I’ve noticed a strange phenomena that I believe is due to the rise in sailing Youtubers and bloggers like myself. More and more sailors are going to sea without any training at all. They decide to take the leap, move aboard a boat and set sail. I’ve seen it over and over – praise given for being so brave, for following your dreams, for not knowing anything but “doing it anyway.” Is it really praise worthy or foolishness? We take a risk every time we go to sea, but I would never have done this without training first. Training comes in many forms. It can be formal, like a sail-training expedition, or it can be informal like working your way up the haws-pipe starting from mess mate, to deckhand, to mate, etc. Or, it can even be through experience and learning from a variety of people, starting small and working from there.
I always feel lucky when I get to meet one of my readers. I’m thankful when they say they are inspired by me, or that they learned something from my blog. But this time, I felt differently when he said, “I had no idea how to sail, but when I saw your blog I thought, ‘If she can do it, so can I.’ So I got a boat off of Ebay and set sail.”
Do I really look that stupid in my blog? Did I present myself as someone without any training who foolishly went to sea alone anyway?
Somewhere I failed to send the message that I find most important – Sailing is serious. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I was a professional sailor with a USCG Master license years before I purchased Daphne. At the time, I had 10 years of sail-training experience, as an instructor. Despite significant experience in fog and night sailing, my first few months aboard were all coastal sailing and only on clear sunny days. I took risks in baby steps. It isn’t necessary to have the kind of sail-training that I had. We all get there through different paths, but training is important. I wouldn’t buy a helicopter and “just take off.” But if I did, no one would call me brave. They would call me foolish. Let’s call a spade a spade.
That same person boasted of all the crazy situations he found himself in – on the brink of an accident, confused about a vessel approaching, unsure how to fix a problem, injured and misusing the med kit, shining his anchor light while underway just to be “more visible,” etc. etc. He joked that there were many times he felt at his last wit and the only thing he knew to do was wish on a star. Yet every time it seemed to work out and he continued on. He was lucky he pulled out of those situations without a scratch. He wasn’t even aware of his luck. The sailors around him and his guests aboard were also lucky that they didn’t get hurt.
Another strange phenomenon that I’ve noticed is that someone buys a boat, calls himself a captain, and promises to train you if you sail with him. He will post the opportunity on a Facebook group or an online crew exchange and leave professionals who have been trained in fire fighting, medicine, emergencies at sea, maritime law, etc. etc. looking like fools. But listen carefully, if you choose to sail with that self-proclaimed captain you met online – please – at a minimum ask to see his license, ask for a sailing resume, and a recent survey of the boat. An experienced captain will appreciate your concern for safety and skill. If I picked up a scalpel and called myself a surgeon would you trust me to cut open your heart?
Yet another trend is cruisers becoming sail trainers. I find this a slight concern because many of them have experience on one (or just a few) boats under their own guidance, or the guidance of one (or just a few) skippers. If you look for a sail-training program, be cautious of programs like this. Investigate them thoroughly. Some are truly passionate about sail-training, but many are simply looking for ways to make money while sailing. When Ben and I started our sail-training business, it was because we are passionate about sail-training, and that is evident in our decades of not just sailing experience, but sail-training experience on a variety of boats.
Some people say you can learn by doing. Start small and move on to bigger challenges. Yes, this is one way to increase your skills before going to sea. But be cautious – I’ve seen too many people practicing over and over incorrect and sometimes unsafe ways of doing things because they are self-taught or only learned from someone who was also self-taught, who learned from someone else who was self-taught. This way of learning is uncertain – it can be highly successful, or it can give false confidence. Diversify your training. There are a lot of talented professional and recreational sailors out there to learn from. Sail with a lot of them! That is the best way!
This story is becoming to common – someone takes to the sea without skills and returns without a scratch. It makes it seem that training and real skill and problem solving abilities aren’t necessary. But I’m telling you – they are. And, quite frankly, I’m scared by the general shift in attitude regarding the seriousness of the ocean. She doesn’t play nicely. She doesn’t like fools. Sometimes she doesn’t even like those with years of training and experience. She makes no distinction between a fool and a pro and will rage so unexpectedly, catching even the most proficient sailor off guard. So – go to sea with as much preparedness as possible. Get training.
Oh – and one more thing – always wear your PFD!
Am I too tough? Maybe. Or maybe I’ve just seen too many near accidents due to lack of training. So – please share you ideas in the comments below on how newbies can get training before they go to sea.
Here is one idea: You can take training with Ben and I – both USCG Licensed Captains with over 20 years of professional sail-training experience before we even started our own business. We aren’t recreational sailors wanting to find an income while sailing. We’ve been professional mariners and instructors for 20 years each (actually 19 for me). If we are booked, or our style doesn’t fit your personality, contact me anyway and tell me what you are looking for. I will connect you with a few other great sail-training programs and instructors that I know. This isn’t the only way to get the training you need – there are plenty of other options to pursue and I encourage everyone to try many (courses, friends, jobs, etc). I want to see trained sailors on the water, and aspiring sailors taking the right steps.
Well said. I think one of the problems with youtube and people just making the move aboard is they don’t see the hard work and skills a that are needed to sail a boat. When things go wrong, and I always say once one thing does wrong there’s going to be three more things that follow to make the situation more difficult, is you don’t see these issues on youtube. You see the warm beaches, the drinks, laugher, nice warm 10 to 15kts of wind on a beam reach making hull speed. You see all the good stuff. But, when shit starts to go wrong a good captain isn’t going to grab his gopro and start filming. They’re going to try and save their life and the boat.
You can’t stop people from trying to live a dream, but hopefully through education and putting out there that this is not easy will push people will ether realize it’s not for them or take the necessary classes.
I’ve recently started ‘living my dream’ having purchased a great C30. Your post is a great reminder for me to maintain diligence with sailing and safe boating courses, moving ahead slowly while learning my boat, and refrain from being hasty so to maintain safety.
As an avid sailor/CAPTAIN for more than 30 years your words are the best COMMON SENSE approach to sailing that I have read. I would love to see this excellent article published in Sail Magazine.
Even though I am only sailing for my own pleasure, I do have USCG Captain’s license (6-pack) and I could not agree more with your blog post that training and certification simply is necessary. Without some similar competence, putting to sea easily and quickly may turn into gambling.
At the same time, there needs to be a balance between level of competence and what you elect to do as a sailor. At the other end of the scale from the “gamblers” you have those that in spite of high competence never dare to stretch their undertakings at all. Going beyond the comfort zone does not need to be gambling and that is what sailors can choose to do in the way you describe so well. I hope your post get a really wide distribution.
Interesting post – I think you’ve answered your own question; it’s precisely because anyone can jump on a boat without any qualifications at all, which causes problems. Of course no one would leap in front of a surgeon and ask to have a go in the operating theatre, as everyone knows you need serious qualifications and training to be a surgeon. But until it is made compulsory to have recognised sailing qualifications to own/work on a boat and more stringent checks on people who call themselves Captains, I’m afraid there will always be people who think sailing looks fun, easy, learn as you go etc.
My husband has absolutely no sailing qualifications whatsoever, but he has lived and worked on boats most of his life, has over 50 years experience of sailing, even working as a yacht delivery skipper in his 20s. Whereas I consider myself just a beginner, having lived aboard for five years. I have many RYA sailing qualifications from recognised UK sailing schools, but if my husband wasn’t aboard I wouldnt feel at all confident in boat handling or maintenance, have little understanding of the weather, and would fall to pieces in an emergency….
“I have many RYA sailing qualifications from recognised UK sailing schools, but if my husband wasn’t aboard I wouldnt feel at all confident in boat handling or maintenance, have little understanding of the weather, and would fall to pieces in an emergency….”
I am sorry you have been so failed by the system, Georgie.
I gave up my brief stint as an RYA instructor, more than 10 years ago because I was being pressured to pass people for Day Skipper who felt just like you, Georgie, even after the training . In my view, the precise point of the certification is that the people with it feel confident to handle the boat – if they do not (or cannot!) then they should not pass. Some people need more time and attention than the normal courses, – and some turn up with simply inadequate previous experience for the level they have booked in for. It was a big problem, and not all saling schools are sympathetic to the instructors who point this out… They are only interested in cramming as many people onto the boat as is permitted in order to maximise profits. (another issue, as short-handed techniques are invaluable – most of us sail 2 up not 4-5!)
Nonetheless, I still agree with the RYA motto of “Education not Legislation” – because even if made mandatory, some certificates would be effctively worthless, due to all of the above issues. Experience trumps certificates. In my opinion.
Hi, I don’t see anything wrong in learning by doing unless you act plain stupid. Learning from friends with knowledge make sense too. Litterature is a third way to get information. Going courses is yet another way…
I agree that you don’t fly helicopters without training, nor go sailing. I just think that you strike down very hard on those who “push the envelope” and try new roads in life…
Yes! Try new roads. Just do it safely so you don’t endanger yourself and others. I think people SHOULD try new roads! Variety is the spice of life!
AMEN…and as a witness to Teresa’s life…I will tell you, she has always thoroughly learned whatever she is taking on, and takes nothing half heartedly…..among other things, a perfectionist ….
Judging by the amount of typos in this story I cannot agree that Teresa is a perfectionist. However, I agree with her sentiments 100%. Going out on a boat doesn’t make you a competent sailor. Nor does writing a blog make you a competent writer. But the stakes are a little higher in the former endeavor…
I’m a competent writer, but I agree – I need an editor!
I follow several Youtube sailor blogs and have noticed exactly what you write about. Two of the “so called” captains were sailing with their topping lifts still tight making mainsail trim impossible. They were essentially just moving the traveler back and forth but unable to flatten the main and were clueless. I brought it up to both in their comments section.
One said “it was early in the year and we eventually figured that out.” (30′ Ericson)
The other said “never heard of that, I’ll have to look into it.” (Grand Soleil 43′ as his first boat)
Are you kidding? It’s intuitive! If you sheet the main with a tight topping lift all you are doing is pulling on the topping lift, not the boom/mainsail.
Ugh!!!! “eye roll” Good luck with that…… They’ll be the first to die.
I wholeheartedly agree with you! I can see however where all the glossy magazines and adverts trying to sell boats make it seem easier than it is. Also, I am sure someone may get the wrong impression by seeing a very young woman doing it and doing it with what appears to be “ease”. I know though, that you look younger than you are, or at least I suspect so. Having taken your training, I can say that at least “seamanship wise”, you are a grizzled old salt! I thought I knew far more than I did until I wisely signed my wife and I up for you and Ben’s training. I learned a lot, and realized I have a lot more to learn. Which I am enjoying doing right now in the BVI’s! Thank you Teresa and Ben. And we now wear our PFDs almost all of the time, 96.9% or so. Which is 100% over what it was before your training.
Jimmy, you rock! I’ve never been a grizzly old salt before…but I like it.
And we are learning things from you too… 😉
P.S. Glad you are still wearing the PFD!
Thanks for posting this. I want you to know that you were the first sailor I saw posting on YouTube. It was inspiring. I remember, all those years ago, being struck by how capable you were, despite your youth. So no, you definitely never came across as “stupid”, not by a long stretch! Then again, I was already trained (not at your level, however), so maybe I could discern these things. Of course, “self-taught” sailors have always been out there, like P. Lutus, the programmer who jumped into a boat in the late 80’s and literally shoved off with a few manuals and sailed around the world, then wrote about it in his book “Confessions of a Long-Distance Sailor”. I think these traits are essential components of the North American “self-made individual” ethos. I admit, I’m sometimes ambivalent in my thoughts about these people, like the Aussie YouTube couple with 100k subscribers. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and they are resourceful and learn quickly: their films are well-made and entertaining, but I cringed watching the woman dancing with abandon on deck while under sail, with her headphones on, filming herself for a music montage as her boyfriend slept below, or seeing the guy, untethered and without a PFD, climbing over the stern rail in the mid-Atlantic, to wrestle with a fish. Yikes! Never mind that they also appeared to just head offshore from the Med without much prep other than provisioning, and this on a cheap Beneteau of unknown provenance bought in Turkey. They made landfall safely, had a great time, and have learned along the way to become basically competent sailors. So the question is, should we condemn their folly and proclaim they set a bad example, or admire their can-do spirit, initiative, and courage? Or both?
I share your concern. I have met people in my classes who wanted to do exactly that; buy a boat and leave. When advised to start with a 23-25 footer, (day-) sail as much as you can and then go bigger some people confessed they already had a 40 footer, and “just” needed to learn how to sail.
I tell my students that sailing is an activity. We sail with our minds, but mostly with our bodies. Most actions we undertake while underway are instinctive. It takes years of experience to develop that muscle memory. If the conditions are friendly chances something bad will happen are slim, but we keep learning, even on slow days. We train day in day out for that one *extreme* moment where we instantly decide between life and death. You mentioned helicopter flying. Pilots train incessantly. They use simulators to prepare for the most extreme conditions so that they don’t have to think and just do when they will be in that situation. We don’t always have the luxury to be able to look back and learn from our mistakes.
Well said, we just ran into a guy who got his boat off of craigslist and almost sank him and his dog in his dinghy coming in from the anchorage. I learned by joining a collegiate Sail team and made connections from there. Too many people think they are “as good as you” ignoring the skills it takes to be a sailor.
We met that same couple! They bought their boat off Craig’s list, set it on fire once, pissed off a cruise ship because they wouldn’t shine lights at night (wanted to conserve battery power), and then eventually sunk their boat when they were trying to live on an island of mangroves in the Florida Keys. You can read about it all on their blog.
Hello, Teresa … thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Many sailors today take-up the helm and cast care to the wind, more-so than we did many years ago. I believe times have changed. There are droves of newbie boat owners blogging about their re-fit projects as they launch their dream and begin “the life,” some of whom make it, most don’t even know what they don’t know … which largely seems to me, a complete lack of respect for the sea … I struggle to identify the impetus that drives many new sailors headed for their horizon.
Maybe it’s not my place to question them … but, for some reason, I too find a certain lack of respect given to harnessing the elements with good seamanship skill.
It seems “the sea” is now tertiary at best for the modern generation. “The life” or “look at me I’m doing it” or, “I hate my land-life so off I go” is more the impulse. If my assessment is correct, the sea is barely a vehicle for some modern sailor’s journey, it’s become their race to “check it off a bucket-list!” When I look deep at the meaning of sailors in this category, I find them flat … I find them un-interesting … I find them dangerous to others and themselves.
I move-on to find other like-minded sailors with whom I enjoy sharing company.
Mostly, my clients have come to me to learn how to sail in the ocean, and they wish to learn to do so confidently through my guidance … I’m certain the same is true for the client’s of yourself and Ben. They’ve chosen us because we’re like-minded; they’ve qualified us, and we’ve qualified them. We all win.
If someone believes they can do what we do by just hanging up a shingle advertising their services, I say … welcome to the party! Any potential client who’s impressed by that, wouldn’t understand me anyway.
As far as raw adventurers who set sail without skill … they’ll learn their lessons and blog about it … luckily the ocean is a pretty big place and hopefully we can stay clear by keeping a good look-out!
Kind regards, Teresa … see you guys in the BVI when you’re here.
Paul! You expeditions are a great option for sail-training as well. I hope you, and Andy, and Kretchmer, and John & Amanda, and Ben and I, and all the great sailing instructors have a very full season! We need to make sail-traning cool, and de-romanticize “throwing caution to the wind.”
Don’t forget Mia! She’s the strongest woman sailor I know and has been across the Atlantic more times than me. Without her our expeditions wouldn’t exist! She’s co-captain on Isbjorn.
Andy – your program is a great opportunity for people to gain offshore experience before they head out!
I concur. Our training has been mostly informal but with as many folks as possible and we’re lucky to be in Maine where there are many skilled sailors to learn from. When we sailed to Georgia and back over one winter, it was amazing to see the different experiences other folks traveling at the same time as us had. In short, many of them had far more eventful trips with groundings, collisions, getting caught out by the weather, being cold/wet/fatigued, etc. Much of this came down to preparation and a lack of caution as far as we could tell. We’ve sailed on a friend’s boat in the Virgin Islands, but I didn’t care for it much, largely because of the general lack of seamanship displayed on charter boats and their dinghies. I felt like it would only be a matter of time there before I’d be witness to a death on the water due solely to carelessness.
Every day we are on the water we see people who clearly have no idea of the COLREGS or how to handle their boats.
Not only is it dangerous, but do they realize how stupid they look?
We’ve spent years learning from others, doing training courses. I’m now studying for my Ocean Yachtmaster exam. Mother Nature has a habit of reminding us that she is in control, we will never stop learning.
Another tendency which the online world encourages is a delusion along these lines: “I give advice, therefore I am an expert.”
Some of the sailing advice encountered online would not survive the rigours of real world discussion, let alone practice.
i wonder if this is partly because, online, there are so many would-be sailors who will leap to the defence of someone like them, who gets taken to task for issuing advice whose deficiencies are evident only to actual sailors.
And in the anonymous democracy of the online world, it is more important to be numerous than it is to have something useful to share.
Totally agree. Are people unaware of the COREGS and other international maritime conventions even if defined as a pleasure craft?
UK regs for pleasure vessels is common sense:
I took baby steps with my own trading and boats, after some years at sea in the Royal Navy and on merchant vessels, and got my miles in and ended up some years later as an STCW 95 qualified skipper to 200 GT and MCA Superyacht engineer. Commercial work has recouped those costs but more importantly I got training and experience. Fools do otherwise.
Oops missed an L out of COLREGS. Insert big thumbs on Smartphone excuse…
I learned to sail through an Outward Bound program before I could drive and bought my first boat soon after college. By age 25 I had earned the moniker ‘Captain Epic’ and was lucky to be alive. Even more lucky I didn’t kill someone else. But that’s all it was-luck. I’m now a physician, almost 50, and skilled at diesel mechanics, weather, etc. and working on my 100t Masters. I’ve come to believe the primary responsibility of a captain is to bring everyone home and make it look easy. No drama. Instead of thinking I know something while piloting my now 3rd boat, I do offshore races on other boats with several different crews, most of whom have 50-60 years of sailing experience. Funny thing is, the more experience I get, the more I realize how much more there is to know.
Isn’t the use of the words Master, Skipper, Captain interesting? USA and UK use them somewhat differently. Qualified or not, one thing I do know is I’ll never be a Master Mariner!
Sometime STCW 95 200 GT Powrer & Sail Skipper, Ex Royal Navy Artificer, MCA Superyacht Engineer.
I think we all appreciate how candid you are here.
Even though I had been sailing most of my life, I never had any professional training until a year before I took off offshore. And in that time, like you, I lived on the boat and left the dock when conditions were perfect. I’m glad I didn’t just leave without any experience at all.
Sadly today on the radio I heard a cruiser say “what do you mean by pan-pan, is that something you eat like a bread?”
Sailing program pricing is definitely an issue. I agree that training needs to be pushed more, but we also need the training programs to come down in price if people are going to want to take lessons. I have a 30ft boat, hubby and I took Keelboat 101 and 102 nearby, but it was expensive, and the cost has gone up from just a few years ago. The closest class to me is Keelboat 101 for $1100. That’s just “basic sailing”, which a lot of people think they can forego because they have a friend teaching them “the basics”.
Yet, assuming you have a few summers of sailing with friends under your belt and now want to learn more, maybe to get your own boat, many schools won’t let you take an intermediate or advanced class unless you have taken the first classes, making it now 2-3x as expensive. Or you can hire someone to come onboard and teach you for $100/hr (near me, in Seattle). Imagine thinking of buying a boat for 5k, but then being told you’re a fool for sailing in it unless you’ve had 2-4k worth of lessons. Is that what we’re telling people?
So yes, it’s easy to say that newbie sailors are being foolish, but until we make lessons as accessible as boats, we aren’t being realistic.
“Imagine thinking of buying a boat for 5k, but then being told you’re a fool for sailing in it unless you’ve had 2-4k worth of lessons. Is that what we’re telling people?”
Not at all. In fact, I never say that taking a course is the only way and your a fool if you don’t. That is a huge stretch from what I said. I mention several ways to get training but also why to be cautious of them. I even said, “It isn’t necessary to have the kind of sail-training that I had. We all get there through different paths.” I also advise on the freebie crew opportunities, “If you choose to sail with that self-proclaimed Captain you met online – please – at a minimum ask to see his license, ask for a sailing resume, and a recent survey of the boat.”
I’m asking people to be smart – to get training and experience. I’m asking people to de-romanticize the “throwing caution to the wind” and “just doing it” that I’ve heard so often lately. I’m not saying that newbie sailors are foolish – everyone is a newbie at some point.
If you do chose to take a course, it is an investment that will save you tons of money in the future (if you chose to own your own boat). As a pro in this biz, with two decades of professional sailing experience, I stand by my statement. I will not recant because you are putting words into my mouth that I didn’t say.
As I said, I agree that more training should be pushed. I wasn’t putting words in your mouth, nor asking you to “recant your statement”. I was merely trying to point out that training is hard for some, and suggest that we advocate for training that’s both formal yet less expensive. I’m interested in bringing the price down so that people very new to sailing will feel drawn to training, not turned off by the idea.
There are tons of less expensive options. I mentioned one in the post – sailing with people who post on websites such as crew exchanges or Facebook groups. Or sailing with friends. But there are things to be cautious of there too.
The reason many sail-training programs are so expensive, is because it is expensive to maintain a safe vessel, credentials, etc.
You could try a community sail program in dinghies to get the basics of sail trim – but thats now what we are talking about. The point of this post is in regards to voyaging where the stakes are higher.
I’m sorry, I thought you were insinuating that I was calling people a fool for not spending thousands on sail-traning. The reason I thought that was because you directly asked me that. Oh the woes of the written word! Always misleading. But now that we’ve cleared that up… 😉
Very good post.
We are new sailors, and we’ve set the bar quite high for ourselves. We bought an engineless wooden boat, you might have heard of her, Taleisin.
We’ve taken sailing lessons, we have plan’s A, B and C for most things. We choose our weather carefully. We get old salts to come out with us to help us and teach us. I’m also constantly reading old school sailing books to give me something to draw on when we’re practicing. Everything we do at the moment is just coastal stuff in known waters, over time our skill will built and we can venture further.
There’s inherent risk in everything, you have to manage that risk properly. A lot of people think we’re being foolish, but we’re actually very careful in what we do and we plan a lot.
Things still get “adventurous”, but we do try mitigate our risks as much as possible. Do keep in mind that if you remove all the risk you kill the experience. Risk is fine, but don’t be stupid about it.
I’m a huge fan and im going to offer some constructive criticism. Have you watched your video minimalism/small home at sea? Your article seems to condemn that video… It’s quite romanticized. The film presents you as someone who rather impulsively decided to sell everything and move aboard a tiny home at sea and learn as you go and everything is beautiful. No PFD or jack lines in some scenes…and no mention of you being a licensed captain with years of sail training and instructing and familiarity with the ocean. Butterflies and rainbows.
I totally respect what you are doing and find you and Ben to be truly and exceptionally inspirational. Hello Ocean, Morse Alpha, One Simple Question etc. just had to respond because you asked if you looked stupid when you started out. No, you appeared smart and driven but…self taught. And PFD optional.
Love the videos and articles. Keep up the great work!
Thanks for letting me know! Yes, at the time, I didn’t wear my PFD all the time. I know better now! That video was made years ago. People change! However, I didn’t even make that video. Someone else did, so it isn’t my video and I have little control over how they edit the interview. I hope that people who follow me learn that I do value training. While I did purchase my boat on a whim, sailing overall wasn’t a whim for me!
What’s wrong with buying a boat off of eBay??
Our first boat, never formally named but affectionally called “Yachtette”, was a 17 year-old West Wight Potter purchased sight unseen off of eBay for less than my camera (my other hobby) cost. I purchased it for one reason… I had heard that I could make enough mistakes to fill it completely with water and it would still float.
We loved it… and we hated it. But it got us started enough (after ASA 101 & 103) to realize we wanted to continue in the hobby with something bigger and continue our training. After a navigation course, a three-day instructional orientation to our new boat, and a couple of seasons under our belt, we’re hooked!
We have no intentions of “going to sea” (Raritan Bay is good enough for now), but do hope we can snag you for a refresher sometime.
By the way, the DVD was wonderful! (I hope you know that the menu system has some “issues” when played in a DVD player.)
Nothing wrong with buying a boat off Ebay – I was quoting someone. Congrats on the ASA 101 and 103! I appreciated your effort to get training. Perfect!
Your the first person that told us there was a problem with the menu. I hope you were able to watch everything. Maybe you had a bad DVD. If we hear more about this, I will contact the manufacturer. Thank you for letting me know!
It required multiple (and seemingly random) presses to navigate the extras. Sometimes trying to navigate reset the DVD. It’s a 3 year old Samsung player. We were eventually able to watch everything.
To me it all comes down to seamanship. I too often wonder the effect that YouTube and blogs are having on the sailing world. Social media are definitely popularizing and getting people interested in “living aboard”, but some of these folks are not learning anything about seamanship before setting sail. There are so a million different ways to be a “sailor”. Some are happy sitting on their leaky boat in Mexico, while others aim to circumnavigate via the Great Capes.
At the same time, I have several friends who are JUST getting into ocean sailing and want to learn from people who know what they’re doing and want to train the right way, but don’t necessarily know how. I will always refer these people to programs such as Morse Alpha or Andy & Mia at 59North and Paul at Modern Geographic. The best strategy is to build up a sailing resume gradually, as crew sailing with proper seamen before attempting to skipper your own vessel. Think of it as an informal “apprenticeship” program.
The comparison to aviation is an apt one, I think. The procedures and skills required in sailing a 30-40 ft. yacht across an ocean have a lot in common with what I know about checklists, mandatory and regular maintenance of critical systems, and built-in systems redundancy familiar to those in aviation. For example, I often relate to the aviation training mantra, “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate” meaning “first fly the plane, then think about navigation, then communicate with ATC/crew. This works for sailing too, when in challenging conditions, above all sail the boat, then navigate, then communicate.
The worlds of aviation and ocean sailing differ in that training and maintenance are legally regulated in the aviation world. If the aircraft hasn’t had its mandatory maintenance, then it’s not airworthy and cannot legally fly. There are similar regulations on the operator of the aircraft. We have relatively few legal limitations on us as mariners. We have to be self-regulating as a community. This is both a blessing and a curse.
Regarding certifications, I have to say that the pendulum swings the other direction as well. What I mean is that there are some people with seven different ASA and USCG certifications but almost zero relevant practical experience. This leads to over-confidence and dangerous on-water situations as well. I believe the Captain of the Bounty had his USCG 1600 Ton License when he decided to sail into Hurricane Sandy.
Calling a spade a spade, how many of the USCG “Captain” licenses require an on-water practical exam? How many of them equate to essentially paying a hefty fee and signing a piece of paper? This is where the RYA Oceanmaster credential wins, in my opinion. At least the RYA requires actual substance and both written and on-water examination before issuing the certificate. Also, the US Sailing Safety-at-Sea seminars instituted after the 1979 Fastnet are worthwhile and should be considered mandatory for offshore sailors.
At the end of the day, aspiring sailors are left to navigate (pun intended) this jungle of certifications and options. Your advice regarding asking a potential “instructor/captain” for a vessel survey and sailing resume is apt and I will keep recommending Morse Alpha, 59N, and Modern Geographic, and RYA Oceanmaster to my friends. Thank you for this post!
We have zilch regulations as recreational mariners – no credentials required, and no standards of care for the boat. However, in commercial sailing it is more like aviation. Ben and I learned to sail as professionals, so we always operate that way – even when we are sailing recreationally. It just makes more sense. I wish there were higher standards for recreational boats. Even cars have to have a yearly basic inspection, and a very simple driver license. Why not boats?!
In NJ, now that the jet skiers are killing themselves, you are required to take a 1 day “Safe Boating” course for anything over a dozen feet or with a motor.
The course is a joke, but slightly better than nothing.
Cracks me up to read this great post of yours, I just saw a youtube video today of a learner pilot crashing a helicopter he just bought, and having had no instruction…
Ignorance, arrogance, and boats sure can be a potent combination.
I wonder what you both, and the above commentors thought of All is Lost…
Great post Teresa! Laura and I learned from our sails on Rocinante! Caution, taking crew input, a conservative attitude towards the weather. With a nor’easter on our butts and hurricane Joaquin being indecisive, the dynamics of decision making, choosing a good harbour of refuge, and carrying on based on evidence and conversation… My take-aways
Nice Post… Spot on, and appropriate… You are apart of a breed of sailor I wish to identify myself. Appreciate both of your attention to details, passion and respect for the sea…
Thomas & Kelly
SY Explorar Conmigo
We have been living aboard our boat and sailing for the last 5 years.
I sometimes joke in our blog about my lack of abilities in sailing and how everyone else seems to be a better sailor. One of the reasons is because every day you are learning and you never stop.
Having said that I have been sailing since my early teens, have done all the recognised qualifications so someone thought I could sail a bit. I have also extended my knowledge with various sailing and other courses including advanced first aide, fire fighting and survival.
Was I qualified enough when I threw my wife and kids aboard and started sailing in the Atlantic….. No way.
It is a huge learning curve and every day you learn more.
After literally tens of thousands of miles am I qualified to teach others. Not at all. Teaching is just not about the hours or distances you have sailed.
We will carry on sailing, we will carry on learning but the main thing we have got now is a little bit of knowledge to know when not to sail and that is the most important thing you can have.
I am one of the aforementioned “youtube sailors.” I’m probably somewhere in the middle of the pack in experience – probably ~5000 miles at sea and near endless consideration of the subject of sailing, but haven’t crossed any oceans and certainly don’t consider myself an expert at any aspect of the sport. I’d like to weigh in here and provide some balance as it would seem that the majority of comments thus far have come from professional and/or highly experienced sailors.
On many points I agree with you whole heartedly. Respect for the elements, understanding what one does and doesn’t know, constant focus on precaution, training – all inarguably important. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn’t agree that these are positive things. Making training sexy and fun is also a laudable goal.
However, I think the sailing community as a whole is too precious about their activity. Sailors, while professing a desire to increase participation in the sport, also seem inclined to put up barriers to entry to newcomers.
When approached by a wannabe with palm trees twinkling in his eyes, the well meaning old salt tells the young dreamer that he needs to gain thousands of miles at sea and be well-versed in offshore storm tactics in order to take a 3-month cruise down the ICW and the Bahamas. While that experience would be fantastic for any sailor to have, should the wannabe stay at home? Should he even bother to buy an old Catalina 22 to day sail around Charleston Harbor if he’s going to need to invest five grand in training? Some of the comments here would suggest that he needs to lest he be a danger to himself or others. My guess, is that if he listens to the seasoned sailor, he won’t ever go sailing at all.
But the reality is that the basics of sailing are not that hard. There is a lifetime of nuance to be mastered, but safely cruising to the Bahamas or up and down the Lesser Antilles can be done on a lot less.
So while I’ve every single sailing publication in existence and many of the highly-competent professionals focus on the subject of training, safety, and seamanship, maybe it’s okay that a few young bloggers and youtubers present a different side of the sport in a public forum. Maybe it’s okay to show that sailing is fun and attainable and can be a lifestyle choice for the everyman. Maybe it will kindle a flame in the a few of the next generation of sailors. They certainly won’t have to search far before they encounter all the obstacles, so let them start with a hint at what the effort will bring.
It is fun and attainable! I don’t disagree there. I’m a Youtuber too! Yes – spread that message.
But also spread the message of safety through experience or training.
Throwing cation to the wind and setting sail on the high seas is risky. It is not praise worthy to go to sea and endanger yourself and others around you because you didn’t have the forethought to consider the risks, learn the skills, and take your time – like the person in the example I gave. I see it very very often. And they are praised for “following their dream.” I would rather place praise and support for those that follow dreams smartly and safely. It doesn’t necessitate a costly training expedition, but they do have to gain skill somehow. I think it is dangerous to assume you can just buy a boat and take off. It also requires skill – however attained.
I think we agree on most things and you are misunderstanding my message. I’m not against YouTubers, nor fresh sailors pursuing dreams. That is important. But placing safety on the back burner just to get out there asap is a problem.
Great blog post. Not to mention the proliferation of single-handed sailors. Joshua Slocum started something entertaining but essentially wrong. No vessel should be underway without an alert watch. Without an awake human being at the helm, the boat presents an unnecessary danger to the skipper and others.
Single-handed day sailing…just fine. Single-handed passage making…just wrong.
I think there is another part of this. Everyone wants that exciting picture / video and not the same old same old. People are doing more outrageous things to get noticed…to get the pic, the video, the story. To one up the last time they went out or another blogger they keep up with.
Training will help a fool, but how much? The problem here, in my opinion, is that we are talking about fools, not only naive enthusiastic sailors. I’ve seen fools going through training, and become trained fools, knowing how to trim their sails and tie a bowline but taking foolish decisions. On the other hand I see very well trained sailors not daring crossing an inlet because the cruising guide says it’s dangerous under certain conditions. Sometime caution and seamanship act as an anchor and a little foolishness becomes a blessing.
I am sure your Alpha Morse training program is worthwhile and enjoyable. It seems you have a lot of fun doing it and this is a clear sign of its effectiveness. Taking off on a boat requires multiple steps in the preparation, and training can be an effective way to boost this process. On the other hand it’s not the only or the necessary way. For instance another very effective way to improve your skills is to work in a boatyard. If you have the opportunity to do so it will teach you priceless lessons about sailing.
I did a complete sail training program to achieve qualifications for professional purpose. I did not regret it even though it was bloody expensive, it all came back in wages and life experience. Would I have done it if it wasn’t for work? Probably not that kind of training but I would have kept finding any opportunity to get on a boat and knock miles down and passages. For how good the training is, the Ocean is the true teacher, and spending time in it is the most effective way to learn.
For few fools that act stupidly and launch into the unknown I see a lot of newcomers attain their dreams following wise steps, taking risks and being ready to face consequences. Some seeks training, some are self taught. If sailing was like flying a helicopter, none of them would succeed. Luckily for us, it’s not like flying a helicopter, sailing is way easier and anybody can do it.
Even if I have safety training and seamanship skills I put it count that I may not come back when I set sail even if I use all the possible resources to avoid it. It’s very unlikely but it can happen. Anybody who would think otherwise is a fool.
Well said, Fabio … well said.
Thank you Paul!
Years ago one of my sailing friends had done quite a bit of delivery work. He was hired once by a couple in Seattle to Captain their brand new Yacht from Seattle to LA while teaching them how to sail the boat. This couple had saved for years and this was their retirement dream. Now having retired they purchased this brand new sloop, fitted her out and were ready for their around the world adventure.
They hit rough weather from Seattle to San Francisco. Had to go offshore a 100 or so miles to keep off the coast. The trip was so rough the owners spent most of the time down below sick as dogs. My poor friend was faced with sailing the boat almost singlehanded.
When they arrived in San Francisco bay the couple bounded off the boat and listed it for sale.
I just wish Youtube had been around back then. Would have been a great video. Just another reason to get a little experience under you belt before you set off.
More attention ought to be paid to the problems of wearing pfds without crotch straps… Plenty of info online including a study you can reference on pubmed. Also how many of these YouTube sailors have practiced crew overboard and actually lifting victim back to boat… A thought. How many have proper tools to sever harnesses or such? I am learning and am very surprised to understand these issues and related safety issues and how they seem to not be in mainstream of conversations — just among the true and experienced sailors. Thank you for this blog.
Thank you for posting this. I am 34. I grew up on lakes, yet as long as I can remember, it has been my dream to buy a sail boat and live out my early retirement. While this is still something I am passionate about (I have purchaed and restored SEVERAL) boats, I am still reluctant to sail them. My husband wants to be an idiot and dive right into it…im happy to see that SOMEONE out there is at least trying to help those “half cocked eager beavers.” Thank you for posting this!!!
The population on the planet has run amuck and you can’t cure stupid. So, while it is admirable that you are concerned for the fools, mother nature has a way to cull the heard. This is the way of things, nature’s survival of the fittest is a necessary element in life. It protects the gean pool from contamination. Mans attempt to prevent every death has left the world overpopulated with people. My wife and I at one point thought you should have to have a license to have children.
So yes, I agree, get some training…but those who don’t, and run afoul are destined to do the same in any other area of their life. They may get training, and become competent sailors, and still run a red light and get wiped out by a semi-trailer truck.
So don’t feel you led someone astray by allowing yourself to be filmed at one point without a PFD. It is obvious to most of us that you love what you do, promote an intelligent approach and offer opportunities to learn and grow…you are not, however, responsible for saving all the fools. Mother nature will decide if they should survive.
I presume that all these people commenting have taken numerous safe driving courses, wear nomex suits and crash helmets and check the inflation of their tires before driving to the grocery store, don’t smoke and exercise religiously.
That is so funny!
Of course they all have – only perfect people read this blog! And they all have completed their advanced needle-threading course, underwater knot-tying, and especially important they have genetically engineered opposable pinkies!
Thank you for illustrating the other extreme! So – the question remains, are they the superstar, the fool, or the grey area between?
Likely the fool (although I smoke roll ups like a trooper) but when it comes to recreational boating in the UK and further afield we are subject to national and international regs as you know. Sure training is not mandatory (unless commercial) but you’d be a fool to ignore it.
No court is going to listen to anyone that says they don’t know what a passage plan is or COLREGS. Not knowing is putting others at risk. Do it before you go to sea and make it easier on all by getting recognised training.
Having been in the military for 18yrs now, I can understand the need for training. Sometimes it seems stupid at times but in the end, it’s well worth the effort. It’s your life and the life of those around you at risk.
I bought an ASA book to read about how to sail, and while I can understand the concepts, I still wanted to take lessons to know what right looked like. I’ve sailed only a few times since buying my own Nor’sea, Rhapsody, but I’ve been working on fixing her for more time, I’ve been thinking to take ASA101 again for refresher.
My point in all this is, there’s always something new to learn. While much can be learned as you go, guidance from an instructor can propel your knowledge and experience. Many don’t realize just how much different skills go into proper handling of a boat. Especially a cruising vessel.
Who knows, maybe my skills will get me professional certifications too, some day.
Pingback: Six Things We Love About Our Norseman 447 | Sailing, Simplicity, and the Pursuit of Happiness
I must say, this post struck a chord. As a naive, young sailor I constantly question my own abilities. I’ve only been sailing for two years. I lived aboard and sailed a small boat with an excellent instructor for a year, I was a galley slave for a trans-Tasman crossing from Tonga to Nz. No, I may not have been the one to adjust the sails on the big crossing but I learned a hell of a lot about weather routing. I can’t even begin to mention everything I learned my year aboard someone else’s boat– costal navigation, anchoring, sail trim, heavy weather tactics, but I’m absolutely no expert–but everything that people I sail with do in order to keep their boat and crew safe, I think about.
I’m buying my first boat. It’s not as un calculated as buying one straight off ebay. I’ve been researching this type of boat for months, contacted the current owner at length, have a professional marine survey scheduled. Also, she’s located on a lake (a big one) and I plan to sail her my first season as a boat owner on said lake. I know things can get hairy on lakes the way they can out at sea, but I feel like I’m taking baby steps. I have a list of upgrades she’ll need right away, money set aside for said upgrades. She has a simple rig, is small enough in size to single hand. I want to eventually bring her to salt water, but not before the boat or myself are ready. And even then we would no way be attempting anything offshore. I could go on, but I like to think I am being cautionary. Rarely do I think about palms trees and tropical trade winds. I think about making sure my ground tackle is up to par.
If I wanted to pay for an expedition sailing course, I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy my boat! But, this post has inspired me to research a basic, low-level, ASA certification course…that can’t be too expensive!
It sounds like you are taking the right step – sailing with others a lot, taking it slow on your boat, considering formal training.
Taking formal training is ONE way, but not the only way. Still, you have to think of it as an investment. It could save you money in the long run – at least our training will because we talk about gear needs, maintenance, etc. and I assume many other trainings might as well.
Everything about sailing can be costly – maintaining a safe vessel, docking, etc. It isn’t a cheap sport, so don’t diminish your safety and preparedness by trying to cut costs – I don’t think you are doing that though. Based on what you said, you seem to be sensible, cautious, and working up your skills – not anything like the “fool” I’m writing about!
Keep doing what you are doing!
AW wow, thank you!!! I’d love to take your course some day and have definitely considered it before even reading this article. You’re right that cutting costs onboard is never a good idea and I need to remember that, ALWAYS.
Thanks for posting this! Personally, I’ve learned how to sail from my husband and working aboard tall ships and being around other sailors for the past 6 years. My husband owned a boat when we first met and was/is the captain so I have a safety net. I find it alarming when I know more about care for a vessel better than the sole captain of a boat. When I meet a captain who brags of their “sailing prowess” in adverse circumstances (engine not working, steering failing, etc.) I think ‘wow why don’t you maintain your engine or steering better?’ It’s great to be “off the grid” but technology has evolved to save lives and protect us…..ignoring that is definitely foolish and a personal pet peeve as you may see already. Secondly, living simply doesn’t equate to easy living… Anyways. Just wanted to drop a line and say thanks and I love what you’re doing!
YOU SAID IT!!!
I am relatively new to the sailing life, I live and work about 300 miles from the ocean in British Columbia, so I spend a lot of time (especially in the winter!) drooling over YouTube vlogs of people living my dream in the Caribbean.
In the meantime, I’ve slowly logged the nautical miles, and taken countless courses from very experienced sailors. In fact, this autumn I get to sail with your friend John Kretschmer, which I am very excited for! This is all leading up to the day when I do skipper my wife and kids away for a year at sea.
That said, I work in a profession (full-time firefighter) where everyday I get to see the truth that ignorance does not always result in bliss. I get so mad when I see people praising some online twit that has just “gone for it” and gotten lucky. Not many of them post videos about the professionals that have to risk their own necks to save them when things do go bad (and they do go bad!).
Great article, thanks for writing it!