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Let’s start a conversation about ASA 101, etc. is it helping or hurting?

Sep 15, 2016
496
Catalina 22 Minnesota
I wanted to start a conversation amongst those who have been around a while about the ASA courses. I have noticed so many recommend them to the new or first time sailor sometimes even before buying or trying sailing.

However before I ask my question I need to preface it with the fact that this is not a dig at ASA or any other courses. I believe the ASA courses are great and valuable to a sailor to hone or develop skills. Also please know that I am not a new sailor and not asking for myself or anyone else I’m just looking to get opinions as to if we are helping or hurting our sport so here goes.


Are we deterring people from learning to sail by suggesting immediately that the newest sailors take ASA courses to learn how? Let’s be honest for many of an older generation you likely learned to sail in dinghy’s and small boats. Capsizing, recovering, having parents or friends help and beating the heck out of those early small boats. I myself learned at a summer camp over a week long period and then developed additional skills over many years. But I have noticed a trend lately where someone wants to learn to sail and is immediately told to enroll in ASA classes. Or they buy a boat and “survive” their first outing and are criticized for sail shape, ability to reef, hove to, recover the boat, maintain the boat to a Yachts standards, etc. This seems like it could be intimidating to say the least. After all the boats I learned to sail on were Lido 14s and they leaked so bad you had to bail them in the morning and while sailing. The sails were rags and they basically held air but it was a blast. I never heard of sail shape or various tactics until much later and quite frankly if I had to fully learn the sailing language to even begin (think ropes to lines debate) then I likely would have been disinterested early on. So what say you? Is the immediate suggestion of over $1,000 of courses to learn if you even like sailing helping or hurting the sport? Why don’t more recommend they go hang out at a local club and make a friend that can at least get them started with some basics for free? Are clubs unwelcoming of a “new” or potential sailor to even take them for a ride? It seems with all the clubs across the US that have an aging membership an open atmosphere could promote and encourage more to the sport. Then later on as they want to hone skills classes like those offered by ASA and dozens of other companies become far more beneficial.
 
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Jan 4, 2006
3,028
Hunter 310 West Vancouver, B.C.
Here is an excerpt I pulled off an old reply I had posted some time ago.

"And yes, I remember an incident involving a 38' Benetau which could have easily ended in death. The boat was brand new out of the box, and drop dead gorgeous. I used to salivate every time I saw this boat which was across the dock from us. It was owned by a young couple who didn't know the front end of the boat from the back. I had talked with them a few times and certainly nice enough but didn't even know what questions to ask and weren't interested in finding out either. Always dressed in the latest Helly Hansen gear. Likely an inheritance. One day, I was walking past their boat which was right across the dock from mine and saw hubby, at the base of the mast, pulling straight down on a halyard for all he was worth. There were no winches, rope clutches, or anything else to assist. Just his bare hands pulling on this maybe 3/8" halyard. Interesting :rolleyes: ! So I looked up the mast and there was his wife about 15 feet up in a bosun's chair WITHOUT A SAFETY LINE. Hubby is slightly built and he's all there is holding her up. So what do you do ? Any surprise to him and she's going to wind up falling across the boom with a minimum of a broken back. I walked over so I was across from him where he could see me before I spoke and then said in a joking manner it should really be him up there because she was much too pretty. He slowly let her down. I felt like punching his lights out for such a dumb stunt. I tried to tell him about safety lines, winches, rope clutches, but he probably didn't understand or just wasn't interested. The next time I came back to my boat, they had moved across to the next dock over. Couldn't stand the nosy neighbour. "

I think this is why everyone says "take a course" to new owners. Very few people come up through the ranks today. Slap down a credit card and you've got yourself a 35'+ boat, sail or (God forbid) power. And unfortunately, many of them are SOOOOOO stupid, they don't want to learn. Powerboaters believe they already know it all before even buying the boat. My greatest thrill is telling some idiot powerboater "time to take a course" after they pull some particularly stupid stunt usually when docking near me. They go apoplectic o_O.

As a final note, the last time I saw the above owners of the 38' Benetau coming out of our marina, they were doing about 6 kts. in a confnied space and looking for an accident. "HEY, TAKE A COURSE".
 
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Nov 6, 2006
8,769
Hunter 34 Mandeville Louisiana
Early days(1973 ish).. learning the ropes(!) we'd both just recovered from a capsize dunking. I'd crewed on Cougar catamarans and Lightnings but had lots to learn.
Early Sailing Lake Cavaleer 1.jpg
 
Jan 22, 2008
1,515
Hunter 34 Alameda CA
I had been sailing for a number of years since high school and then college on Snipes, Aqua Cats, Lasers, and my friend's Islander 30 before we bought our boat. Even read some books on the subject. It wasn't what I knew that was apparent. It was what I didn't know. And neither did my my friend on his Islander even though he had sailed for 20+ years. My wife and I decided to mix vacation with school and signed up for the ASA courses over the next 3 winters in Florida. Best decision we could have made. We went to the International Sailing School at Burnt Store Marina in Punta Gorda. After the initial lessons on Solings our skills were better than my friend's. Another friend told me so, so it must have been true. Eventually we completed all the course work through Navigation and Advanced Coastal Cruising. We saved money by always going the week after New Years Day. No one else signed up and we had private instruction that normally cost 3x more.
 
Jan 4, 2010
870
Farr 30 San Francisco
Can't you take ASA Basic keelboat to start? So in principle no capsizing. I would suppose the real question might be around the curriculum.
 
Mar 20, 2011
520
Hunter 31_83-87 New Orleans
Full disclosure - I am a certified ASA instructor and also hold an OUPV license so I could teach sailing when I retired.

This is a great conversation starter and thanks for bringing it up. excuse the lengthiness of my reply. This is something I see and hear when teaching.

When I first started out sailing in the early 80s (think no ASA/Colgate classes or internet/You Tube) I purchased a 16' non ballasted day sailor which was my first boat ever. I was clueless on sailing other than a couple of afternoon outings on a friends boat for a few hours when in high school. The dealership for the boat told me to go to the library (remember those) and pick up a basic book on sailing. He stated that will get you 80% of what you need to know and the rest you will learn on the water (ala Capt Ron). So I took his advise, picked up the basic book and read it cover to cover. I then proceeded to take the boat out with a friend who was also a newbie and we quickly learned what the term non ballasted meant and also what a hiking stick was. Went back and re-read the book and the "Aha" moments began. We're still not sure how we survived those early outings but we did. Plenty of mistakes (experience) was gained and thankfully without incident. From there I was bit, sold the 16' within a year and bought a 25' for racing and my learning curve was again very steep but at least I knew how to rig, steer a sailboat, reef, and anchor. Learning thru trial and error can be good but looking back I wish I would have had more formal instruction so as to make my learning curve less steeper. I would not recommend the Capt Ron approach. The one thing I will always love about this sport or activity is that you will never learn everything. Everyday on the water is a learning experience whether cruising, day sailing or racing.

As far as ASA, I think their basic keel boat book (ASA 101) is one of the best books for a beginner. I have recommended this book to individuals looking to start sailing whether or not they are interested in taking an ASA sponsored class. It goes thru the basics and provides a good explanation. Is it confusing for a beginner, absolutely. Think beginners (completely new to sailing) who do not know the "sailing jargon" and do not understand points of sail, tacking/gybing, reefing, or one end of the boat from another. These beginners are typically in their 20s and upwards thru 50s and who did not have access to club sailing when growing up. Truly novices and this is where the instructor led part of ASA or any other school is useful. An instructor can explain and demonstrate the points of sail, how to tack and gybe (safely) and help newbies understand the "sailor speak" and all the parts of a basic keelboat. After completing a class, I strongly encourage all newbies or beginners to continue their learning experience after the ASA class to either join a sailing club, sail with others when they can get onboard or actually buying a smaller boat that they can handle and not get in over their head (see Ralphs comment above). Sailing is like muscle memory, the more you do it the more you remember and understand. One of the schools I teach at offers upon successful completion of the course, a half day refresher with an instructor on a one on one basis to work on specific areas an individual feels they need before letting them take out a small keel boat on their own for a half day.

I am a strong proponent of youth sailing to any kid that has access to club sailing on Optis, Lasers, Flying Scots, etc as a starting point, especially with strong parental involvement. But if your aren't exposed to youth sailing and are a newbie with a full time job or full time college student, then I would encourage these individuals if they are able to financially, to take a formal instructor led course. It will help the learning curve and not make it as painful an experience once they get a chance to go out on their own without the benefit of instruction. If this route doesn't work for them, then I would encourage any individual to try and join a club or sailing group in order to begin their quest to learn to sail but I tell them it may take a while longer for them to learn.

I don't think recommending or taking classes is a deterrent and us older folks who have had and gone thru some tough experiences on a boat suggest taking courses to help others ease thru this learning curve rather than throw them into the deep end with a sink or swim perspective. To me instructor led classes are a means to get started and come away with hopefully a sound understanding of the basics of sailing and the ability to begin handling a boat.
 
Sep 15, 2016
496
Catalina 22 Minnesota
I agree that a paid for course is a good investment if your going to be a long time sailor but what about getting the new people involved. Why the rush to ASA style courses? Shoot I got a free 11 foot escape sailboat this summer and after some minor repairs headed out to the beach with it. In about 10 min with light to moderate wind I taught my 10 year old how to take off from the beach and return safely. Then we capsized it and he righted it himself. He has no idea of sail trim or points of sail as of yet but he can "make it go" and come back safely. I rode along just as ballast but wasn't even needed.

When we tell people who want to learn to sail to immediately take a course isn't that a big turn off to sailing? Perhaps it's just my perspective.
 
Sep 15, 2016
496
Catalina 22 Minnesota
Full disclosure - I am a certified ASA instructor and also hold an OUPV license so I could teach sailing when I retired.

This is a great conversation starter and thanks for bringing it up. excuse the lengthiness of my reply. This is something I see and hear when teaching.

I don't think recommending or taking classes is a deterrent and us older folks who have had and gone thru some tough experiences on a boat suggest taking courses to help others ease thru this learning curve rather than throw them into the deep end with a sink or swim perspective. To me instructor led classes are a means to get started and come away with hopefully a sound understanding of the basics of sailing and the ability to begin handling a boat.
Great response and I really appreciate it. I had not thought of those being older and learning to sail with my initial question as in my circles most learned at an earlier age.

What are your thoughts for the late teen to say mid 20s person with courses? In that age range your really just starting out with work, marriage, family etc. Is the idea of more "schooling" to learn to sail a deterrent? I'm thinking more in terms of those that want to "play" the guitar and simply pick one up to learn a song or two and have fun. Many sailors just want to cruise to a beach, have lunch, swim, and pack it in. For that many of the skills can be learned through books, youtube, friends, etc. though I will admit that many new sailors buy to big of a boat for their needs.
 
Jan 4, 2006
3,028
Hunter 310 West Vancouver, B.C.
When we tell people who want to learn to sail to immediately take a course isn't that a big turn off to sailing?
If they're younger and learn by trial and error in smaller boats, great. They'll figure it out and be better prepared when they buy a bigger boat later in life when they can afford it. The ones who desperately need the lessons are the older, dumbass, credit card captains. Hopeless in many cases. These are the ones that need formal instruction.
 
Jan 25, 2007
189
Cal Cal 33-2 cape cod
Yes, I believe in lessons, constant learning, at any age.... ASA, boat safety, racing, first aid, survival @ sea, ect. Certifications, qualifications...chartering company's may insist on it. Most younger folks are looking for the social media post, my sister-in-law took pics of her steering (my wife had to hold helm) and cranking a winch (with no line attached) My daughter & wife have taken boat safety course, CPR, and have boating license as well as sailboat race experience, in case I drop they are capable of getting me home...or sail themselves back safely...leaving me to drift away on an endless sea.
 

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Jun 21, 2004
1,559
Beneteau 343 Slidell, LA
Started sailing on a 15' McGregor cat. Never could get the thing to tack; didn't know squat about back winding the jib, much less gybing.
Came close to hitting an overhead power line....just got lucky. A friend of mine had a Hobie; he and his girl, along with another couple went sailing and got caught in bad weather. The Hobie overturned and his friend's girl drowned. Point is, sailing can be dangerous when you don't know what you're doing. In the past, many of you have quoted " you just don't know what you don't know....." With regards to sailing that quote could not be more true. Many of us, in our early sailing experiences, got into bad situations because we were not aware of what we were getting into, much less how to handle it. Again, most of us were lucky enough to learn from those experiences; however, some don't get a second chance. It is priceless to have someone teach these things in a controlled environment. I have completed ASA courses thru 106 over the years; money well spent. Only regret is that I should have started out with lessons; however, they weren't even available back then.
 
Jan 1, 2006
5,018
Slickcraft 26 Greenport, NY
Any sailing course that starts with a blackbored is at risk of turning the students away from sailing. Vectors? Remember math classes? Nothing would get me looking out the window faster. I've taken a ASA class but it was on a boat with an instructor. I wanted the creds to charter keel boats. We practiced skills like docking (That was the first I realized how much momentum a keel has) and reefing. I had already been sailing my centerboard boat for several years and grew up in a family with a powerboat. The instruction was a big help.
I've posted before that Sail Newport has the right approach. Gets folks out on the water. Fill in details later.
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Apr 14, 2009
723
Sabre 28 NH
Can't you take ASA Basic keelboat to start? So in principle no capsizing. I would suppose the real question might be around the curriculum.
You are absolutely correct.
I had bigtime experience with power boating on lakes & salt water. For me taking a basic ASA Keel Boat course helped me figure out what all the "ropes" where for. In my case I had all the navigation, basic seamanship stuff squared away from a Power Squadron Course almost 40 years ago. Two couples in my group did not. Had no real experience on the water. For them getting involved in other ASA courses was the right thing to do.

I took that ASA course 14 years ago, trust me I still struggle.
What I like about sailing, it's never the same.
 
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Feb 26, 2004
21,214
Catalina 34 224 Maple Bay, BC, Canada
If they're younger and learn by trial and error in smaller boats, great. They'll figure it out and be better prepared when they buy a bigger boat later in life when they can afford it. The ones who desperately need the lessons are the older, dumbass, credit card captains. Hopeless in many cases. These are the ones that need formal instruction.
1. My impression, from reading this great site and many other boating forums, is that, unlike us old geezers, that there aren't summer camps anymore. I would simply NOT know where to go to learn on small boats if I was (wishin' & hopin') in my teens again (yeah, riiiight...). City dwellers and country dwellers might have completely different opportunities. I grew up in NYC and went to summer camps in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania for 11 wonderful summers and lived at the waterfront. Learned on Beetle catboats. Fun when I graduated to a boat with a jib!
2. "The ones who desperately need the lessons are the ALSO the "young, rich couples", like the OP described with their 38 foot boat. How many times have we heard the "...this is my first boat and I don't know nothin' about electricity..." stories from folks with 30 to 40 foot boats? Answer: too bloody many! :cool:
3. Different people learn in different ways. For example: I like to read. Some like YouTube but I've found the time I spend wading through drivel to get to the point is a waste of my time. Photographs work better for me. OTOH, some folks need to have something shown to them, with YT or in person.
4. Sailboat terminology can be intimidating. As about intimidating as getting under the hood of your computer or learning the parts of an electric guitar compared to an acoustic. If it's your hobby, you CAN learn. What's harder are engines and electrical. But there is so much more available now to easily access compared to what was "back then in ye olden daze."
5. Now there are schools that teach you to learn onboard. In San Francisco back in the late 70s and early 80s, there was one place, Cass, in Sausalito, that rented boats out by the hour or day. ONE. We did it once. They asked us to rig and came back to check before they let us off the dock. "OK, skipper, you're good to go, but just put the jib on rightside up, first." :what::)
6. I think the idea of suggesting classes is a safety issue. For THEIR safety!
7. Every time we moved up to a bigger boat, it became another learning experience.

Thanks for a great subject. Great to learn others' experiences.
 

capta

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Jun 4, 2009
3,906
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
I taught ASA for a national school for a short time and really didn't like their 'cookie cutter' style of teaching.
This is what I suggest; My suggestion would be to buy a 15 foot or smaller very cheap dinghy that's pretty beat up, but serviceable. This is not going to be a boat to take your friends out on, but instead you will be crashing into docks, running aground and even tipping her over on occasion. This is the boat to make all your beginner's mistakes on, before you buy a nicer, more expensive boat. And believe me, if you start with the more expensive boat, you are still going to make all the same mistakes, classes or not, but the repair bills will be much more expensive, and if you load the boat up with friends, there is the possibility of someone getting hurt. Sailing isn't rocket science, but it does take a lot of sailing to get it.
Some learn better than others in a classroom environment. That's a personal choice. However one chooses to learn sailing, the fact that can't be dismissed is that nobody can learn to sail on a big boat. Sure one can learn to pull strings and things, but the actual feel of the reaction of a small boat to an action like easing or hauling in the main sheet is absolutely necessary. So, no matter how one begins, at some point several hours in a dinghy is going to be extremely valuable.
 
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May 17, 2004
2,685
Beneteau Oceanis 37 LE Havre de Grace
3. Different people learn in different ways.
:plus: This.

I don’t think there’s a one size fits all approach to learning sailing. Some people have learned fine in different ways without classes. Some people have taken classes and speak highly of them.

Sailing has some inherent dangers, and a class might be a good way to learn how to avoid those dangers, but I don’t think it’s the only way to keep the risk to an acceptable level. If someone is new to the sport and wanted to learn how to do it properly, I would probably start by recommending that they take a class. But if they don’t want to do that I don’t think I’d have any reservations about telling them to read some books and try to find some experienced crew or a boat to ride along on instead of a formal class.
 
Jun 21, 2004
1,559
Beneteau 343 Slidell, LA
Another consideration, as the OP & others have mentioned, some people have no boating experience what so ever; power nor sail. I grew up around trawling boats, oyster boats, aluminum flat / John boats, as well as runabouts. I had lots of opportunities to learn from experienced boatman ( non-sailors). But, lots of new boat owners know nothing. On Sunday, I saw a guy who I know, who purchased a 40 ft powered cabin cruiser and had docked several slips from me. I was there making ready for hurricane Sally. I didn’t want to interfere; however, I had to for his safety & others. He had attached 6” plastic dock cleats to pilling with 2” lag bolts and attached his dock lines to the plastic cleats. At the time it appeared that we could get 90mph winds, over 110 mph gusts, and 7-11’ storm surge. I suggested that he tie off to the pilings using a clove hitch and several half hitches instead of using the cleats, when I finished with my boat, he had already gone. I noted that he took a couple of wraps around the piling & then tied off to the cleats.....not secure enough for a storm. These inexperienced boaters need help thru structured lessons......they don’t know what they don’t know. Next time I see him I will give him a quick lesson on properly tying a boat!
 

DArcy

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Feb 11, 2017
802
Islander Freeport 36 Ottawa
I can say, without any shadow of a doubt, that good sailing course are a huge benefit to the sport of sailing.They may not be for everyone but they certainly help to bring new people in. My slip is across the harbour from the sailing school dock. I have watched people step aboard, listened to the instructors walk through the parts of boat, how to start the motor and cast off lines, what to expect when maneuvering the boat, all the things you would want to know before pushing away from the dock. After a few days those people are sailing and docking the boat with confidence.
I cannot count the number of people I have met at my club that started out through the sailing school, and gained the confidence and skills to buy their own boat, or step aboard and crew on other people's boats. By far, the single biggest pipeline for new sailors into our club is the adult learn to sail program.
On the other side of the coin, I sold my last boat to a guy that had sailed dinghies a bit as a kid and wanted to get back into it. He brought a sailing friend aboard for the first few outings and is now doing great with just him and his family.
The way I see it, if people want to sail but just don't even know where to start then spending the $500 on a course is a great start. For the more adventurous souls, just get a small boat and go; those ones probably won't listen to anyone saying they need to take a course anyway ;)
 
Jul 23, 2009
386
Beneteau 31 Oceanis Grand Lake, Oklahoma
I helped a friend launch, retrieve & bottom paint his Catalina 25 for several years without ever getting out on the water. We got good at it and one year after putting that boat away for the winter we had a little extra time. We took his San Juan 21 out for about an hour. He was an experienced sailor, about 15 years, still he manage to fall in the water as we were docking the boat. I'll never forget that. I bought my first sailboat a few months later, a San Juan 23. Six months later we took out his Cat 25 and he managed to hit the dock hard. Classes or not people make mistakes.

I worked on my boat for several week after I bought before I ask a guy at the dock for help. Turned out he owned my boat many years before. He was also a former instructor. He only had 45 minutes to help me. So I had a total sailing time of 105 minutes before I took my boat out for the first time. I remember several of the club member urging me to take a class first, my thought was "really, it's can't be that hard." One of the marina owners was there and he offered me his number and said he would tow me in free this one time if I needed his help. We didn't do everything right but we managed. When we came back about a half dozen of the club members helped us back in to slip and congratulated us. What a nice group of sailors. I miss those guys.

I didn't feel like I needed a class. I had owned jet skis for years and my buddy had power boats for almost as long. He loved boating so much he moved to Florida, now his 1400hp power boat is broken all the time. He is starting to see the advantage of sailboat ownership. His wife is going to take more convincing though.

Back on topic. I'm cheap, didn't want to pay someone for hours in a classroom. I understand how things work thanks to my father and our first hobby, model aircraft. The only reason I would now consider paying for training is so I could charter a boat. But I'm still cheap, for the price of the classes and the charter I could make 6 months worth of payment. Different strokes for different folks I guess.