When people first learned that I bought a boat and set sail all on my own in 2008, they were impressed. “How can you do that,” they asked. “Its so spontaneous.” But the truth is, I had been sailing for many years before that, both recreationally and professionally. I got my feet wet when I was only eight years old, with my family on Lake Michigan. Ten years later I began working as a sailor/educator, which I have been doing ever since on the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. But, like most things, there are many paths to get from novice to proficient, and sailing can take a lifetime to learn! I’m sometimes concerned by the lax expectations for people driving a boat. Even in my home state, there are no requirements and no expectation for demonstrating skill or understanding of boating laws for sailors to take to the lakes. So, today I decided to find out more:
In Idaho and Wyoming no license is required to drive a boat. In other states, such as Michigan, Utah, Kentucky, Colorado, or Georgia, only boaters age 12 to 16 (or 17, Colorado is 14-15) are required to have a boater’s license. But in the District of Columbia and Connecticut all boaters are required to have taken a boater’s safety course. Some states are following suit and phasing in the same law. For example, by 2016 the state of Virginia will require a Virginia boater’s license for every person operating a motorboat and Washington will require it in 2015. I think this is a positive direction for boating safety. Despite it not being a law in many states, I encourage anyone wanting to drive a boat to consider some avenue to get their sea legs before taking the wheel for the first time.
Here are a few suggestions that I have experience with. If you have any questions about them, feel free to email me!
1) Take a course! The Hurricane Island Outward Bound School offers excellent sail training expeditions for teens and adults. They are rugged but fun, and a great way to get connected with the ebb and flow of the ocean and really understand what it takes to be a coastal sailor. I have been instructing courses for Outward Bound for eight years and absolutely love it.
2) Take a cruise on a Maine Windjammer. The Maine Windjammer’s Association is a fleet of thirteen tall ships that operate in the islands of mid-coast Maine, the most beautiful place to sail on the East coast. Some Windjammers offer a relaxing cruise, and some offer a more hands-on experience. The Schooner Lewis R French and Mary Day are my top favorites. I sailed with the French last week and this week Ben is aboard the Mary Day.
3) There are several organizations that offer standardized courses for various levels of sailing proficiency. Their courses begin with the basics and will progress through more advanced sailing and racing. Many people turn to American Sailing Association or US Sailing for courses like these. I was certified to teach these courses fifteen years ago and have experience with both ASA and US Sailing as a student and an educator.
4) If you already own a boat, or plan to charter a boat, then consider hiring a US Coast Guard licensed captain to train you. Look for captains with sail training experience, and a history of sailing in similar waters that you plan to sail, such as offshore, coastal, northern latitudes, southern, or lakes. Ben and I recently began offering our services as captains for boat deliveries and sail training. Please email me if you are interested in seeing our resumes or hearing about what we can offer.
What do you think of required boater’s safety education courses? What kind of requirements are expected of sailors in your state? Please share your thoughts below. Or join the conversation on Facebook!