I am an ASA Student… now what?

More and more we are fielding questions about certification courses.  To sail in EU countries charter companies are routinely requiring the Bareboat Cruising certification or International Proficiency Certificate (IPC) in order to obtain a boat – and the Islands probably aren’t far behind.  In addition to opening doors for sailing abroad, certifications are a great way of benchmarking your sailing education progress.


We get equal amounts of inquiries from students who have or are interested in receiving US Sailing and American Sailing Association (ASA) certifications.  J World Annapolis is proudly a US Sailing School.  If we could, we would operate as both ASA and US Sailing in order to serve the greatest number of students, but both US Sailing and ASA require certified schools to choose one or the other.  We get loads of ASA-certified sailors inquiring about getting US Sailing certifications, reciprocity and the difference between the two.  In short, the difference between the two is less about the curriculum (both teach tacking and gybing) and more about the teaching materials, instructor and school standards and also the expectation of time on the water.

Of those ASA-certified sailors who do come to J World Annapolis, we find that they were often hurried through a certification process, and while they have the paper – the are short on the skills.  Maybe more so than any other school we feel strongly that time on the water is the cornerstone to competency, confidence and situational awareness.  US Sailing and J World Annapolis are adamant about standards and consistency and therefore we don’t subscribe to the idea that you can “fast track” to being a great sailor.    But lets get down to brass tacks…

What is the difference between US Sailing and ASA?

Choosing a school offering US Sailing Certification ensures a professional, quality learning experience. US Sailing is a non-profit service organization, with a charter to “promote excellence” in sailing. It is the only National Governing Body of Sailing in the United States, representing our great country in all international matters regarding the sport of sailing. As the one national authority for sailing, US Sailing represents the sailors of the US at the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), the world authority for sailing. Like US Sailing, most national authorities have certification systems for pleasure sailing. US Sailing certifications are highly respected by ISAF member authorities and are recognized worldwide.

US Sailing has a strict set of guidelines regarding the proper type of vessel to be used at each level of certification. These guidelines ensure that basic skills are developed on stable, mid-sized sailboats which provide the highest confidence and competence levels for the beginning sailor. Unique to US Sailing, this standard ensures that not only the initial level of training is conducted on the right training platform, but also for each course thereafter, as skills are developed in the most complete curriculum of sailing education there is. The standards set for US Sailing member schools demand universal quality in:

1. Vessel type and condition
2. Facility function and safety
3. Faculty expertise in sailing knowledge, teaching skills and communication
4. Safety control
5. Assurance that all students meet the skill requirements outlined while enjoying a fun, educational experience.

US Sailing has a strict application and inspection process for schools to ensure they meet established standards. US Sailing requires much more than a business license, the appropriate level of insurance and certified instructors. The application process requires that risk management systems and proper classroom and vessel assets are in place. In addition, reviews of the curriculum and student standards are conducted to ensure each school is operating according to US Sailing’s standards of teaching and sailing methodologies. The US Sailing Certification System has a full time quality assurance program where every member school is critically reviewed on a rotating basis.

Isn’t US Sailing for people interested in racing?

Simply, no.  While US Sailing is the national governing body of sailing in the United States, the education component of US Sailing is separate and focused on teaching sailing at all levels.  We feel this misunderstanding acutely.  J World Annapolis has a reputation as being a racing school (we do offer spinnaker boat handling and racing courses), but the vast majority of our students are Basic Keelboat learn to sail sailors.

How much time you spend for each level of certification.

Probably the biggest difference we see between ASA and US Sailing certifications is in the amount of time that is expected at each level.  Often we get “basic keelboat” ASA 101 level sailors who come to J World and have only spent two days in a structured learning program – and often much of that time was classroom or dockside.  Sailing requires time on the water to master and two day just isn’t enough time for most adult learners to competently meet the Basic Keelboat standards or the stated standards of ASA 101.  If you look at the knowledge and skills standards for ASA 101 and US Sailing Basic Keelboat they are awfully similar.  When you ask a school how many hours will you spend learning those skills the range is remarkable.

Further, ASA certified sailors often receive their 101 level certifications on vessels that are not consistent with their own standards.  Learning 101 or US Sailing Basic Keelboat on a 36 foot auxiliary powered boat is undermining the future success of a learn to sail student.  The big boats get the glory, but the small boats make the sailor.  All jokes aside, repetitions matter in instruction and you simply cannot tack and gybe as many times in a day of training on a Hunter 36 as you can in a J/80 or other small keelboat that matches the standards expectations.

Below is a list of skills and knowledge requirements expected for both US Sailing and ASA 101.


Basic Keelboat

The Basic Keelboat graduate will have successfully demonstrated the ability to responsibly skipper and crew a simple daysailing keelboat in familiar waters in light to moderate wind and sea conditions.
Recommended Equipment: It is recommended that Basic Keelboat Certification courses and examinations be conducted on 18′ to 27′ daysailing sloop-rigged keelboats with tiller steering and with adequate equipment inventory to complete all required certification outcomes.

Prerequisite: There is no prerequisite for Basic Keelboat Certification.

Certification Requirements: Basic Keelboat Certification requires the successful completion of the following knowledge and skill requirements. These requirements are expected to be able to be performed safely with confident command of the boat in familiar waters with a wind range of 5 to 15 knots. Some regions may have stronger prevailing conditions, which are acceptable if the candidate can safely control the boat and be aware of his or her limitations in these conditions. The certified candidate will be able to skipper a tiller-steered keelboat up to 27 feet in length.

Practical Skills
Preparation to Sail:

  • Demonstrate ability to recognize and forecast prevailing local weather conditions.
  • Demonstrate how to properly board a boat.
  • Perform a presail check for the boat’s flotation integrity, safety and legally required equipment, and crew indoctrination.
  • Demonstrate the proper rigging of the sails, halyards, sheets, blocks, and winches.
  • Check all other equipment specific to your boat not indicated above.

Crew Operations and Skills:

  • Demonstrate how to put on a life jacket.
  • Demonstrate tying and use of knots: stopper knot, bowline, cleat hitch and square knot.
  • Demonstrate the use of these sail controls: halyards, sheets, cunningham/downhaul and outhaul.

Leaving the Dock or Mooring:

  • Demonstrate appropriate helmsman and crew coordination and skills for departure suitable to the conditions: raising sails, line handling, casting off and boathandling.

Boat Control in Confined Waters:

  • Demonstrate in close quarters under sail: starting, stopping, speed control, tacking, jibing, steering control, sail luffing, the No-Go Zone, getting out of irons, backing the jib, and crew coordination and communication.
  • Demonstrate sailing a predetermined closed course and maneuvering around obstacles.


  • Point out Aids to Navigation in the harbor and local waters that you are sailing, and respond accordingly.

Navigation Rules, International-Inland:

  • Demonstrate use of Navigation Rules while sailing.

Boat Control in Open Water:

  • Demonstrate proper sail trim with accurate sheet adjustment of the main and headsails. Make use of the sail telltales and identify points of sail.
  • Perform a heaving-to maneuver.
  • When appropriate, demonstrate sailing “by the lee” and explain the inherent dangers involved.

Heavy Weather Sailing:

  • Demonstrate how to reef and/or depower sails.

Overboard Rescue Methods:

  • Properly demonstrate one of the overboard rescue methods, which is most appropriate for: your sailing ability, boat type, crew experience, wind and sea conditions, and maintaining constant visual contact with the person in water.

Safety and Emergency Procedures:

  • Explain the proper procedure for using an approved distress signal.

Returning to the Dock or Mooring:

  • Demonstrate appropriate helmsman and crew coordination and skills for arrival under sail and/or power suitable to the conditions: boathandling, deploying fenders, stopping, tying up and lowering sails. Explain at least two different approach plans for other conditions.
  • Demonstrate stowing of sails, rigging and equipment. Thoroughly clean the boat, and install any covers.
  • Check both the electrical and bilge systems for dock operation if required.
  • Check the locks on companionway, lockers and hatches. Make a final check of docklines, spring lines and fender placement.

Preparation to Sail:

  • Describe personal preparation such as clothing and sun protection.

Crew Operations and Skills:

  • Be familiar with the nomenclature for basic parts of the boat, sails, battens and rigging.
  • Describe the proper use of life jackets and throwable flotation devices.
  • Describe the use of sail controls.
  • Explain potential electrical hazards such as overhead electrical wires and lightning.

Sailing Theory:

  • Describe basic sailboat design, sail theory and boat dynamics.
  • Explain how to read the wind and determine all points of sail.
  • Understand what is meant by the term “sailing by the lee” and explain the inherent dangers involved.

Leaving the Dock or Mooring:

  • Understand the effects of wind, tide and currents in relation to the boat and surrounding area while preparing to get underway.
  • Describe the differences and alternatives for leaving under sail and/or power in upwind, crosswind and downwind situations.


  • Be familiar with basic chart reading specific to your local waters.
  • Describe Aids to Navigation: buoys, daymarks, regulatory markers, and other markers specific to your local waters.

Navigation Rules, International-Inland:

  • Describe the Navigation Rules, International-Inland, for Stand-On and Give-Way sailboats and powerboats for collision avoidance and understand your state and local boating regulations.Describe weather warning sources.

Overboard Rescue Methods:

  • Understand the Quick-Stop and Figure-8 overboard rescue methods to include: constant visual contact with the person in water, communication, rescue plan, sequence of maneuvers, boathandling, course sailed, pickup approach and coming alongside the person in water (or simulated object).
  • Describe methods of getting a person in water on deck.

Safety and Emergency Procedures:

  • Be familiar with treatment of overheating, hypothermia and seasickness.
  • Describe the use and regulations for flares.
  • Be familiar with at least six different distress and emergency signals per Navigation Rule 37.
  • Be familiar with the U.S. Coast Guard requirements for safety equipment.

Anchoring Techniques:

  • Be familiar with anchoring procedures for emergency situations such as loss of boat control, sudden storms, prevention from going aground or injured crew situations.

Returning to the Dock or Mooring:

  • Describe the differences and alternatives for arrival under sail and/or power in upwind, crosswind and downwind situations.
ASA Header

Description: Demonstrated ability to skipper a sloop-rigged keelboat of approximately 20 to 27 feet in length by day in light to moderate winds and sea conditions. Knowledge of basic sailing terminology, parts and functions, helm commands, basic sail trim, points of sail, buoyage, seamanship and safety including basic navigation rules to avoid collisions and hazards. Auxiliary power operation is not required.

Basic Sailing Terminology

  1. Describe and identify the following sailboat parts and their functions:

Standing Rigging
Headstay / Forestay
Helm / Tiller /Wheel






  1. Identify and describe the functions of the following sails, sail parts and sail controls:


Batten Pocket
Jib / Genoa
Bolt Rope
Running Rigging
Boom Topping Lift
Roller Furler
Boom Vang






  1. Define the following terms:


Weather helm





Maneuvers & Points of Sail

  1.  Explain and identify using diagrams the following maneuvers, points of sail, and other terms:


No-Sail Zone
Closed Hauled
In Irons
Close Reach
Beam Reach
Broad Reach
Port Tack
Starboard Tack






  1. Explain and utilize correctly the following helm commands and crew responses:
  • ‘Heading Up’
  • ‘Bearing Away’
  • ‘Ready About’ —– ‘Ready’ —– ‘Helms a-Lee’ (or ‘Coming About’ or ‘Tacking’)
  • ‘Prepare to Jibe’ —– ‘Ready’ —– ‘Jibe-Ho’ (or ‘Jibing’)

Navigation Rules

  1. Apply Rule 5 (Look-out) from the publication Navigation Rules, International – Inland.

For items 7 through 13, describe and use diagrams to apply the Navigation Rules. Identify the “stand-on” and ‘give-way” vessel in each situation.

  1. Sailing vessels with the wind on different sides (starboard / port), Rule 12(a)(i)
  2. Sailing vessels with the wind on same side (leeward / windward), Rule 12(a)(ii)
  3. Sailing vessel on port tack cannot determine windward sailing vessel’s tack, Rule 12(a)(iii)
  4. Overtaking (Rule 13)
  5. Power-driven vessels approaching each other head-on (Rule 14)
  6. Power-driven vessel with another power-driven vessel on starboard side (Rule 15)
  1. Describe appropriate actions to be taken when sailing in the vicinity of commercial traffic, including responding to a danger signal.

Aids to Navigation

  1. Identify and state the purpose of lateral aids to navigation by color, shape & numbering, including preferred channel markers.
  2. Identify safe water, information and regulatory markers.

Safety Gear & Procedures

  1. List the federally required equipment for a recreational sailboat of 25-feet in length.
  2. Identify the location and color of navigation lights used by a recreational vessel of 25-feet in length.
  3. Describe the purpose of a Float Plan, give examples of information contained therein and to whom it should be submitted.
  4. Describe when and to whom boating accidents must be reported.
  5. State the Federal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit for vessel operation.


Safety Equipment

  1. Demonstrate the proper use of a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD).

Rig/hoist/set sails safely and correctly to obtain proper sail trim using the following lines and controls, if available on the practice vessel

  1. Halyards and/or furling devices
  2. Downhaul or Cunningham
  3. Outhaul
  4. Boom Vang
  5. Mainsheet
  6. Jibsheets
  7. Winches
  8. Traveler
  9. Lower/furl/stow sails and coil/flake/stow lines properly

Without coaching or assistance from the instructor, verbalize appropriate commands and demonstrate competence, safety and good seamanship in the role of Skipper / Helmsman during the maneuvers listed in items 37 – 46.  Honor all aids to navigation and use properly the basic Navigation Rules.  Ensure sails are trimmed correctly and the vessel is in control at all times.

  1. Depart dock or mooring fully ready to get underway safely
  2. Select and maintain a given tack and course
  3. Demonstrate how to get out of “irons”
  4. Head Up
  5. Bear Away
  6. Sail Close Hauled
  7. Sail on a Close Reach
  8. Sail on a Beam Reach
  9. Sail on a Broad Reach
  10. Sail on a Run
  11. Tack
  12. Jibe
  13. As crew, give appropriate verbal responses and perform correct actions during the maneuvers listed above.

Crew Overboard

  1. Describe and demonstrate the correct actions to be taken while under sail from the time a person falls overboard until safely recovered.

Return & Secure

  1. Return to dock or mooring
  2. Secure vessel, using appropriate mooring/dock lines, fenders, etc.


  1. Describe the purpose of, and construct without assistance in a timely manner, each of the following knots and hitches:

    • Figure-8 Knot
    • Square (Reef) Knot
    • Clove Hitch
    • Round Turn & 2 Half Hitches
    • Cleat Hitch
    • Bowline



Interesting post, but it does not describe what are the differences between US Sailing and the ASA. The excellent US Sailing curriculum is well explained but what about the ASA’s?


John – thank you for your comment. To some extent, that is my point. While we feel that the US Sailing materials, curriculum and standards are overall better that ASA’s – the difference between the two really lies with the execution by the sailing schools. To that end, there are good sailing schools and bad sailing schools that are part of both education systems, but on average ASA students who come to our school do not exhibit the skills that we would expect from a “basic keelboat” graduate. In part this is probably due to the fact that you can graduate as a “basic keelboat” sailor in the ASA system with fewer hours of actual sailing and classroom instruction, but having also observed many ASA coaches who apply for employment here – the bar for becoming a certified coach is clearly lower. Before everyone sends a comment defending their favorite instructor – let me be clear in saying that there are great instructors in both systems and great instructors with no certifications at all. But if you are looking for a difference between ASA and US Sailing it lies more with the expectations of the skill and ability of the instructors and the quality of the schools, equipment and facilities than it does in the curriculum itself. As I wrote in the original post – both teach tacking, gybing, heaving to, person in the water rescue, etc. Who, how and where as well as how you become “certified” is a major difference between the two. In the end – prospective students should make their decision about which school to use based on their own investigation.

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