What to expect at an ASA Sailing School

Do you really NEED to attend an ASA sailing school? Is it worth the money and time?

Like many of the folks who visit this site, we watch a LOT of YouTube sailing video channels. They were our inspiration to begin this journey and continue to inspire us to this day. The vast majority of these guys claim to have had “no experience at all” at sailing before heading out and most make it look easy.

While that may be acceptable for some, we just didn’t feel comfortable with that. We decided that, while the boat was tucked away for the winter in Connecticut, we should try to learn to sail here in Florida.

There are plenty of sailing schools in the Florida panhandle that offer the American Sailing Association classes. We opted to go with the team at Floridaze Sailing in Pensacola. We chose them because they offer their instruction on 30 foot sailboats and they will limit the class size to a couple if you request.

Lots of the schools start you off on little 20 – 25 foot boats that don’t have many of the things you’ll find on a family-sized boat. Those things handle very differently and have different things onboard. It didn’t hurt that they were exceptionally friendly on the phone when we called.

Going into the ASA 101 and 103 classes, we really had no idea what to expect. Very few ASA Sailing Schools get into specifics on their web sites. We looked online but really couldn’t find much info other than the basic curriculum. We knew we’d be learning basic terminology and handling in light winds on calm seas. Not much further info could be found. So, we figured we’d share our experience. Keep in mind that your experience may be different if you attend a different course.

The ASA curriculum specifies the textbooks you’ll need and our instructor pointed us to Amazon to obtain them. We each got a set of the books and broke into studying them before we ever headed to class. Well, Heather studied them and Dwayne flipped through them thinking we would have some classroom instruction.

It took us a while to get a good day that the school could take us. Being local, the instructors wanted to ensure we had good weather and calm conditions for our first day. Sailing in conditions that are below 60 degrees on choppy seas is entirely possible – but not a great way to start. We were both onboard with waiting for a good weather window!

ASA 101

When the big day did arrive, we met our instructor at the docks around 9 AM. Captain Rick immediately took us over to one of the school’s boats and started quizzing us on the parts. He dived right into teaching right at the docks. No boring classroom time was wasted here! We were soon settled onto the boat and Captain Rick had us untying lines.

Within 30 minutes of boarding the boat we had cast the lines and, with Dwayne at the helm, we were navigating our way out through a narrow channel under engine power.

The rest of the weekend was an absolute blast! We went through the entire curriculum while aboard the boat. Captain Rick gave us some study material to take home and the final afternoon of the class we did have to take an exam. It was a testament to the great instruction and our desire to learn that we both maxed the exams in short order.

During the ASA 101 weekend we focused on helm commands, basic sail trim, points of sail, seamanship and safety. We also did a lot of training in the busy Pensacola Bay on navigation rules and learned how to avoid collisions and hazards. It was exhilarating to say the least.

ASA 103

A few weekends later, we were back at Sabine Marina to take the ASA 103 course. The Coastal Cruising course goes into more advanced topics and we were more than ready to take them on. We did have to spend a lot of time tied up at the marina because the winds were howling around 30 knots and the tides were so low we couldn’t exit the marina. We spent that time learning to read navigational charts and plot our courses the old-fashioned way. Our instructor also turned us on to several navigation apps and we discussed some of the more modern ways to navigate.

Once we got out on the water, we got to practice more of those basic safety and navigation skills right away. Proper maneuvering to recover a man-overboard is one of the main exercises of this course. During one of our recoveries, the US Coast Guard decided to add an element of surprise to our operation by speeding right past us and nearly causing us to lose our floating dummy! We did recover it after all and spent the next several hours tacking and jibbing around Pensacola Bay. We went on to successfully pass that course as well.


While they may not be required in the United States, we highly recommend attending both the ASA 101 and 103 courses. The confidence you will gain really can’t be measured. Knowing that you’ve had the training and put some skills into practice in a somewhat controlled environment was invaluable.

Even though a course may run over a thousand dollars for a couple, we felt it was really worth it. Sure, you could climb aboard any boat and learn these things. But, I can tell you that we can easily spot a sailor who hasn’t had basic instruction a mile away!

To see of there is an ASA school near you, check them out here.

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