When you decide to pick up a new skill or hobby, there is no doubt that you will want training and lessons to build up your confidence and skill set. And when it comes to sailing, it is no different. Many new sailboat buyers have little experience on the water and they want to gain a better understanding prior to taking the plunge into yacht ownership. But the question is, where do you start?
Weighing your options
Now, first and foremost, if you are interested in learning to sail, the most important thing to determine is who your instructor is, not which association has endorsed them. Your first option would be to find out what instructors are offering classes at a location that suits you and then do a little research. You may even find that a school run by an independent outfit suits you best.
When I decided to get my feet wet and learn a thing or two about sailing I had not done any research on which route would be the best option for me. I had a friend who took her ASA 101, 102 and 104 in the BVI and it sounded like it was an amazing trip. So, I signed myself up! And let me just say, it was the best way to learn how to sail. Living aboard a yacht, debatably the best cruising destination in the world was second to none! I enjoyed learning the basics, but of course getting the chance to learn and practice the theories aboard a Beneteau 47 was second to none.
American Sailing Association vs. Royal Yachting Association
If you were to receive your ASA 101, 102 and 104 certification where you can apply for your International Proficiency Certificate (IPC), it would be the equivalent to your RYA day skipper certification where you can apply for your ICC, or International Certificate of Competence. With either your IPC or your ICC, you will be able to skipper/charter vessels worldwide. Not all countries require you to have this certification to charter but many do and it is preferred by many charter companies. These certifications do not mean that you have a commercial endorsement.
A big difference between that RYA and ASA is that RYA can lead to a commercial endorsement where ASA can't So, if your end goal is to operate commercially then you should consider going with RYA. If your main goal is to sail recreationally then either one will do just fine.
Popularity in different places
The RYA, based in the UK, is widely known and recognized on a more global scale than ASA. When it comes to sailing, if there was a popularity contest of ASA vs. RYA in the United States, ASA would take the prize. The RYA specialize in the training off many different maritime activities including yacht and motor cruising where the ASA's main focus is sailing. This is perhaps why it is larger on a global scale.
Do I need to get ASA or RYA certification in order to sail a vessel?
No. If you are a buying a sailboat, you are not required to have certifications to sail your own ship. However, if you have little experience and you intend to buy a cruising monohull or catamaran, it is very likely that your insurance company will require that you seek training and instruction. To get a good foundation and to learn the basics, sailing certifications are an excellent place to start. Then, once you have taken possession of your yacht you might consider hiring a qualified captain who is familiar with you type of vessel to give you onboard training aboard you new vessel. Often time, you insurance company will want a captain to sign you off. Read more on that here.
If you intend to do some chartering of different sailing yachts prior to purchasing, then a certification would certainly be a great place to start. A great way to find out which boat suits you the best is to spend a week aboard your top contenders in the Med, the Caribbean or somewhere even more exotic!
Where do I start?
Cruising forums would be a good starting point. Ask you fellow sailors for their opinions and weigh the pros and cons. If you would like to learn more about ASA just visit their website: asa.com. And same for RYA: rya.org.uk. There are also plenty of other reputable sources out there for learning how to sail. Offshore Sailing for one has an excellent reputation. Again, the keys is to just do your research and decide the best path for you.