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Old 17-02-2017, 17:54   #1
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Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

While taking ASA lessons and paying for instruction from professional captains I have experienced the following:

Frequent cancellations at the last minute due to "not enough students to make the lesson worthwile"

Almost constant deviation from the syllabus, schedule, and prescribed training for any given outing to general pleasure cruise type sailing

Outright incorrect and dangerous commands from the instructor or drunk captains

Boats so poorly maintained they were in a steady state of taking on water, had significant equipment failures at sea, required towing to make it back to safe harbor, and did not meet basic coast guard requirements.

Drunk captains, sick instructors, informal "regular guys" with no instructor certification or captains license covering for paid instructor staff to fill lessons

I also discovered the material was almost never adequately covered. less than 30 minutes of each lesson was spent actually sailing,less than 10 minutes of a typical lesson was actually spent on the subject material after briefings, coffee, chit chat, "preparing the vessel" motoring in and out of the harbor dealing with breakage or maintenance issues etc...

If several students were on a lesson, very little direct instruction or hands on experience was available for anyone.

Lessons would be canceled over the phone "due to weather" upon visiting the marina sail boats everywhere sailing all over the place in fabulous conditions

A constant push to finish lessons quickly, to test out of lessons entirely and "graduate" and even more constant push to begin chartering large boats from the schools charter fleet.

Our drunk "professional" Captain sailing and tacking back and forth in the motor only fairway on a very busy saturday afternoon literally screaming at everyone on his own and other boats while spilling his drink and heading below to take a long restroom break...handing the tiller to some poor lady who had never sailed before

Never had an instructor even suggest a harness or a life jacket or put one on. not even when they were soiling their pants, trying to reef or douse torn sails, start an outboard that wouldn't, and clearly concerned by the surprising swell and weather outside the jettys which strangely enough seemed to happen a lot. Plus they always look at you funny when you put one on, like you are scared or don't trust them.

Lots of instructor confusion about routine tasks, such as line handling, radio operation, general navigation (stand on or give way? hmmmmm) One instructor who does most of the lessons become so completely befuddled while trying to teach man overboard practice everyone aboard eventually agreed to work on a different lesson.



After this type of training I have some advice for people looking to begin learning to sail like myself, making lemonade from lemons.


Never miss a chance to sail. Sail sail sail and sail some more. by hook or by crook sail and learn everything you can.

Check out a school in person before signing up. Look at their boats closely. poorly maintained crummy boats will likely mirror the instruction you will receive. ask around the docks about the school. Very informative.

Connect with people who own boats, yacht clubs and yachting groups as much as possible. Power squadron coast guard auxiliary etc... Often learning and even certifications can come from these and you may get far superior seamanship training. Usually there is a yacht club that is a collection of sailors and boats more so than a building with a bar, a dock full of huge boats, and burgee, these are good in my opinion.

If you hire a captain, or charter a boat with a captain, check them out. Insist on seeing basic things such as a license, proof of insurance, a vessel that is seaworthy and would pass a coast guard inspection. more life jackets, less rum. ask around the docks about the guy. Very informative.

When enrolled in a school, if you do not fully understand the lesson material and feel confidant after the lesson, TAKE THE LESSON AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN until you do. don't let the school "express pass" you into a certification to charter or minimize your time and instruction.

Do as much home study as you can, know the material and all the details of a lesson before you even arrive at the boat. You should have good book knowledge of the material you are learning before the lesson.

Bring food, water, warm clothes, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, good shoes and GLOVES. There is no law that says you cannot bring some of your own safety equipment such as a handheld VHF and your own harness/pfd a local chart gps, binoculars, flashlight, leatherman etc. Keep stuff you are not using in a bag, keep the bag out of the way, handy, and secured.

When the lesson is happening, shut up, sit still, pay attention, and absorb as much as you can from the instructor. insist on hands on practice until you are confidant. You can learn huge amounts through quite observation, and other students and even other boats often can teach you if you watch and listen.

Don't use the head without instructions.

staying seated and out of the helms way is a good idea. following instructions from the captain is mandatory. walking around on the foredeck, shouting "there is a another boat over there!" constantly attempting to be helpful and asking 101 questions while the boat is piloted in a busy fairway is not fun for the helmsperson.

When another student is involved in the lesson and hands on, let them learn, do not make the whole thing all about you.

Lessons are not a pleasure cruise. You are there to learn. jacking around, lounging, talking about unrelated things, going into couch potato mode etc... not gonna help you learn anything. endless discussions about boating topics unrelated to the current lesson are also detracting from learning for you and other students for example

instructor: "Today we will learn about tacking and fore sail handling"

Student: "How do you use the radio?"

A good question that has nothing to do with the lesson. After the lesson, go home, and learn about using VHF marine radio, among other things.

You can learn a lot from almost any situation, A drunk captain and a poorly maintained boat will teach you volumes when the engine dies, the battery goes low, the furler jams, and there is water sloshing around the cabin sole. especially when swell and wind picks up, fog starts to roll in and it starts getting dark outside the safety of the harbor. "The running lights are so dim I can't tell if they are on..." "isn't there a shipping lane just south of here?" "Well yeah, there is a huge port for container ships just south of our harbor. they come and go all the time" "Which lights are the city and which are the harbor?" "Make me a drink while I tighten up this loose tiller would ya"

Might as well make lemonade!
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Old 17-02-2017, 18:50   #2
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

That was an interesting and disheartening read. I've never had formal instruction and never gave much thought to the varying level of quality.

I suspect you're going to hear back from others who have had more positive experiences.

I'll take you at your word on you bad experiences, though.

Did you experience this with more than one company?
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Old 17-02-2017, 19:27   #3
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

As soon as you see the "captain" spilling his drink, you know,he's not a real sailor;-)
Seriously, it's unfortunate that's the experience you had. Me and my wife took lessons and were more than happy with the instruction and experience.
Keep at it, learn what you can, where you can, and remember it's supposed to be fun
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Old 17-02-2017, 20:51   #4
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

Nematon,

Congratulations on making lemonade out of that particular batch of lemons!

IMHO, the best advice you gave, that everyone who takes sailing lessons should follow without fail are about doing their homework first, and "When the lesson is happening, shut up, sit still, pay attention, and absorb as much as you can from the instructor. Insist on hands-on practice until you are confident. You can learn huge amounts through quiet observation, and other students and even other boats often can teach you if you watch and listen."

Those of us who learned through osmosis and informal instruction will all feel badly that you had such dud experiences. But you've turned it all into something that any newbie can profit from reading. Well done, sir!



Good on ya!.

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Old 17-02-2017, 21:11   #5
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

Very sad to read, but unfortunately true. I have experienced the same thing in my career. Just a note that not all schools are like this but it's very difficult to assess prior to showing up. Always ask for references and have pre determined questions before talking to references. Sorry about your experience.
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Old 17-02-2017, 21:44   #6
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

That one or two of these things might have happened to one person while learning to sail, I would believe. That all of these happened, I don't. There's more to this than meets the eye. Is the OP pushing some agenda?

It's a shame that we keep getting all these negative posts about ASA instruction, which has the unfortunate and dangerous effect of putting new sailors off.

To provide some balance, I took ASA 101, 103, 104, and 105, which I would count as amongst the best experiences of my lifetime.

Guess it depends where you go. Imagine that!
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Old 17-02-2017, 22:58   #7
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

I may not have been clear, These experiences happened:

-while taking formal ASA lessons at an accredited school.

-while hiring professional captains and their boats.

-while in the good care of sailing clubs who offer training and instruction.

-on other peoples boats, who offered to show how it is done.


Naturally I have had many good experiences not listed within the original post.

Sadly the brunt of the problems (not counting alcohol consumption) are from an ASA accredited school.

watching the gleaming large modern yachts with happy students sail past from the competing school based in the same marina tells me people who take the time to do their homework, and check out their school or private instructor will enjoy time and money well spent.

I will not naming schools, clubs, or captains so no agenda. take it for what it is worth.
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Old 17-02-2017, 23:05   #8
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

I've experienced... a couple of those things. Hard to imagine them all at once. One caveat is that classes that are "easy to pass" get good course evaluations! I've never taken a sailing class that involved adequate practice time. For example, I think we got one attempt (total) at anchoring. One attempt each at docking. It was ludicrous. Somehow, you've got to make arrangements for "practice" on your own.

In other words, the ASA classes just show you the things that you need to learn, without necessarily teaching them to you.
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Old 17-02-2017, 23:31   #9
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

Wait … are you saying you had not one, not two, but at least four (and apparently more) seperate such experiences taking courses from accredited schools, and “professional” captains? And not just negative, but multiple outright crazy events verging on illegal behaviour? Really??

This is starting to sound fishy to me.
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Old 17-02-2017, 23:32   #10
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

While your problems seem a bit extreme, ASA turned us off to their formal training with a Capt. Bligh who was more interested in demonstrating how salty he was rather than teaching the material.


In reality, I don't see a lot of value once you have the basics down (for cruisers at least). Any of the liveaboard or long distance stuff becomes very boat specific and/or specific to how you choose to cruise.


Unless you need the certification to charter, you are far better off making friends with a good (calm) sailor and buying them a few dinners while they spend a few days helping you learn the basics.
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Old 18-02-2017, 04:48   #11
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

The problem with ASA is that their quality control is non existent. The quality of instructors vary tremendously from world class to drunk clowns. If there is any consistency about ASA instructors is their cavalier attitude about safety issues. RYA, on the other hand, is significantly more rigorous, consistent, and safety-minded. I've taken multiple courses from both organizations and there is really no comparison.
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Old 18-02-2017, 09:42   #12
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

Sailing instruction, 'captains', and boat surveyors are normally distributed. That said:
Fifty percent chance yours is better than average.
Fifty percent chance yours is worse than average.

That said, most of us have learned by experience. Unfortunately, the problem with learning by experience is you take the test before you learn the material.
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Old 18-02-2017, 09:49   #13
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

A few years ago I took the ASA 107 (Celestial Navigation) class with my boys. After 2 years we still do not have a grade for our ASA 107 exam. I spoke with ASA hq and was given a list of schools who may offer 107. That’s not what I asked them. We took the class! Regarding ASA 108, good luck. I paid one school over $ 4000 and evidently did not finish even one part of 108 (even though my boys and I have sailed San Francisco to Mazatlan and back twice!). It was to be a "training" voyage up the CA coast in our then, new boat. Needless to say, I did not renew my ASA membership.
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Old 18-02-2017, 10:18   #14
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

This is true of any skill you are learning for the first time-- I'm sure we have all had coaches and teachers that are great and many that should find another line of work. I think class quality is the sum of instructor + environment + materials + motivation of the student. Sometimes it makes good sense to go with the class that is private to get your practice time and your questions answered... With golf and skiing, i have found group lessons to be great, tennis is nice with 3 people or less, but sailing not so much. If none of the students in the sailing class will be with you when you sail on your own, why share class time with them? They won't be a part of your sailing team, so why waste your time and money watching someone else learn? I preferred my sailing training to be just me and my husband... Learning how to sail together and working out who will do what with our instructor. We enjoyed it very much and learned a lot about each other. Our ASA experience was great --great location, great mature and experienced instructor, great boat, and live aboard, but still private. Cannot recommend doing your homework more. We didn't just get lucky, we asked a lot of questions before registering--and we didn't get seduced into traveling to the VIs or Miami and being run through a fixed format at a crowded location. It was even less expensive then many other group options!
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Old 18-02-2017, 10:29   #15
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Re: Sailing instruction, certifications, and making lemonade from lemons

Really?!?!

"-on other peoples boats, who offered to show how it is done."

You're including that in your rant about poor quality sail instruction? That "swish" sound you're hearing is the sound of you pulling the rug out from under me.

If you're lumping "other people" in with ASA instructors, you've invalidated your post. OF COURSE you're going to have mixed results with various helpful amateurs. I'm not discounting the idea that some ASA instructors are bad, but if you had told me from the beginning you were including the guy three slips down in your rant, I could have stopped reading after the first paragraph.
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