Whether new to sailing or a boat owner, taking classes through a sailing school can ensure better and safer sailing for all (published August 2015)
Founded in 1897, US Sailing (at the time called the North American Yacht Racing Union) has a long history of training instructors and serving as an authority on sailing in the U.S. In 1993, in an effort to create consistency in sailing programs, U.S. Sailing standardized their instructor certification curriculum. Similarly, the American Sailing Association (ASA), founded in 1983, aims to provide a national system of sailboat training and certification to students. Throughout the country there are ASA certified sailing schools in 36 states that offer classes on a variety of boats for both youths and adults.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ORGANIZATIONS
US Sailing, aside from safe boating certification, offers classes to train sailing coaches, runs regattas, train race management personnel and acts as an authority on sailing. ASA’s primary goal remains educating instructors and safe boat training and is not involved in the racing side of sailing. From a tax standpoint, ASA is a for-profit organization while U.S. Sailing is not for profit. Bottom line is that there is not much difference and both adhere to strict standards.
WHAT IS OFFERED
The first levels of cruising classes from both U.S. Sailing and ASA are designed to familiarize students with the basics of keelboats, with the end goal being that they could confidently and safely sail one by themselves. Basic navigation, docking and mooring, sail changes, familiarization with operating the boat under motor (if it has one) and safety tactics if you are caught in stormy weather are all taught at this level.
Certification from these classes can be used as proof of sailing ability when you go to charter a cruising boat and will allow you to safely enjoy your use of it and return it without damage at the end of your charter period. For example, ASA Class 104 Bareboat Cruising, offers participants the chance to learn how to sail a sloop-rigged, auxiliary powered 30 to 45 foot sailboat during a multi-day cruise on inland and coastal waters in moderate and heavy winds. Participants will also learn about provisioning, boat systems, auxiliary engines, coastal navigation, anchoring and emergency operations.
COASTAL AND OFFSHORE
Coastal navigation classes are useful for anyone who plans on cruising in coastal waters and includes a coastal passage making program where first students learn the theory and then have a chance at applying it in on the water situations. Whether you take a class through ASA or U.S. Sailing, coastal navigation courses will start by examining the basic principles of navigation, from there students will learn how to navigate both with and without electronics
One example of such a class is US Sailing’s Safety at Sea Seminar. It is moderated and taught by experienced, lifelong sailors who include some of the top names in sailing and safety. Designed for sailors of all types and levels and for a wide range of boats—small, big, monohulls, multihulls (and powerboats, too)—that are sailed anywhere. The curriculum is certified by US Sailing, with special attention to conditions and challenges of the host organization’s sailing area. Participants can choose from a one day coastal or a two day ISAF offshore certification course depending on what type of sailing they plan on doing.
Another important skill to learn is celestial navigation. Even with the abundance of electronics on boats nowadays, more than ever it is important to learn how to navigate without modern technology in a way that can never fail you. This skill is often packaged with an ocean or offshore passagemaking course. Most courses emphasize learning the theories and practical skills necessary to help you successfully create fixes on the boat with a qualified instructor during an offshore passage making course. There are also excellent celestial navigation courses that can be taken online and done in your own time at your own speed as well as plenty of books on the topic.
So you’ve just completed a coastal or offshore cruising class, so whats next? Both organizations offer additional classes that will allow you to gain skills in specialized areas. If you don’t have a boat or want to sail while on vacation, many charter companies offer bareboat charters, such as the Moorings or Sunsail. If you have an interest in racing, many boat owners need additional crew for weekly harbor races as well as longer coastal and offshore events. Crewing on a boat delivery is another excellent way to gain offshore experience.
COMMUNITY SAILING PROGRAMS
Throughout the country, from popular sailing cities like San Francisco or Annapolis, to the great lakes and the smallest bodies of water, you’ll find community sailing programs. Although they vary in size, types of boats and classes offered and location, the goal of of these types of program is to get the community out sailing. Most programs offer both adult and sailing instruction for children and teenagers. Additionally, many have boats that members can use as part of a membership fee. High school and college sailing is growing in popularity across the country and is a great way for youths to familiarize themselves with sailing and make lifelong friends. Most importantly, community sailing organizations and sailing courses allow those interested in pursuing sailing an avenue to safely gain skills and connect with the larger sailing world.