In Europe the American Sailing Association (ASA) is a little known sail-training option. But it provides a compelling alternative to RYA orthodoxy. Not only does the ASA provide a full curricula and certification structure it also allows charter yachts to be used for instruction. This is important because it means ASA courses fill the middle ground between sailing school boats and informal instruction from professional skippers.
To do an ASA course all you need is to charter your own boat (from an ASA approved company) and add an ASA instructor-skipper. Historically charter and courses haven't gone hand in hand. The RYA insist on 'coded' vessels (a set of boat safety standards) and charter companies have no appetite for spending money upgrading and maintaining coded yachts. So RYA training boats are few and, while there are a few yachts for private instruction, on the whole those who want certification usually need to join a sailing school boat; not great if you don't fancy a week on a yacht full of strangers.
So the novice sailor should give the ASA serious consideration. But what are the downsides? For UK citizens there are no facilities in the UK. Most people learn ASA in the non-tidal waters of the Meditteranean in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter. In fact if you want to sail and learn in the Caribbean only ASA courses are available. Secondly, not many people in Europe know about it. You'll have to explain yourself: “I've got the Bareboat Chartering Standard.” “The what?” “The ba-re-bo-at-char-ter-ing-stan-dar-d.” As a result it doesn't have the authority of the RYA. Third of all, the novice courses thrown you straight into the action. There's no 'competent crew' equivalent. You get right in behind the helm, skippering as well as sailing. But conversely for many people the business-like ASA starter course may be more attractive than a lighter-weight starter course. And besides, now there's a legal responsibility on the helmsman as well as the skipper it makes sense to ask more from your crew.
True, it's a more expensive option than a sailing school because you pay for the whole boat and not just the berth. But you can enjoy your holiday time with your own charter, get dedicated one-to-one tuition, do what you want to do and learn at your own pace. So in many ways it represents a better value option than the school boat system. And the downside that only a few people know ASA? Well, learning to sail is learning to sail. Charter companies are interested in sailing skill whether ASA or RYA. 'Day Skipper' and 'Bareboat Chartering Standard' both show a level of a competence and bareboat charter companies understand that as well as anyone.
About the Author
This article was written by Ben Eliott of Eliott Sailing.