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

Jun 25, 2004
1,087
Corsair F24 Mk1 003 San Francisco Bay, CA
I have been sailing for 60 years, but I still think lessons are a good idea. IMO, lessons with a great school or instructor aren’t a substitute for time on the water experience, but they are a great way to accelerate your mastery of sailing.

I started sailing beat up dinghies as a kid, starting with lessons at Girl Scout camp at age 8. As soon as I could demonstrate I know how to rig the boat, and passed a capsize and swim test, I was free to go out on a small lake that wasn’t very windy. It was safe. it’s an ideal way to learn in a safe environment. But that didn’t prepare me to sail bigger boats.

as an adult in the 1980s, I took a few lessons when I moved up to sailing keelboats on Boston harbor at the Boston Sailing Center. I sailed their boats. I learned to sail J24s and Solings (which are very technical boats). I took enough classes so that I could take out their boats as skipper.

Twenty five years ago, I took a 5 day course on J24s on keelboats with outboard in high winds. We learned how to sail with confidence in 35+ gusts, and to dock with competence. Docking in adverse conditions takes real skill. (My husband and I took the same lessons, on separate boats. It was just USSailing basic cruising, which was a review for me, but I still learned a lot. It saved our ability to sail together, and maybe our marriage)

Twenty years ago, when we bought out first big boat with an inboard, we hired an instructor for a day to teach us how to back and fill, and get in and out of a difficult downwind slip. she was a skilled teacher. Then we practiced a lot on our own.

19 years ago, I got a couple of friends together and hired an instructor for a day for instruction on how to fly an asymmetric on a sprit, short handed. I’ve been flying them ever since. The cost was Worth every penny In terms of jumping way up the learning curve in one season.

7 years ago, I took a 5 day racing clinic on high performance sport boats. I am a better sail trimmer than the instructor but he was a far better racer than I (and a far, far better tactician). I learned a ton about rounding marks and tactics, but not much that was important to cruising. I had fun though!

Racing is one way to learn some things, but it‘s not the only way. If you don’t have years to start with dinghies, and your goal is cruising/ daysailing with your family rather than racing, lessons are invaluable, IMO.

Judy B
Semi-Retired sailmaker.
 
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Oct 22, 2014
13,454
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
@FastOlson I concur with your comment about racing a One Class and that racing is a training ground for improving your sailing.

Not being a financially endowed youth, I found myself often at the challenged end of a pocketbook flush boat owner with new sails and lightest weight boat/gadgets that gave the edge to money over skill. But that is the way of many things. The competition was a great teacher when coupled with individuals willing to take the time to share skill and knowledge. Learned a lot from gray haired big boat owners who knew how to sail their boat to its best. There are often a lot of rabbits in the water that race around the course yet in a handicapped race have to let the fast turtle step to the upper podium.

As you say some of the great moments are when you are close on with a competitor both trying to best the other. That ideal is what I found most exciting about the Americas Cup Races in the 12M boats. The dueling and skills of the crew in a classic boat.

As a part of the mix ASA classes can be enriching. What gets in the way, for me, is the reliance on a "certificate of completion" as a badge of accomplishment. Sure it takes work and skills are learned to get the certification. You may be "approved" to charter a boat. Just be sure you pay for the insurance.

In so many stages of life such diploma only is the beginning not the end. Would you want a person with a new carpenter Community College diploma or a trades worker who has apprenticed for 5 years with a resume of completed work to frame your new home?

I would take a mentor teacher/coach over an ASA classroom. Perhaps why as this stage of my life I enjoy talking and sharing ideas about sailing. I have learned so much from the sailors I have met. And I find the process is never ending.
 
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DArcy

.
Feb 11, 2017
895
Islander Freeport 36 Ottawa
I highly recommend learning to sail as a kid :)
My youngest is on the Optimist race team at our club and, while they do focus on racing, they learn a lot about boating in general. On Friday they had their annual night sail. They decorate their boats, add glow sticks and lights then go out and have some fun races in the dark.
If you don't have a time machine to go back to your childhood, getting on a boat for your local round the cans racing is another great way to learn sail handling. You probably won't learn much about docking and boat systems unless you can help out the boat owner outside of racing.
For people that are not interested in racing, or don't know how to find a boat to race on, adult learn to sail courses are a great way to get started.
 
Jun 21, 2004
1,610
Beneteau 343 Slidell, LA
Seems that on this forum the consensus is that training is good but nothing will trump experience.
It would be interesting to start a whole different thread about those who are trained but still make mistakes but that's a topic for another day. but even the best have their bad days.
Absolutely correct; even well trained captains with lots of experience have bad days & make major mistakes. The Exxon Valdez & more recently., the Costa Concordia cruise ship incidents come to mind. And, there are hundreds of smaller incidents that occur with merchant ships not to mention, us weekend warriors who are on the water. I am of the opinion that training and experience is the best combination to minimize mistakes; however, mistakes will still occur. :waycool:
 
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Nov 8, 2010
11,240
Beneteau First 36.7 & 260 Minneapolis MN & Bayfield WI
For years dealers sold new and used boats to non sailors. I have been an advocate of dealers should train those purchasing sailboats. Of course I met with resistance.

As for my dealership for example with the larger sailboats depending on experience, I required as part of the sale for example a 44 foot, two weeks of training to include maintenance, systems, electronics, navigation, docking, sailing, safety etc... Otherwise I would not sell a boat. I had various instructors but it was worth it. Everyone appreciate what I did. However there was one exception to the rule as I was unaware I sold a boat to an alcoholic. Training included brokerage too.

This is one tool for a successful dealership
If true that's AMAZING that you ever got away with it. Beyond being a violation of pretty much every state's Uniform Commercial Code, a single call to Hunter HQ (hey I wanna buy a $100000 Hunter but the dealer refuses to sell it to me) would likely get your dealership pulled.
 
Jun 8, 2004
8,357
-na -NA Anywhere USA
@ Jackdaw
It happened but never got into trouble as it was all about safety. Hunter, Catalina and even Beneteau (when a dealer) backed me up as I was only about safety
 
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Sep 22, 2009
111
Hunter 36 Seattle, WA
I like the sailing club idea. Most yacht clubs have a goal of promoting seamanship and sailing. Many have or support youth sailing programs. Why not a “learn to sail” buddy system for adults? Why not hook up with a couple of prominent dealers/brokers and offer that free of charge? Many of them will have their brokers go out once or twice to acquaint a neophyte purchaser with their boat, but it would be great to be able to hand off that person to a yacht club volunteer for further encouragement.
In WA state, there’s a compulsory boating license requirement, with a low-cost course to teach basic seamanship: the meaning of bouys, three basic knots, nav light recognition, etc. Seattle Sail and Port Squadron are one local source for getting your license. I think you’re on the right track to a solution that’s less $ commitment and more hands-on.
 
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Aug 5, 2019
68
Macgregor 26 S NJ
30 year power boater here, I never stepped foot on any kind of sailing vessel nor ever thought that I wanted to. Early last spring I saw a sad little Sunfish for sale locally with a trailer all for $100 and I figured what the heck and bought it for kicks and giggles. Right away I started watching youtube videos on basic sailing & especially Sunfish videos, joined a Sunfish forum, etc. As great as some of those videos were in being detailed nothing compares to actually being out of the water with the boat, sail & wind. I spent half a day cleaning and patching the holes in the hull and was ready for water trials. The first day just happened to be the most perfect day for a brand new newbie to sail on his own, just enough wind to go all around the lake with nice gusts to really get the heart racing but none big enough to throw us over. I was even able to sail back to the dock under wind perfectly. I was *very* pleased with myself and my newly mastered sailing abilities. BTW, I caught the sailing bug that very first time out. The next time out it was a much windier day, the lake was busy with other Sunfish type dingies, within the first ten minutes we were hit with a powerful gust that slammed the little Sunfish right over and my son and I right into the water. I felt it was akin to being thrown off a bucking bronco and it must have looked funny as all get out too. We both were laughing at our situation while we were swimming for our paddle, his sneaker, and then righting the turtled Sunfish as I learned how to in the videos. We would be thrown off one other time that day, but that day was the day I learned how to sail, how to steer into and out of the wind to depower the sail, to loosen the main sheet to depower to not be overpowered and thrown off. I really fell in love with sailing and that little Sunfish, I ended up taking it out eight times last summer and I was only thrown off two more times, so four times thrown off in all. Midway through last summer I began looking for a family-sized sailboat to replace our gas-powered cabin cruiser which we had outgrown for sleeping on. I finally found another sad vessel, a 90 Macgregor 26S for $750 that hadn't seen water in six years and snapped it right up and hauled it three and a half hours home. By Early spring the Mac was ready for the water, the first couple of times out I never even raised the mast, subsequent times I did and loved it. I actually found sailing the Mac 26 surprisingly easier to sail than the Sunfish, but I credit that little Sunfish for teaching me how to sail, to respect the wind and it's capabilities.
I'm not one who would run out to pay for a sailing school, especially to start sailing. I do know that if youtube wasn't around to initially learn from that I wouldn't have given any thought to buying the Sunfish. There are some great youtubers sharing their sailing knowledge all for free and some are great teachers.
It's an amazing time in the history of the world that so much knowledge that used to be hoarded by those few in the know to protect their profits is now so freely given away.
 

DArcy

.
Feb 11, 2017
895
Islander Freeport 36 Ottawa
@George_NJ that is a fantastic counter argument to sailing schools. With a bit higher risk tolerance and only a modest budget that is a great way to get into sailing. A $100 dinghy to literally get your feet wet in then move up to a mid 20 footer. If you don't feel like spending money on a sailing school and don't have access to crew on someone else's boat - this is exactly what I would recommend.
And welcome to sailing :)!
 
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dLj

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Mar 23, 2017
1,295
Hunter 30 Snug Harbor, Lake Champlain
It's an amazing time in the history of the world that so much knowledge that used to be hoarded by those few in the know to protect their profits is now so freely given away.
While I strongly agree with the statement that we are indeed in an amazing time in history with access to information as you say, I have to as strongly disagree with the implication that previously that information was "hoarded to protect profits"... In my more that half a century of being involved in sailing far predating the internet and the current access, I always found sailors to be an amazingly open and willing group to share their knowledge. The only difficulty was finding the people to do the knowledge sharing. But once found, I never experienced what you have described, quite the contrary. I always found sailors very open and willing to share what they have learned.

That has been my experience anyway.

dj
 
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Aug 5, 2019
68
Macgregor 26 S NJ
I was speaking o
While I strongly agree with the statement that we are indeed in an amazing time in history with access to information as you say, I have to as strongly disagree with the implication that previously that information was "hoarded to protect profits"... In my more that half a century of being involved in sailing far predating the internet and the current access, I always found sailors to be an amazingly open and willing group to share their knowledge. The only difficulty was finding the people to do the knowledge sharing. But once found, I never experienced what you have described, quite the contrary. I always found sailors very open and willing to share what they have learned.

That has been my experience anyway.

dj
I was speaking of knowledge in general, and that you don't *have to* pay when so many are giving it away freely (sailing school vs. youtube learning). It certainly was no accusation or barb against sailing folk. Had I known any sailing folk I would've asked, but I didn't. Even where I boated I rarely saw sailboats or was close enough to ask, and I doubt I would've intruded in on anyone's time out on the water, not my style...
 

dLj

.
Mar 23, 2017
1,295
Hunter 30 Snug Harbor, Lake Champlain
I was speaking of knowledge in general, and that you don't *have to* pay when so many are giving it away freely (sailing school vs. youtube learning). It certainly was no accusation or barb against sailing folk. Had I known any sailing folk I would've asked, but I didn't. Even where I boated I rarely saw sailboats or was close enough to ask, and I doubt I would've intruded in on anyone's time out on the water, not my style...
Not to get into thread drift, I'll make some comments and try to tie it back into the intent of the original post. I did not interpret your post as a barb against sailing folk - but it could have certainly been seen that way, which is why I said what I did. Additionally, I felt it may help for others to understand that the sailing community does tend to be generous with knowledge sharing.

I will also point out the fact that with all the "free" information around, there is another difficulty: wading through the garbage and getting to good information. If you know nothing about something, this can be a difficult road. Today many folk today want to be "the expert" and in fact have very little expertise - it can be difficult to distinguish the good from the bad - especially for someone with no knowledge of the subject. Obviously, in many cases that can be clearly ascertained from what you are looking for, but if one has little to no knowledge on a subject, it can lead to some really poor knowledge transfer. This is not to say there is not a lot of good information out there, I find that the availability of good information is amazing and very nice to have available. But I have also found that there is a lot of what I'd simply call garbage.

Paying for courses, which can also have good and bad, at least is a level up from some of the garbage that can be found for free. Each individual has their own way of learning. Taking a class may work well for one person. It may not be needed for another. When looking for more advanced knowledge, or more specialized knowledge, then the free information available usually doesn't cut it or often is just not available. Usually with advanced needs, it becomes critical to know all of the circumstances surrounding a particular situation in order for "the expert" to be able to provide the information that is needed.

A number of years ago, I was training a young engineer in a specific field. I'd just gotten a fairly complex problem and thought it would be a fantastic learning example for my trainee. I explained the problem to the young engineer and to help facilitate their research into the solution, I gave them a number of reference documents and said they needed to read through those and the answer would become clear. I also told them, that google was not their friend on this particular problem and that really they needed to focus their energies on going through the reference documents I'd given them and not to waste their time with internet searches. A couple weeks later they came back to me saying they were completely confused and had no idea of how to solve the issue. I was surprised and asked why? They then showed me all this data they had downloaded from the internet showing how it was so conflicting that they could not make heads nor tails of solving the problem. In the end it was an excellent exercise in teaching that engineer how to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information.

dj
 
Nov 8, 2010
11,240
Beneteau First 36.7 & 260 Minneapolis MN & Bayfield WI
One more thought with respect to the last few points.

Question: Can you become a good sailor without any formal instruction or mentoring?

Answer: Yes. The nature of sailing allows a person to book learn, and/or learn through trial and error. Enough time, a little luck and you'll be pretty good at it.

But here's the deal. You will never be great.

Great sailing is an ART. And that requires a skilled eye, watching your 80% effort, and correcting it. And then taking that effort to a new level. That you simply cannot learn on your own, or from a book. You don't know what you don't know. Every great sailor got great by sailing with great sailors when they weren't great. Paid or mentored, there is no escaping this.
 
Oct 22, 2014
13,454
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
with all the "free" information around, there is another difficulty: wading through the garbage and getting to good information.
Being able to apply a filter, think critically, is one of the challenges we have in this age of data overload. We are not good a "Big Data". Sure we can develop algorithms to help find the connections and sort the relevant facts but many are just not trained to think.

Experienced sailors provide a filter that has allowed them to survive their experiences. The ability to share this knowledge is not always associated with the having the knowledge. Additionally the knowledge of being a "great sailor" is not always in an experienced sailor.

If you have the ability to filter the information you are getting from the internet/books/on the water and you have a Great sailor/mentor, then you have the mixture that might lead you to becoming a great or at the least proficient sailor of boats.
 
Sep 25, 2018
236
Catalina Capri 22 Capri EXPO 14.2 1282 Stony Point
I was living in Manhattan and always wanted to sail. In 1986 I took a week off and went to Steve Colgate's Sailing School, then on City Island. The course was a combination of classroom in the morning and on the boat in the afternoon. As an urban kid I had few opportunities to try sailing. A sunfish in the Caribbean was it.
They used Soling's back then. I learned the basics of points of sail and how to trim the sails but only a little. I rented boats wherever I traveled but mostly a Rhodes 19 at Oyster Bay and a Flying Scott on the Potomac. Got a Hunter 23.5 for my 60th birthday and sailed it on the Hudson for 12 years. Very tender and not much ability to flatten the sails in a blow. And the weather helm. Almost broke my ribs several times and seemed to be ready to broach the moment I let my attention wander. Sail a Capri 22 now and have learned sail trim through Mr. Guillette's book and this forum. Every time I go out, I learn something new. 35 years of learning. I now feel confident that I will get back to the marina in one unbroken piece, with a smile on my face.
My experience with the school was like all school. It taught me what to look for and where and how to find it. Mostly from other sailors and just doing it. Without school early on I would not likely continued sailing as the most fun began when I started to understand the nuance of sail trim from the basics. Tomorrow should be a good day on the Hudson if I dress warmly. May be the last sail of the season. Then pull it onto it's trailer, drive it home and begin the process of cleaning and putting it away for the winter. And dream about the next launch. Could take it down to my place in Florida but Covid has me hesitant to travel anywhere.
 
Mar 26, 2011
2,695
Corsair F-24 MK I Deale, MD
Interesting to read the different approaches to learning. My daughter teaches elemtary school and has made the variety of learners more clear to me. She learns very differently from me.

I can learn anything from a book, right up to designing large plants. Engineers are used to this approach, and I guess the carree selcts people that can learn from manuals, standards, and blue prints. I learned to sail from books and a beach cat. A few lessons might have helped, but...

There are a few lessons that you can only learn from expereince. You need to be not just beaten, but destroyed by the weather a few times. Like the Old man an the Sea. This helps you understand in your bones that there is weather that no heavy weather strategy can manage. It's best if this happens in a dinghy.

You need to learn the feel of a boat sailed to the very edge of the envelope both in wind and big waves. You need to know what it feels like just before things go pair shaped, what the warning signs are, and what works and what doesn't. this is particularly true with multihulls. You can learn all of this in small craft advisories in a dinghy. After that, a gale in a larger boat is just not that alarming, because it begins to feel like a dinghy or beach cat.

That said, particulalry on bigger boats, there is much that can be taught about handling the greater forces involved that will save time and trouble. This includes docking, winches, furling and handling sails in a blow. Even the best dinghy sailor needs to be shown how to use winches fast and safe. Furling sails in a blow can can be learned by trial and error, but being shown, with a good explanation, can help.

---

Classes can be good. But I think people miss more than they know (both fun and knowledge) if they skip the small boat apprenticeship. Too bad for them. The other day my partner bought a formula 18 beach cat, and we went out and blasted. These are the sort the use in the Olympics and they fly. I had not been on a beach cat in 40 years, but I had sailed them a lot and it came back fast. More fun than ____. Well, almost. It's close! If I had beach access I'd have a small boat too. No question.
 
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Jul 27, 2011
4,157
Bavaria 38E Alamitos Bay
Reading through most of the posts, I find two lines of comment: 1) One on the desirability of courses and training for new sailors with which most agree; 2) The "role" of ASA as a major provider of such courses (e.g., ASA 101). Actually, two subjects. It seems, as mentioned in one post, that sailing courses and camps we might have used in our youth have been replaced by a commercial service, the ASA, that gets a lot of recommendations. I too am an ASA certified keel boat instructor; yet, I have not completed any ASA courses; only the Instructors' Clinic. The clinic is not a course. It is an assessment of one's qualification to become an ASA-certified instructor. If accepted into the clinic, there is written testing from the materials of ASA 101 & 102, plus other materials (which comprise a difficult test); a demonstration of teaching effectiveness on a subject assigned to you, and a skills test in the field. The skills test is chiefly concerned with assessing one's ability to single-hand the vessel and to be a "safety-conscious" instructor. I believe there was one other person in the clinic who had not completed the ASA 101-102 sequence, but who had tested out for the USCG 100-ton ticket and now wished a sailing endorsement. The other six or so had come via the basic course work and were wishing to receive instructor certification. I believe I was the only boat owner in the clinic.

The 100-ton captain who wished the sailing endorsement was assigned the topic of "Navigation" for demonstration of instructional competence. This person did not know what a Mercator projection is, nor for that matter, any other cartographic projection. This person also could not sail the boat up-wind and had to be rescued from off the seawall at the leeward side of the sailing area. The person did not "graduate" from the clinic. The others were fine IMO even though the extent of their observable skills was sailing an old 22 or 25-ft Catalina in a protected harbor in good weather, medium wind, doing stuff like tacking & gybing, heaving-to to reef the mainsail, landing at a dock, and MOB procedures (the figure 8). At least going "out the gate" those particular new instructors, all much younger than I, were not people that I would wish to pay $300 to $400 to learn sailing from.

Which brings up the point and observation that certainly many, if not most, ASA schools are associated with charter boat companies. Stands to reason. Most pupils are not boat owners. The charter companies need clients. So, they form a school to teach folks enough "skill" to be able to charter one of their small yachts for a weekend, etc., eventually gaining enough experience to take one of the larger, fun, boats out of the harbor, across the channel, to the islands. (This is where they "learn" bow-stern anchoring and 10:1 scope nonsense.) Of course, also buying/supporting a membership to get the best rates, when that boat you wish might actually be available for charter. True, it is one way to gain access to boats and to sailing. But I doubt that I would say "take the ASA 101" course if you want to learn to sail UNLESS that person owns a boat that s/he is going to sail. No, I would say, as others here have, look around for a public (community/school) program. Do that first. One would probably get more experienced instructors, and much more inexpensive sail time. After that, go to the local YC and get on a racing crew list--and SHOW UP ON TIME for every race for which the skipper needs crew, at least for a full series or full season. This is probably a couple of year's worth, and go from there--with some knowledge!

So your question. Is it helping or hurting? To the degree that businesses are able to form schools and gather up most of the newly interested to insert them into buying charters and memberships via ASA certifications, etc., it hurts, and is hurting now. It is NOT really providing access as much as it is selling access to the naïve. Charter companies are effectively impeding access to many clients who have not done that coursework, at least if new. The insurance folks have gotten the notion that making everyone take an ASA-something course (e.g., Catamaran sailing) reduces liability. Does it? It that the only way now it can be done? I managed to escape it here in the US and Canada b/c I started chartering early, in the early 1990s, initially locally (St. Petersburg, FL), so have a chartering record to submit. The commercial schools, IMHO, have all but cornered the entry-sailing "market", even if one is a boat owner. Yes- sailing courses are good; recommending a new person to go straight to an ASA school is not good. IMHO.
 
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Oct 22, 2014
13,454
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
The way you summarize the subject of ASA training is similar to the way one becomes a civilian pilot.

Perhaps the only difference is that pilot instructors require a lot more hours of actual flying experience in order to get a Pilot Instructor License.

In order to get your pilots license you must pass a written and practical with an FAA approved Test Pilot.
If you mess up the Darwin Theory takes over. :p

Once you get the opportunity to pilot your own plane you have to successfully complete a bunch of hours flying solo before you can endanger passengers.

Boating operates differently.

recommending a person to go straight to an ASA school is not good.
I concur. :thumbup:
 
Jun 21, 2004
1,610
Beneteau 343 Slidell, LA
There are lots of good schools out there with seasoned instructors. You would think that prospective students would do their due diligence in selecting an appropriate school. I wouldn’t seek out any newly minted professionals for any service, including sailing lessons.