A: The short answer is that sailors can benefit from sailing school at any stage in their sailing lives. Perhaps the greatest benefits can be gained by attending a sailing school when people are beginning to learn to sail so they can learn more effectively from trained professional instructors. The alternative is to learn from friends or by trial and error, both of which have inherent problems. Learning from friends can leave big holes in your education. Unfortunately, trial and error can lead to more error than necessary.
Q: How can you best analyze the differences between schools?
A: I can honestly say I’ve never seen two sailing schools that are alike. In most cases, the schools showcase the ways they differ from other schools so you never have to look too hard for differences. Compare to see what best fits your style and needs.
Some of the most obvious differences are those between commercial and community-based schools … schools that teach on small boats and the ones that choose to teach on bigger boats … and schools that offer certification and those that don’t. It’s impossible to say that any of these or other differences absolutely makes one school better than another, with the possible exception of certification.
For a number of reasons, I’d advise anyone who plans to attend a sailing school to find one where the instructors are certified and whose courses lead to certification. Beyond that, you need to find a school that fits your goals and learning style. Spend sufficient time researching and comparing, asking questions and learning so you find the best environment for what you want to learn.
Q:What are the estimated costs of going to a sailing school?
A: The range here is fairly large. If you narrow it down to basic keelboat sailing, however, it’s a little easier to be specific. A program that offers complete course materials and a certification exam at the end will usually run somewhere between $250 and $500.
When doing your research, ask specific questions about the pricing so you can compare the options and be sure you know exactly what you are paying for and what to expect. Make sure to know what costs are covered and what aren’t.
Q: How much can you really expect to progress at a sailing school?
A: Sailing schools provide a structured environment where students can learn sailing skills and knowledge in a thorough and efficient manner. A sailing school is only the beginning. After taking a course, you then need to practice what you learn as much and as soon as possible upon completion. So while a course will give you accelerated acquisition of skills and knowledge, you then need to sail following instruction to secure and put into practice what you’ve learned.
Q: What’s a typical day like at a sailing school?
A: Most sailing schools use a combination of classroom and onboard training. Quite often, the boat is the classroom. So students might start the day either in a classroom or on the boat at the dock. They would review what has been accomplished so far, then outline the knowledge and skills that will make up that day’s lessons. Most of the rest of the day will be spent sailing.
Q: In summary, what are the main benefits of attending a sailing school?
A: People who attend sailing school learn according to a well developed curriculum. They are assured their instructor is a trained, certified professional (in courses that lead to certification). Perhaps the most important benefit is that students learn in a controlled, safe environment.
Q:How do I take the first step?
A: Talk to a sailing school representative at a boat show. Or, look them up in the yellow pages. Or, go to a local marina and see if you can find one there. Check out the major consumer sailing publications that usually include advertisers. Talk to other sailors in your area who may have good references and recommendations. Contact the American Sailing Association (www.asa.com) or US Sailing (www.ussailing.org) for a list of accredited sailing schools. The great news: there’s a legion of qualified professionals who want to help you get started in sailing! They’re easy to find once you decide to look, so don’t wait a moment longer to get started!
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