Few rental businesses require certification; however, always call the rental business before going to rent a sailboat as you might get one of those few business that DO require certification. If you have a US Sailing Association (USSA) Certification and go to an American Sailing Association (ASA) business you may be surprised to find they do not recognize it and vise verse. However this is rare and most business do not require a certification at all. Most business indicated that they find many sailors with certifications tend to know more about sailing terminology than actual sailing; to me this means more sailing schools need to focus on “tiller time” versus “classroom time.” Also many businesses feel it’s a big plus if you currently own a sailboat and belong to a sailing club. Sailing clubs are important because if you want to bareboat, a letter of recommendation will go a long way in allowing you to do so. If you do not belong to a club/association then I highly recommend you join one.
Here is a break down of requirements based mainly on boat size:
- Sailboats up to 16 or 18 feet without motor - No certification required, but of course, it’s not discouraged. Most businesses will ask you basic questions and do quick boat-side check-off… i.e. have you name parts of boat and how you will leave and return via wind direction, then go over their safety protocol, etc. If you appear to be struggling to leave the beach or dock, then most likely you will have to take a lesson before continuing.
- Sailboats up to 22’ or even 27’ with outboard motors - See #1 above, also expect a more thorough check-off and typically a basic written test regardless of whether or not you have a certification. They will ask you to show them how to start the outboard motor; if you do not know and other issues come up you will have to take a lesson to rent their boat.
- Sailboats over 27’ feet… with inboard and/or outboard motors - At this point renting a sailboat gets more involved. All businesses require you have experience sailing the type of boat you want to sail and most business will require you to take a quick written test and complete a 1 or 2 hour check-off process. Most will have you disembark from the dock and return before they let you leave on your trip. All of this will be required regardless whether or not you have a certification.
- Sailboats over 27’ used for bareboating - This situation, of course, requires the most thorough sailing/seamanship resume. However, with the 111 businesses I surveyed only 3 required a current ASA or USSA certification, and these three businesses were certified with these organizations. Every business of course required extensive sailing experience as a skipper on overnight trips. Some businesses also required that you have a 1st mate who is also an experienced skipper and/or crew. Certifications are certainly encouraged but not having one will not exclude you from renting from most businesses.
What you should do before leaving your home is do an internet search for the area rental businesses and find out what they require. Before you go to pick up the rental, send them what they request. This typically means sending your sailing resume, which includes your experience (with dates), what type of boats sailed, whether you were a skipper or crew, and where you sailed…this shows the importance of keeping a sailing log. Also if you have skippered a powerboat put that down also because on bigger sailboats you may be using a motorized dingy to go to and from shore. Some sailors who want to rent larger sailboats will not put their small boat sailing experience on their resume. As many sailors know the best sailors are those that learned to sail on small boats first, and most sailing rental businesses know this.
Along with your resume, you should have at least three letters of recommendation: one from your club commodore and two from respected sailors (sailors who own and sail similar boats to what you will be renting/bare boating). If you are going to bareboat, bringing a sailing buddy with you is a plus as many businesses like this and in some small cases require it.
If you want to rent a sailboat then rent what you sail; and if you want to rent larger boats then of course starting sailing one. If you do not own the size of boat you want to rent then sail with a fellow sailor that owns such a boat; taking a take a class is also helpful. But remember, just taking a class without additional experience is not enough to refine skills adequately to rent a sailboat. Do some bareboat trips as crew, then as a fellow skipper. The point is - it all comes down to experience, experience, experience and recording that experience in a log. Keep your sailing resume current.
My next article will be what is required to rent and bareboat sailboats overseas.
Tiller Time Sailing School