Tag Archives: american sailing association

Instruction on instructing

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Instruction on Instructing
Capt. Frank reviewing some marlinspike seamanship with a class
Capt. Frank reviewing some marlinspike seamanship with a class

Through a variety of circumstances, most of them really bad, in 2008 I became a licensed USCG Captain and ultimately started a sailing school, the Outer Banks Sailing Academy. I became an ASA instructor that same year (for more on how that all happened look for the upcoming article “How to Turn Riches to Rags and Wind Up Smiling”). I had no formal training as an educator but I knew how to explain things and had great boat handling skills.

Is being an instructor a good fit?

My point is that being an ASA instructor does not require “formal training as an instructor”, and the path that leads us there is often random and not planned. This article is about what it takes to be a good instructor.

Whether you decide to make being a sailing instructor a full-time career (it’s a great way to insure that you stay poor) or a part-time job, the requirements and responsibilities remain the same.

3 attributes of a good ASA instructor


First and foremost a good instructor has to be safe. Safety comes into play in many forms on the water, but by far the most important aspect of safety is in regards to the students.

A good instructor has to have the ability to recover the boat from any situation that their students have gotten into. At ANY time, no matter what! Keep in mind that most ASA101 (Basic Keel Boat) students have never been on a sailboat before.

New sailing students often find themselves with their heads swimming in a new language, trying to make heads or tails of the lines everywhere, and with the sensation that the damn boat is going to flip over at any minute. They are intimidated and their first reaction to anything unexpected will be to panic or freeze. That can and does happen at the most inopportune times.

The instructor has to anticipate this and be able to react with no hesitation and calmly to correct the situation. NOW!! Failing to do so may result in injury to the students and quite possibly the instructor, damage to equipment (maybe ending the day), and the student may step off the boat at the end of the day possessing a fear that they are never able to over-come. After the recovery the instructor should stop the boat, discuss what happened, why, and how to avoid the situation in the future.

Safety is the cornerstone of the ASA. It’s curriculum and techniques are all based on it. It is critical for ASA instructors to teach the “ASA way” of doing things. These methods may be very different than what they learned when they started sailing. I’m not saying there is only one way of doing things (although many times there is only one RIGHT way) but I am saying that there is only one ASA way and if you are striving to be an ASA instructor than deviation from that “ASA way” is wrong.

If the ASA teaches a method, such as the figure-eight crew overboard recovery method, than you have an obligation to master that method and teach it. These methods are proven techniques that work EVERY time. They insure the student’s success, safety, and the longevity of the equipment. The new instructor often thinks he/she has a better way. Chances are, no, they don’t and if they do there are channels they can follow to discuss it with the ASA. The mantra has to be “ASA Way All the Way”.

A second reason for the uniformity of technique is that it ensures that what the student has learned, no matter where they may have attended classes, will be relevant, familiar and apply to all their future classes.

It is this uniformity that becomes the stumbling block to many aspiring and existing instructors. Many new and veteran instructors revert to their old ways that, while maybe safe, don’t lead their students down that road of uniformity. They do their students a disservice.


The second criterion necessary to be a good instructor is sailing knowledge. An instructor has to know what they are talking about. No, they don’t have to be a walking encyclopedia (I guess today it would be a Wikipedia) but yes, they do need to understand thoroughly each topic they are going to teach. They can’t dazzle with BS here.

You need to be at home on the water and in the classroom
You need to be at home on the water and in the classroom

Students look to their instructors for expert information, advice, and guidance. The instructor has to be able to give it. If a discussion about sailing windward is going to take place then the instructor had better be able to explain how we do it and why it works. I’m not suggesting the instructor delve into a detailed lesson in physics or aero and hydrodynamics, but students do need to have an understanding of how and why we are able to sail windward. How else will they be able to understand why being in the “no sail” zone or having sails not trimmed properly is detrimental to sailing performance.

Teaching ability

The last of the big requirements involves teaching methods. An instructor needs to be able to recognize how their students learn. In addition, after obtaining that recognition they need to shape their lesson to meet that learning style.

The instructor needs to be able to relay, both in the classroom as well as on the water, the point of their topic clearly, concisely, and keep student’s interest up while doing it. There are books on how to teach and they have significant value. While teaching methods can be learned some candidates just seem to have a gift. Good for them.

Professionalism is key

Instructors need to be neat, present themselves professionally, organized, speak publicly reasonable well, keep good records, and be punctual. While these traits might not be in the foreground, without them the teaching career will be short lived. All of these traits never seem to make it to the top of the list, but all of them are critical. First impressions are nearly impossible to change. Instructors need to show up on the dock, dressed neatly, on time, full of enthusiasm, and well prepared. Anything else indicates to their students that what they are about to attempt to accomplish isn’t really important.

“Hey, we didn’t really have to read all that stuff before we got here.” Or, “Hell yes we can party tonight, class won’t start till we get there anyhow! Check it out, the instructor doesn’t care enough about it show up on time. He must hate this job. Why’d we pick this school anyhow Bubba?”

This conversation is bound to pop-up on the docks of school’s that aren’t clear in their standard operating procedure and have instructors that don’t take their profession seriously. But seriously, should a professional really need their employer to tell about them this stuff. Apparently so, many new instructors get confused in the difference between teaching a lifestyle and living it. It takes professionals to teach people how to live slow and sail fast!   That takes the traits listed above!

Most of all an instructor needs to be passionate about what they do. If they have that, it will shine through clearly and if they don’t, well, that will shine through as well.

To sum it up, teaching is rewarding, challenging, and most of the time fun. It doesn’t pay well but the view from the office is fantastic. I have met some of the most interesting people in my life while instructing. All the coolest, most beautiful places I’ve ever seen have been in the cockpit of a boat teaching a class. Need I say more?

Contact me for a schedule of upcoming ASA Instructor Clinics to be held at Sailing Florida Charters at the Beautiful Vinoy Renascence Marina in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida

Till next time, when I see you On the Water…With Captain Frank

I love my wife, but…(Benefits and Understanding of the ASA)

A typical ASA affiliate event
A typical ASA affiliate event

Have you ever said the following? “I love my ______, but….”. There have been times that I wasn’t thrilled with myself. On one or two occasions my wife has done something that I didn’t agree with (she later let me know that I was wrong but that she would forgive me). The other night when I took Abby out for her last out and all she wanted to do was sniff the flowers and then at 0300 she decided it was time to go out and actually accomplish something. I certainly wasn’t thrilled with that! However, saying all of this does not in any way mean that I need to go into therapy with myself, that I want a divorce, or that Abby needs to worry about going to the pound anytime soon. There is never a “Perfect” fit. If there was we would get bored with it quickly.  See, even when the fit is perfect its not.

Is the ASA perfect?

For me the American Sailing Association (ASA) is just like that. It’s not perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great organization, or that I am not very much inline with it. This article is not about the imperfections of the ASA, rather, it’s about the virtues of this worldwide organization.

The ASA was founded in 1982. Since 1983 there have been more than 400,000 graduates from its certification programs. There are more than 300 ASA affiliated schools worldwide. Eighty-five percent of the commercial sailing schools in the US are ASA affiliates.

In short, the ASA is a collective group of sailors ranging from recreational day sailors, professional sailing instructors and captains, clubs, and schools. The ASA has a close integral relationship with the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Boating Safety Advisory Council. It has affiliations with many national and international boating associations.

ASA a perfect fit for students

The ASA has developed a structured curriculum to teach students the art/science of sailing. This structured program enables students to continue their training at any facility with the reassurance that they are being taught the same material regardless of where they attend their classes. Additionally, this structured curriculum enables instructors to lesson plan knowing that certain subjects have definitely been covered in the student’s previous classes.

Part of the ASA’s educational program is the development of study materials that are current, and relevant. The Coast Guard Auxiliary uses many of the ASA texts in their own education program. The textbooks used throughout the ASA certification programs are updated and revised continuously to keep the student current with various sailing developments such as boating equipment. Within the last 3 years the ASA has introduced new textbooks for the ASA101, 103,and 104 courses. They are currently writing a new Cruising Catamaran Text.

To the outside sailing community the ASA offers a measurable standard to which sailing applicants can be judged. Charter companies and many governments require charter applicants to have passed the first three levels of certification (ASA101, 103, and 104) before the applicant will be allowed to take the yacht out without a professional captain. For example Croatia requires US citizens to have ASA104 certification among other things.

Sailing schools

Schools that want to become ASA affiliates are subjected to rigid requirements. The ASA requires an inspection of the school’s business plan, record keeping system, detailed class lesson plans, and significant insurance requirements. An Instructor Evaluator completes these inspections during an on-site visit. The IE is required to examine the school facilities, the physical proximity to the sailing waters, the marina environment, the boats, and sailing area that instruction will be given. Schools are required to have a viable storefront that prominently displays the ASA logo. The ASA also requires the school’s boats to undergo a safety inspection by the United States Coast Guard. All of this is done by Sailing Florida’s school and is to insure the student’s positive learning experience.

Students are required to pass a comprehensive written exam, administered by the school but designed by the ASA, with a minimum of 80 percent. On the water, students must demonstrate satisfactory understanding and execution of a detailed evaluation standard. The ASA has little flexibility in this standard. Students must pass with 100% satisfaction. By passing this level of written and practical knowledge the student is assured that they are competent sailors for the level of certification they are seeking. Notice that I used the word competent and not confident. Confidence can only be achieved with continued practice over a period of time. In short, ASA certification cannot be bought; rather, it has to be earned. The successful student should be proud of their accomplishment.

Is the ASA Perfect? No, but neither am I. There is no perfect fit. What matters to me is that like me, the ASA keeps trying to be. After all, we are all nothing more than a work in progress. Just ask my wife!

So, please, do whatever you have to do to get On the Water…With Captain Frank