When you suddenly decide to change everything about your life, it takes a few (lol) discussions with your partner. This isn’t going to be a vacation thing or summer thing. This is going to be a life thing. There are lots of details to work on and decisions that need to be made. Some you’ll agree on quickly, some you’ll disagree on, and some stay on the table for a while. Luckily, Matt and I both agreed that sailing school was in order. For me, as an aside, there is very little that is sexier than a man saying, I want to learn. Just saying…
There are a couple of things to consider when you are deciding on your sailing school. First, you’ll want to ask some sailing friends, see what they have to say. A recommendation from a friend goes a long way. Then, you’ll want to check the reviews, and being a Yelp society, we all know how to do this by now, so no need to discuss more on this type of research.
Mostly, Matt and I wanted to put together a few pointers that we caught onto during our research.
- Some of these schools are brokers. My question would be, is their main objective to teach sailing or is it sales? These are two completely different ideologies. When the main speciality isn’t teaching, they aren’t trying to perfect it day in and day out as they would be if teaching was their main focus. Since there is likely more money in boat sales than teaching with having less employees, insurance, and bother, we can reasonably assume that selling would be their main focus in that scenario. Not exactly harmful, especially if you get a discount on purchasing a boat, but again, a little suspect. Much like an auto dealer, you can expect an initial price hike in order to show the discount for the students. You never know but nobody really enjoys that car dealer feel. What we do know is that a program geared for sales would have a greater chance of being subpar than a stand alone teaching school, so take a note of that. Reviews would be of upmost importance in this instance to overcome this.
- Curriculum. Make sure they are offering what you want to learn. There are so, so many classes available. Basic keelboat is usually the starting point, then basic cruising, and then bareboat cruising. The names may be slightly different but the gist is the same. These classes and a few others you can certify for. Why would you want certification? Maybe your insurance will cut you a break, maybe you want to charter a boat for a nice day or weekend out with the fam and friends, or maybe you want to be a captain some day. You need certifications for these basic levels and then some, depending. There are also some awesome bonus courses you might want also like coastal navigation, celestial navigation, passage making, or a spinnaker course, just to name a few. The list goes on and on… So make sure the school you decide on has the ability to certify you and possibly has some of the yummy advanced courses as well to supplement.
- Price. After number 2, you can see the money piling up. This is not a cheap sport by any means. You’ll find the places that offer the most, also cost the most, and at about the same. You will end up wanting these advanced courses and wondering how on earth do people do this without instruction! We wonder… we wonder every day. Just remember, a school is a business and everyone wants to get paid, so be ready. Might want to look into some package deals if possible. It locks you in but is cheaper overall. Be smart. One place wanted to lock us in at 10 grand, each mind you, but every single class available was included. A great value. Crazy as it may seem, at first, that looked like a possibility considering all the other courses they offered were so impressive. We just couldn’t lock ourselves in that way. Plus their reviews were not overwhelmingly favorable. Anyway, ridiculous! Warning: Getting your money back is not a guarantee if you should need to cancel. After the main courses of our way smaller package deal, we will go a la carte, lol.
- Practice location. This was interesting. Something we didn’t realize was a thing, is a thing. If at all possible, you want to be learning to sail where you can sail. There was one place we looked into that where we were going to practice sailing was 30 minutes away from the school itself. So every class we would need to motor 30 minutes to get to the place where we could learn to sail, then 30 minutes or so back. That is an hour of class time, minimally. With that, there would be less dock work and marina procedures, which are some of the most important beginning lessons a sailor can learn. Plus, if someone were to be sick, a long trip to home base would be required. All that would be a bummer if that was the only choice of schools we had. Luckily, they were others.
- Happy people. This is kinda of an aside but we are going to throw it in there because we actually had an experience that led us to our school. Our advise is to take a look at the people working there. Are they happy? Do they like working there? Teaching for those who like to teach are happy. You can tell by the interactions with the people there whether it is a good spot to join. We struck up a conversation with a guy who worked at the school while we were wandering around the docks in the marina. We weren’t even going to go in, as the place looked like a dirty, worn out marina, like most do to be fair, but after our little chat, we decided to go in and check the place out just because he was so nice. We are glad we did.
- Club aspect. A lot of schools have a club to go along side of the school. You want this. Depending, there are club activities and little get togethers that are great for meeting new people and swapping sailing stories. Sometimes it is hard to find people to sail with, especially that can help out. Our school has a thing called a crew list, where people needing crew can send out an email blast to everyone on the member list asking for crew. Meet new people and get practice. It works well. And you too can get all of this for a small fee, lol. Club dues. Ain’t nothin’ for free folks. Some clubs also have a thing called reciprocity. This is where the club is ‘friends’ with another club or establishment, allowing free docking or other privileges. This is way cool. Having another place to dock is great, so a club with reciprocity with another club is a real bonus.
About the curriculum, there are two associations, ASA (American Sailing Association) and US Sailing. Most like one more than the other. You can ask someone why they like one more than the other and you will get an answer. Really, I think they are two sides of the same coin in the long run, but US Sailing is a bit more racing oriented it seems. However, if you decide to change up for some reason to the other, you will have to retake the latest equivalent test to certify in the other association, along with a PT, quick boat ride to prove you can sail. So that is a bit of a pain. As it turns out, we might want to do this. We know some people teaching some courses we may want to take in warmer waters and they are ASA not US Sailing. They seem to think it is no big deal, people do it all the time, but I’m like this is a total bummer for sure. It isn’t for certain but it is a possibility, so it does happen.
Now you don’t have to be certified or be licensed to sail, especially if you have your own boat. Chartering, yes. I will tell you it is strange for us to think about people sailing without any experience or instruction but it is done all the time. You don’t need a license to sail your own boat. It is highly recommended though, not only for your safety and your passengers’ safety but the safety of all other boats around you as well. There are rules of the road. The best example is if two boats are on a collision course. Who has right of way, who turns where? The answer is, it depends on wind direction. The wind will not always allow you to turn just any’ol way. There are physical limitations and knowing what to do is better for everyone.
If getting a certification is not your objective, learning how to sail should be.
Going to sailing school is like any other educational program. It takes time, money, and commitment. Matt and I very much believe this was the best choice for us. Winging it would be very stressful on us as a couple and as individuals, not to mention, it could also lead to potentially serious injuries and huge costly repairs. By the time we leave, we will have hundreds of hours of sail time. We will have the confidence to face sailing head on, well close hauled, and a solid base for troubleshooting, both are priceless.
Please comment below if you have some helpful tidbits that helped you decide.