An objective guide to finding a great sailing school  

Typical Content for a US Sailing or ASA Beginner Sailing Course

A beginning sailing course will typically last four to ten days, be taught in a small group of three to five students, and follow a standardized curriculum published by one of the two major U.S. sailing associations. Completion of such a course will lead to certification, which will allow you to charter boats and sail all over the world.

Basic Keelboat and Basic Cruising

A beginning sailor looking to learn how to sail large boats (20' and larger) should enroll in a Basic Keelboat course that is endorsed by either US Sailing or the American Sailing Association. These two organizations each publish a standard curriculum and certification exam used by many schools across the country. Courses designed by either institution will cover roughly the same material. There are some schools that do not align themselves with either institution but teach approximately the same material independently, which can make for a perfectly fine learning experience. However, be aware that without the endorsement of either national association, you won't be officially certified and may have a more difficult time chartering boats within the United States.

The Basic Keelboat course is often packaged with the second course in the standard series, usually called Basic Cruising or Coastal Cruising. The two courses complement each other well, teaching not only the basics of sailing, but also how to maintain and operate a boat of your own. An added benefit to taking both is that the two courses are often taught on boats of different size, giving new sailors a varied experience.

While other types of courses exist, our focus is on selecting the right Basic Keelboat course, possibly coupled with Basic Cruising.

Content Overview and Classroom Material

The Basic Keelboat course covers four topics: sailing knowledge and terminology, the practical aspects of operating a boat, instruction on commanding a crew, and miscellaneous useful information related to knot tying and sailing conditions.

The knowledge section of the course is typically taught in a classroom and takes approximately four hours. As a first step, the instructor will review the parts of the boat and their function, introducing the students to the extensive jargon of the sport. The balance of the classroom time is dedicated to wind dynamics and understanding how a sailboat behaves. All of the classroom content of these courses is available online at the Baysail Online Course.

Practical Aspects of the Course

The practical section, conducted on a boat, will cover the range of topics below:

  • Raising, lowering, and managing the sails
  • Boat safety and emergency situations
  • Navigating and operating the boat under wind power
  • Docking and maneuvering under motor power

Typically, any maneuver or technique is repeated several times so that each student has a chance to experience each role. For this reason, class size and the amount of repetition in a class are closely linked.

The portion of the class dedicated to commanding and managing a crew also takes place on board a vessel. Students learn standard commands and guide the other students through a handful of short operations that require coordination by a captain issuing orders. This aspect of the class will vary widely by instructor, and may sometimes be almost completely omitted.

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How to Find Sailing Schools to Consider -- Make sure to start yourself with a solid list of schools to compare before making a decision. The right school for you isn't always the easiest to find.

Types of Courses: Sailing Schools Can Take Many Forms -- From small boat lake sailing to coastal yacht navigation, all types of courses exist. Know what you're looking for.

A Sailing School Is Only As Good As Its Instructors -- Know how to determine if a school will provide the right instruction, and if a particular instructor is right for you.

How Much Should Sailing School Cost? -- Learn how to compare prices and see some typical course costs.