While many Barefoot Offshore Sailing School participants come with some sailing experience, others arrive with little or no experience as crew or helmperson on a sailboat. We welcome people with any experience level. Whatever experience and skills you arrive with, you are guaranteed to leave with more!
Your sailing journey
I think of sailing knowledge and skills as a continuum or journey. As an Offshore instructor, I have the highest cruising instructor qualifications that ASA and Sail Canada offer, but I’m still on the sailing learning journey, continuing to upgrade my knowledge and skills.
If you are a novice sailor, with little or no previous experience, you are close to the beginning of that journey.
Sailing journey milestones
The first key milestone along your journey is when you have acquired the knowledge, skills and experience to be able to safely skipper a boat for a day-sail with precious cargo: family and friends on board. (This is the equivalent of Sail Canada Basic, or ASA 101/103). As skipper, you have total responsibility for the safety and well-being of everyone on board. Based on my instructing experience to date, both in Canada and here in St. Vincent, around 2/3s of people who are novice sailors can achieve that progress in a week. However, that also means that 1/3 of novice sailors need a bit more time and experience to reach that level.
The next key milestone along your journey is when you have acquired the knowledge, skills and experience to be able to safely skipper or charter a boat for a multi-day cruise with precious cargo: family and friends on board. (This is the equivalent of Sail Canada Intermediate, or ASA 104). As a skipper in this context, in addition to total responsibility for the safety and well-being of everyone, you have total responsibility for a yacht worth several hundred thousand dollars. Based on my instructing experience to date, lots of course participants who have previous sailing experience can get there in a week, but in all the courses I have taught, only 1 or 2 novice sailors have managed to make that much progress in a week. There is just too much to learn for most novices to achieve that in a few days.
The levels beyond that, ASA 106 or Sail Canada Advanced, require much greater knowledge, skills and experience. There is no possibility for a novice to get to those levels in a week. FYI, I progressed quickly to SC Advanced, but I already had 12,000 miles of cruising in my resume by then. You don’t need that much experience to be successful at progressing to Advanced, but you definitely need to have skippered a number of cruises and have several hundred miles of experience as skipper before it is feasible to pass an Advanced course.
As a novice sailor, where should I start?
For novice sailor, what I recommend is that you join one of our Cruise and Learn courses focusing on ASA 101-104, or Sail Canada Basic and Intermediate. (The Sail Canada option is available if the instructor on board has SC qualifications in addition to ASA qualifications.) As a novice sailor, your realistic expectation in that first week would be to be certified for ASA 101/103 or Sail Canada Basic, and make progress toward 104 or Sail Canada Intermediate. (You could also consider learning on a catamaran. Most instructors agree that there are advantages to starting out on a monohull, but we have also taught many novices to sail on a catamaran first.)
In a future visit, you can focus on completing 104 / SC Intermediate, and consider adding ASA 114 or the Sail Canada Catamaran endorsement if you are looking to become proficient at sailing a catamaran. At the end of that second week of instruction, you could potentially have built the knowledge and skills you need to charter a boat for future adventures.
Good luck with your journey. I’m working on the next stage of my own sailing journey, and continue to take great satisfaction on helping others progress on theirs.
Rob McLean is an ASA and Sail Canada Advanced and Offshore Instructor, a Sail Canada Senior Instructor Evaluator, and Barefoot Offshore Sailing School Lead Instructor and Coordinator