Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: New Mexico, USA (Heron, Elephant Butte lakes); Arizona (Lake Pleasant)
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Rep Power: 7
Time on the water is good
Once you've been out a few times, met other sailors, and gotten "hooked", here are some more ideas.
Most states offer "boating safety" basic classes that are about a day long. Usually these are free (commercial on-line versions have fees but they aren't terribly expensive). They won't make you a sailor, but they will teach you the safety laws, equipment requirements, introduce you to navigation buoys, lights, whistle signals, etc.
For a more thorough introduction to seamanship, navigation, rules, etc., you could take courses from the US Power Squadrons or US Coast Guard Auxiliary. These generally are generic boating courses rather than sailing, but still have plenty of good stuff.
Urban areas like San Diego will generally have sailing co-ops, community sailing programs, sailing clubs affiliated with commercial sailing schools or charter companies, or sharable boats owned by some sailing and yacht clubs, etc., that will give you a discount on boat rentals or some of them, for your membership dues, give you unlimited sailing time on their boats. Some of these charge a joining/initiation fee, but then give you a two- or three-day sailing class and certification in exchange. Some boat rental companies honor the "club memberships" from other boat rental companies for giving charter discounts. And sometimes charter companies can be talked into giving you a discount if it's a slow week in the off-season and you seem to be a responsible, low-hassle customer.
Of course, crewing on race boats is fine way to get time for people who don't mind a little stress or pressure. Alternatives include helping out on race committee boats, where you get to see lots of sailing close up, and, once you have a bit of blue water experience, getting on crew lists for longer-distance cruising rallies and races such as the Newport to Ensenada, Baja HaHa, etc.