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Expert tips for sailing school success

2023 June 1

A group of sailors taking a West Coast Multihulls catamaran heads out for a sail.

Customized instruction

Most schools limit liveaboard courses to a small number of people, which allows for many individual learning opportunities, so even group courses allow for a great deal of customization for each student, an atmosphere that is common now but may not have always been.

Although schools use curriculum prepared by them or a sailing education association such as American Sailing, this is not the hard-and-fast checklist of a high school math class. Rather, instructors and schools have the ability to customize course offerings to address areas that individual students need to improve on and, perhaps even more importantly, adjust the style of teaching to match how various adult students learn.

Florida Yachts Charters customize private courses right down a student’s personality, Sipe said. 

Consider the kind of boat you want to sail in the future when selecting a liveaboard course, along with the type of place you want to sail. If your aim is to do a bareboat charter on a catamaran in the Caribbean, a cruising cat for a course in the Florida

“There are two sides to a destination: The civilized side behind the reef with calmer sailing and the wild side, such as Dry Tortugas National Park, and opportunities for some offshore sailing.”

This flexible style of instruction is so important that some schools dedicate training time for instructors to honing this skill. San Juan Sailing School has a professor work with instructors on teaching strategies and how to identify what students need and adapt their instruction to meet that need.

Across the board, schools report that hiring instructors who are not just excellent sailors and teachers but who relate well to people is of utmost importance. 

“Our instructors are people people,” West Coast Multihull’s King said. “They know how to read students very well and individualize even a group course.”

Schools also stressed the importance of communication, both before and during a course.

Students should have a goal—short or long term— in mind when taking a course, school directors said. Articulating a goal in the initial conversation can help a school point a prospective student to the right courses for them as well as place them with the best instructor to help meet that goal or work toward it. 

Once on the boat, instructors should make sure that students feel comfortable sharing what they specifically want to focus on within the scope of the course, and students shouldn’t be afraid to speak up.

“If you have an instructor that is not offering what you need, speak up,” Larson said. “If for some reason they aren’t checking in with you, tell them and be clear about what you need.”

The same goes for asking lots of questions, King said. 

“We tell students that we’re here to help,” she said. “We want to make everyone better sailors, so pepper me with questions.”

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