The Basic Keelboat Certification – The Essential Credential In Sailing Education

Learning in our “Living Classroom”

Learning to sail is part dream, part great instruction, and part hands-on experience.  Earning your US Sailing Basic Keelboat Certification through a J World Annapolis sailing fundamentals course gives you a great start and confidence through a smart balance on structured learning and on the water experiential learning.

Our courses are part of a vibrant sailing education program that continues to grow and be refined in accord with the evolution sailing.  No blog post or printed material can address every potential question or program change, but you are encouraged to use this as a guide to understanding the J World Annapolis Basic Keelboat certification process.

J World Annapolis is a US Sailing Certified school and training facility.  We use the US Sailing System because it is administered by the governing body of sailing in the United States and because we believe it is the most rigorous standard for sailing education.  The US Sailing Basic Keelboat program is designed to elevate the teaching standards, enhance individual knowledge and identify sailors who have demonstrated the essential knowledge to sail small keelboats on protected waters in reasonable conditions.  Earning the “BK” is the cornerstone to becoming a well rounded sailor.  For new sailors, the Basic Keelboat is THE place to start, and even if you have extensive sailing experience, earning your Basic Keelboat is the prerequisite to earning more advanced certifications and is a great way to hone your existing skills.

Highlights of the impact of having your Basic Keelboat Certification

  • Drives personal confidence: Earning your US Sailing Basic Keelboat Certification drives your personal confidence as a sailor.  The majority of J World Annapolis Basic Keelboat students – including those who come with extensive sailing experience – report the course enhances their knowledge and improves their sailing opportunities by providing access to “advanced” certifications such as Bareboat Cruising,
  • The US Sailing Basic Keelboat Certification has widespread value and recognition:  Particularly among chartering organizations.  A BK certification is a quick way to demonstrate that you’ve had the necessary training to rent for a day or charter for a weekend a small keelboat.
  • Opens doors and creates connections:  By earning your US Sailing Basic Keelboat Certification from J World Annapolis you receive the benefit of connecting to the sport of sailing through an existing network of J World Alumni and J World Alumni experiential activities like Thursday Night Racing and our Flotilla events.

Earning and Maintaining the Basic Keelboat Certification

Earning and maintaining your US Sailing Basic Keelboat Certification is a three step process:

  1. Basic Keelboat Certification candidates must demonstrate their sailing skills through a practical, on-the-water evaluation administered by a US Sailing Basic Keelboat certified instructor.  J World Annapolis certification candidates generally develop the skills necessary to pass the “BK” by participating in either a five day sailing fundamentals course or a three weekend sailing fundamentals course.  Sailors with extensive sailing experience CAN challenge the BK.  While we do not recommend it, we do offer the option.  During the three hour evaluation, challengers will be asked to demonstrate the requisite skills.
  2. Basic Keelboat Certification candidates must also pass an 80 question written exam that tests general knowledge on seamanship, rules of the road and sailing theory questions.  The written exam is challenging for candidates that don’t read the Basic Keelboat course book.  Those candidates that read the material, generally score very well on the written exam.
  3. While there is no requirement for maintaining the Basic Keelboat certification, we strongly recommend that in order to keep your skills up and develop as a sailor you must spend time on the water.  In fact, before moving on to courses like Basic Cruising we recommend that you sail no less than 40 hours – and more is better.

Tips and Hints For Earning and Enjoying Your Basic Keelboat Certification

Earning your US Sailing Basic Keelboat Certification is fun and easy to do.  It is a great way to get into the sport or expand your enjoyment of it.  Here are a few tips for earning your US Sailing Basic Keelboat Certification with J World Annapolis:

  1. Get Started NOW!  – Savvy candidates begin preparing early and arrange their schedules to make the most of their J World Annapolis educational experience.  We offer the “BK” every week and weekend of our sailing season (April – Dec.) By registering now you can receive your written materials in advance and begin planning your work and family life to enable you to earn your certification quickly and without distractions.
  2. Begin with an honest self assessment – Students who have the best success at J World Annapolis arrive with a desire to be better sailors, an open mind and a willingness to learn.  Even if you have extensive sailing experience, we feel confident that we can provide you with more knowledge and confidence.  We call our instructors coaches for good reason – once we have taught you the fundamentals we work hard to develop you as an individual sailor to your individual capacity.  Heck, even Tiger Woods has a coach!
  3. Stay Sailing! – Once you have earned your “BK” make sure you use it.  We are happy to help connect you with other students and local sail boat owners so you can continue to build your skills and enjoy sailing.  Moreover, we offer a variety of low or no-cost experiential learning opportunities such as Thursday Night Racing, Bay cruises and flotillas.

What Is The Purpose and Benefits Of Certification?

The purpose of certification programs are to:

  • Establish a standardized body of knowledge that is equivalent to certain levels of experience;
  • Assess the level of knowledge and ability demonstrated by a sailor in a valid and reliable manner;
  • Encourage structured growth and development of sailors;
  • Formally recognize sailors who meet the requirements outlined by US Sailing for each certification.
The benefits of certification programs are:
  • Verification of your knowledge by an independent evaluator who has been certified in sailing education – a way to prove you know what you know;
  • Personal growth and development of your sailing skills
  • Enhanced sailing opportunities

What Do I Need To Demonstrate To Be A Basic Keelboat Certified Sailor?

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. The certified candidate will be able to skipper a tiller steered keelboat up to 27 feet in length.  For this course we use our fast and stable J/80’s.

Here are the practical skills and knowledge required:

Preparation to Sail:

  • Demonstrate ability to recognize and forecast prevailing local weather conditions.
  • 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.
  • Describe personal preparation such as clothing and sun protection.

Crew Operations and Skills:

  • Demonstrate how to put on a Personal Flotation Device (PFD).
  • Demonstrate tying and use of knots: stopper knot, bowline, cleat hitch and sail lashing knot.
  • Demonstrate the use of these sail controls: halyards, sheets, cunningham/downhaul and outhaul.
  • Be familiar with the nomenclature for basic parts of the boat, sails, battens and rigging.
  • Describe the proper use of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) 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:

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

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.

Navigation (Piloting):

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

  • Demonstrate use of Navigation Rules while sailing.
  • 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.

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 per the prescribed method.
  • When appropriate, demonstrate sailing “by the lee” and explain the inherent dangers involved.

Heavy Weather Sailing:

  • Demonstrate how to reef and/or depower sails.
  • Describe weather warning sources

Overboard Recovery Methods:

  • Properly demonstrate one of the overboard recovery methods, which is most appropriate for: your sailing ability, boat type, crew experience, wind and sea conditions, and maintaining constant visual contact with the victim.
  • Understand the Quick-Stop and Quick-Turn overboard recovery methods to include: constant visual contact with the victim, communication, recovery plan, sequence of maneuvers, boathandling, course sailed, pickup approach and coming alongside the victim (or simulated object).
  • Describe methods of getting an overboard recovery victim back on deck after the vessel is stopped alongside.

Safety and Emergency Procedures:

  • Explain the proper procedure for using an approved distress signal.
  • Be familiar with treatment of victims 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:

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

Securing the Boat Properly:

  • 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.


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