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How to get bareboat certified

2018 April 1

Taking the helm of a charter boat requires different certifications depending on the location and company

Chartering is more popular than ever and charter companies have gotten creative about how to get people on boats easily. Crewed charters have always been offered, but companies now offer middle-of the-road options for sailors who lack the confidence for a full-on bareboat experience. Flotillas organized by schools and charter companies provide the comfort of sailing in a group with help at the ready should it be needed. Some companies, like Cruise Abaco, offer a hybrid solution where a captain sails with the boat during the day then is whisked away in a dinghy once the boat is at anchor for charterers to enjoy the evening.

A group of avid sailors enjoy a bareboat charter from Dream Yacht Charter in the Abacos, a popular cruising destination that requires no extra certifications to sail in.
Bill Schanen IV photo

But for most sailors, bareboating is the dream. But not only do you have to have the confidence to be able to enjoy a bareboating vacation, charter companies need to know (and will ask for proof) that you are capable of sailing a boat in a seaworthy manner and navigating through the cruising area. Some sailors, of course, will have this experience from years of sailing their own boats or being involved in the skippering and navigating on other boats. But most will need instruction.

For many cruising destinations, including those in the United States, Caribbean and some South American destinations, bareboat certification from either the American Sailing Association or US Sailing will suffice, although expect charter companies to ask for additional details about your sailing experience and hours. 

Classes can be taken at schools, but many charter companies offer certification charters as well. ASA 104, which is the school’s bareboat certification course, requires students to have a minimum of 80 sailing hours as well as their basic keelboat sailing and basic coastal cruising courses as prerequisites. The course covers a great deal of material including boat systems, provisioning, coastal navigation, docking, dinghy operation, basic seamanship, weather interpretation and more. 

ASA says the course prepares students to skipper a sloop-rigged 30- to 45-foot keelboat in up to 30 knots of wind. 

Many charter fleets now have more catamarans than monohulls, reflecting the desires of their customers, but skippering a catamaran takes additional knowledge. ASA 114 covers cruising catamarans, giving students additional experience in sailing and maneuvering under power in a catamaran as well as multihull-specific safety and seamanship information. This is a certification that will be well received by charter companies if you are looking to bareboat on a catamaran.

Schools accredited by other organizations offer similar classes aimed at getting skippers qualified to do a bareboat charter and some, such as Offshore Sailing School, offer fast-track courses that are intensive programs to get students qualified faster.

Keep in mind though, that charter companies get the final say on whether a skipper is competent to bareboat, and that criteria varies depending on the company, boat and location. Some companies break down their charter destinations into levels requiring different experience. Some parts of the Caribbean, for instance, offer more challenging sailing conditions with stronger average winds and greater tidal influences that may not be appropriate for skippers with less experience. If you have questions, contact the company well in advance of when you plan to book.

Most charter companies request sailing resumes for the first mate as well as the skipper. 

Some requirements are out of a charter company’s hands. Many cruising areas that are farther afield have government mandated requirements.

Chartering in Belize requires a Certificate of Competence from the Belize Port Authority. The charter company will be able to provide the application for this certification, which seeks detailed information about sailing, navigation and mechanical experience.

Most European countries and the Seychelles require the skipper to have an International Certificate of Competence or an International Proficiency Certificate. For most Americans, the easiest way to get an IPC is by being ASA 104 certified and completing an application (available at www.asa.com/ipc-application). An ICC is available through the Royal Yachting Association. Some charter companies offer an RYC Day Skipper course that can be taken before a charter begins.

Several countries also require that charter skippers have a VHF  Radio Operator License, which can be obtained from the Federal Communications Commission at www.wireless.fcc.gov.