Sail on the Cheap

By Leah Welch

I am a novice sailor. I took one sailing course in college and earned an Ohio Division of Watercraft license (the equivalent of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary’s America’s Boating Course). It was only recently that I decided to make sailing my lifestyle and began researching ASA (American Sailing Association) and U.S. Sailing schools.

Like most working Joes, I had a limited budget, so I devised a frugal way to learn to sail; I have since earned certifications in Basic Sailing, Chartering, and Navigation. I have taken ASA 101 Basic Keelboat (cost: $295 for two 7-hour days); an Offshore Emergency Medicine class offered by the Ocean Navigator School (cost: $900 for a three-day course and certification); a Boating Safely online course offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary for $40; and the ASA 105 home-study Coastal Navigation course with Sawyer’s Sailing School in Maine (cost: $75 plus the $30–$40 ASA testing fee; 866-783-6882).

Both ASA and US Sailing offer extensive certification courses for those who wish to either begin sailing or continue sailing with added confidence. ASA and US Sailing offer the following courses: Basic Keelboat, Basic Coastal Cruising, Bareboat Chartering, Coastal Navigation, Offshore Passagemaking, Celestial Navigation. Both schools also offer an equivalency exam that allows students to pay a fee and test out of a class. In addition, ASA offers Basic Small Boat Sailing, Trailerable Multihull, and Cruising Catamaran courses.

With affordability in mind, here are some tips I found helpful when starting out on this adventure:

  • Go as a group. Most ASA-approved schools give discounts of up to 20 percent to groups of two or more. ASA members sometimes receive discounts as well, so be sure to ask.
  • Go during the week. Courses are offered on both weekdays and weekends, and prices may be $20 to $50 less during the week. Schools also offer discounts at certain times of the year—for instance in September and October, the end of the sailing season.
  • Practice between courses. It goes without saying that practice will make you a better sailor. Rentals and chartering fees can be expensive, though. When searching for schools, check for programs that offer free or inexpensive rentals with their certification.
  • As with any class, the lower the ratio between instructor and students, the higher the level of personal instruction. Don’t sign up for a class with more than four students unless training will be on a larger vessel with more than one instructor.
  • Ask if there are any fees in addition to the listed price (i.e. a charter fee, taxes, etc.) or, if it is a liveaboard class, whether provisions are provided and if towels or blankets are needed or should be brought by the student).
  • Basic Coastal Cruising and Advanced Coastal Cruising may both be taken as onboard classes. However, taking Basic Coastal Cruising as a one-or-two day class without staying aboard can often save up to $300. ASA Basic Coastal Cruising 103 is normally a three-day, two-night class. The fewer days spent on board, the less it should cost.
  • If time is limited and you don’t mind studying independently, US Sailing and ASA offer home-study courses (though the test must be proctored at an approved school). The Coast Guard Auxiliary also offers study-at-home classes for coastal and celestial navigation at

  • Advanced sailors wishing to go bluewater cruising should consider an Offshore Emergency Medicine course ( Expect to pay $500 to $1,000. I took the Ocean Navigator School of Seamanship class that also offered an optional hands-on practical-skills day (for an extra fee).

Prices and specific locations for all the courses mentioned can be found on the ASA Web site at and the US Sailing site at

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