are available for beginning and advanced students seeking sailing certification in the United States. Courses vary considerably, depending on the size of the boat and the sailing environment. Prospective students should begin their training on small boats in calm waters. After they gain experience and confidence, more advanced students should focus on the learning about the kinds of boats and environments they plan to sail in the future.

Wooden pulleys hold the rigging on a sailboat.
Wooden pulleys hold the rigging on a sailboat.

People interested in learning to sail may consider private schools certified by the American Sailing Association (ASA) or US Sailing. The ASA has certified schools in 39 states and at least 10 countries around the world. Ideally, the sailboats used for training will have been inspected for safety by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, but this inspection is only available in a few areas. In some coastal regions, community centers and schools offer lower-cost sailing lessons to the general public. These types of programs can provide a solid introduction to sailing for many people.

Sailing courses that are offered near bodies of water which are known for good sailing weather can usually give students more hands on training.
Sailing courses that are offered near bodies of water which are known for good sailing weather can usually give students more hands on training.

The curricula for ASA and US Sailing courses are similar in composition with various types of classes and endorsements running from introductory to advanced. Some of the advanced courses may have prerequisites. Courses cover sailing terminology and navigation rules as well as applied training on the use of knots, sails and other gear. Some schools may only offer a few of the most popular introductory classes to students. Other schools offer private sailing lessons for those looking for a more individualized experience.

Prospective students who don’t live near a sailing school or cannot afford sailing courses may consider getting instruction from a friend or family member or opting for a self-study course. Self-directed sailing courses are available online or as a set of books or digital video discs (DVDs) and can help a new sailor adjust to the specialized jargon and concepts of sailing. Owning and operating a sailboat does not generally require any specific certification or testing, and many people learn to sail without attending a sailing school.

Anyone interested in learning to sail should be in good physical condition. Part of the ASA’s Basic Small Boat Sailing Standard requires students to be able to tread water for five minutes and swim a length of 100 yards. Handling the rigging and sails also may require good physical strength. The ASA recommends that new students already have a basic understanding of first aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and stopping bleeding.

Self-directed sailing courses are available on video.
Self-directed sailing courses are available on video.

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