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Old 05-24-2000
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Michelle Potter is on a distinguished road
How to Find a Good Sailing School for Your Child

 
Brittanni Wyatt practices tying a figure-eight knot on her second day of class.
 
Most children jump at the chance to take sailing lessons in the summer. They love to spend time on the water—or IN the water during capsizing practice!

If you are looking into summer sailing schools for your children, start by asking them if they really want to learn how to sail. There's no point in signing your children up just because you wish they would learn how to sail. They have to want to learn in order to make it a fun experience.

Here's a quick rundown of things to look for in a good sailing school:

  1. Are the instructors experienced sailors?Most instructors are sailors who race at their college. These instructors may seem terribly young, but they usually have years of experience. A well-run sailing school will do a thorough background check on their instructors before they let them out on the water with your children. Jobs as summer instructors can be very competitive to land (what college-aged sailor doesn't want to spend his or her summer getting paid to sail?), so rest assured that most instructors are going to be skilled sailors with a great attitude toward children.
  2. Are the classes run in a sheltered bay? Warm water, light wind, and a sheltered bay are the ideal conditions for teaching sailing to kids. Children shouldn't need to worry about other boat traffic when they're learning to control their own boats for the first time.
  3. What are the ages of the children in the program?Most kids want to sail with other children their own age. If your child complains that he or she is much older or younger than the other children, talk to the instructor and see if you can switch weeks or arrange for private lessons. Most sailing schools set their own minimum and maximum ages for classes. Along with the age requirement comes the expectation that all children will be able to swim and follow instructions.
  4. Does the program have a dependable rescue boat?All sailing programs for juniors should have a reliable way to tow in boats during light wind or pull children off the boats in heavy weather.
  5. What is the "windy day" policy? You should be relieved to hear that the sailing program you are checking into even has a such a policy. It would be dangerous and foolhardy to take young beginners out on the water if the day turns rough. Smile when the instructors explain that your child might play games on land all day if the wind is too high. Those are some safe, smart instructors.

 
Robin Peckham helps his younger classmates by pushing their boats toward the water as they prepare for their first day of sailing.
 
What to pack for the lessons:
 A warm jacket
 A towel
 A change of clothes
 Water
 Snacks and/or lunch
 A children's book to read in case you are late picking them up

What your child should wear:

 Sunscreen
 Hat
 Sunglasses
 Deck shoes
 Shorts and T-shirt, preferably not cotton if the school is located in an area that tends to be cool

Two more quick items:

 Make sure your child has a reliable ride home every day.
 Be clear about any medical conditions or allergies your child has. Put them in writing if the school doesn't ask you to fill out a health form.

 
A good sailing school will have a reliable rescue boat for lessons taught in a sheltered bay.
 
What to expect:  No sailing school is going to teach your children to become expert sailors in just one week. At the most, a school will teach them the basics, such as how to get in the boat, how to steer, and how to avoid getting bonked on the head by the boom. At the least, your children will have some quality time on the water and will probably have a lot of fun.

After the basic course is complete, many sailing schools offer advanced classes. Some children can pass the basic sailing course after taking it just once, while others, especially younger children, may repeat the class a few times. Either way, before entering an advanced class, children should know how to control the sails, tack, and jibe. Most important, they should know how to communicate and work with other children at the dock and on the boat. It's essential that children master the basic course before taking an advanced class or they won't get as much enjoyment out of the latter session as they should.

 
Now is the time to start researching summer sailing schools for your child.
 
For the advanced class, children will be going farther away from the dock. They will be sailing in heavier winds and may get an introduction to racing.

Some programs offer "refresher" courses for children who took basic sailing the previous summer and haven't been out on the water for some time. When I was a sailing instructor in Berkeley, CA, this was one of our most popular classes. It put the "old hands" together with friends they had made the summer before and gave them a taste of what was included in the advanced class. If your local sailing school doesn't have "refresher" classes, ask if you can take your children out for a sail on your own. Or perhaps you can arrange a few private lessons for your children so that they don't become overwhelmed in the advanced sailing class.

 

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