An objective guide to finding a great sailing school  

The Right Length and Schedule of a Sailing School Course

The two components that make up a course's class schedule are the the format, which can be either week-long or weekend, and the total number of hours. Getting the right course length is one of the trickiest parts of choosing a school and deserves significant attention.

Finding a Sailing School with the Right Course Schedule

The total length of a course varies widely with the price of a school, and often influences students' decisions. Longer courses are regularly offered as a selling point for certain schools. Decide first whether you think you will need a long course based on your needs. This decision can often rule out schools as either too short on one extreme or too costly for your needs on the other.

Choosing between a weekend format (typically two weekends per course) and a week-long intensive program needn't preoccupy you. Both formats have successfully trained sailors, and offer only minor drawbacks and benefits.

Total Course Length

While determining the correct length for your course depends primarily on your personal requirements, there are some general principles to keep in mind. First, a longer course will have more unstructured time to ask questions and learn off-topic but valuable lessons. Second, shorter classes put more of the burden on the student to practice outside of class time.

The Basic Keelboat and Basic Cruising courses (see course content and types of courses) are each usually offered over four or five days of instruction, but some schools compress the two course series into as little as five days. In a sample of eight courses taken by, total course length for Basic Keelboat ranged between 12 and 32 hours. Both short and long classes will use the same curriculum and textbooks, but will vary in the order and emphasis of various topics. Students need not worry that a shorter class will leave them with an incomplete introduction to sailing, but longer classes often yield a more well-rounded education and leave ample time for students to ask questions that extend beyond the set course material.

Because class time is costly, make sure you have a compelling reason to sign up for a longer class. Otherwise, class length can be traded off for a lower price, smaller class size , or an exotic location. The following are strong reasons to make sure that you enroll in a longer class:

  • Students who have some sailing experience, but are considering a sailing school to address certain aspects of the sport (reading the wind, understanding how to properly tune the sails, handling rougher weather) should opt for a longer course. The extra time will allow the instructor to answer questions and attend to all students' key concerns. A longer class will also leave more time for individual instruction.
  • The weather can dictate how long a class will take. Taking a class in an area or season with inconsistent conditions will often result in class days with either no wind or rough conditions. A longer class will increase your chances of having ample time to learn to operate the boat under a comfortable amount of wind. Also, every successful sailing course needs a beautiful day of cruising, so make sure you leave time for good weather.
  • Large classes simply take longer to cover material, and so will require more total class time. If your class size is more than four, consider a longer course to make sure that you get to try every aspect of sailing. Even with a four person class, short courses can feel rushed.
  • Students who want to guarantee that they are comfortable behind the wheel (or tiller) by the end of the course should opt for a class design with ample time to practice in the presence of an instructor. In building confidence, there is no substitute for practice.

Weekday and Weekend Class Structures

Many schools offer a choice between weekday and weekend schedules. Both formats are fine ways to learn. However, under the weekend format, there is value in keeping the two weekends of class close together in order to minimize the amount that you forget in between classes. Try not to let more than a month pass between the two halves of the class.

The two-weekend format has one fundamental shortcoming that may frustrate you during the second part of the class. Typically, a weekday course will have the same set of students throughout, and so each student will have heard the same material throughout the course. By contrast, students in a weekend-based course will have different classmates for the first and second weekends. Those other classmates will have focused on different material, and therefore will require review of some things that were already covered in the first weekend for the rest of the group. As a result, a weekend-based course will typically involve more review of early material that a comparable weekday course. This problem is also exacerbated by students who space out their courses significantly. A classmate in the second weekend who hasn't sailed in three months will certainly slow down the pace of the course.

Cancelled Classes

When scheduling your class, be aware that your course may be cancelled or rescheduled. Commercial schools will impose minimum enrollment quotas for beginner courses to avoid classes that are too small and therefore unprofitable. Under such a policy, classes will be cancelled if not enough students can be found to fill the availiable openings. These cancellations can wreak havoc on your plans if you have booked vacation in order to take a sailing class.

As a guideline, winter and weekday classes are more likely to be cancelled than others. Don't expect to take classes in the off-season without running a risk of cancellation by the school.

Be wary of a sailing school's claim that an empty class will fill up before it begins. Schools have certainly been known to exaggerate the possibility of more students enrolling in order to convince prospective students to sign up for a class. Unless a class already has confirmed attendees, it is best to assume that the class may be cancelled or rescheduled. Make sure that you are aware of cancellation policies before signing up for a class.

Return to home

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.

Typical Content for a US Sailing or ASA Beginner Sailing Course -- Know what your sailing course will entail in terms you can understand.

Every Body Counts: Class Size in Sailing Schools -- The facts about how a larger or smaller class is going to affect your experience in sailing school.

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

The Final Decision: There Can Be Only One -- A summary of the most important aspects of a sailing course and thoughts on how to make your choice.