There’s a few dirty little secrets US Sailing and ASA don’t want you to know. First their certificates are worthless. Even charter companies don’t hold them in any higher regard than Safe Boater Cards you can study for and obtain free online in every state….that is if they bother to ask for anything. Second their wonderful “super qualified” instructors can do the classroom portion but can’t take you to sea legally unless they have a US Coast Guard License. Most schools (and their insurers) require instructors, even classroom, to have a USCG 100 ton Masters License with an auxiliary sail endorsement. To get that you must have spent two years at sea under sail; that’s 720 verifiable days minimum, 360 of that must be in offshore waters. Now where do you think these Masters learned to sail? I can guarantee you it wasn’t at an ASA or USS school at a cost of thousands of dollars just to get to basic keelboat proficiency. The point is that they know much more about sailing than the canned curriculum of a one size fits all sailing school. This brings me to the third little secret. A Coast Guard license isn’t just a license to operate a vessel with passengers, it’s also a license to teach seamanship, you even get sea service time for teaching. These sailing outfits want you to believe their instructors are fabulously qualified and continuously reviewed, and they are….but not by them!
I’m telling you all this because I want you to consider another option. All sailing programs consist of two parts. Classroom and on the water boat handling. You can get excellent classroom instruction from the Coast Guard Auxiliary or the Power Squadron. It’s inexpensive and IMO is much more through. Their certificates carry more prestige than anything else short of a USCG license, even in Europe. That will take care of the classroom part. Now for the boat handling. Find a boat club and join it. It will have a fleet of boats you can use. Then find a sailor to instruct you. The boat club will probably have a list if they don’t already have their own program. The advantage to this is that you’ll get individual instruction, boats to use on your own to practice, make a lot of friends, get as much time on the water as you want (not 8-12 hours from a basic sailing course at a cost of hundreds of bucks) and save a lot of money. Furthermore you can hire different people and learn a greater number of skills and you’ll be “on the scene” and learn your way around boats much faster. Also get a logbook so every time you sail with a licensed Captain he can endorse it, this will be more valuable than any certificate you can get from a school and be the start of your sea service record.
Remember, there is no substitute for experience on the water; that’s why the Coast Guard requires 2 years at sea but less than 80 classroom hours to get a license.
Sorry about the long post.