Captain Cam Seamus from Harbor Sailboats in San Diego California shared a few tips about the journey to taking ASA 104 Bareboat Cruising Made Easy and eventually going on your first Bareboat Charter Sailing Vacation.
So, you’ve realized that it’s time to pursue your dream to bareboat charter – chartering boats without a licensed captain. Fortunately, the American Sailing Association has laid out three courses to help realize that dream: ASA 101, 103, and 104. Will you be ready to charter a bareboat once you finish the courses? Yes, and no. Yes, you will have the certifications that will on paper qualify you for the charter; no, you may not be ready and that depends on your experience.
I’ve noticed consistently with students at every level that they have not developed the confidence necessary to skipper a boat full of people even after they pass the class. Confidence comes with time and experience, and a weekend class should be viewed as the first step to gaining experience, not the last. While some schools set time on water requirements between courses, others do not. These are often available in combination courses that allow you to “get certified” quickly. There is a difference between the ability to successfully perform a task in class versus repeating that same task under new and difficult conditions – that takes time.
So how much time should someone dedicate to each level of instruction? Harbor Sailboats in San Diego requires “4-6 sails or 24 hours on boats 22′-25′ as skipper of record” in addition to passing 101, before someone is ready for 103. They have a similar requirement for 104, “4-6 sails or 80 hours on boats 28′-37’.” As an instructor, I support these requirements because students have a stronger foundation.
Here are a few suggestions for your bareboat certification journey:
- Commit to a timeframe. Let’s say you want to charter a boat in the British Virgin Islands, but you still need to get your certifications. Start with ASA 101. Commit to sailing a minimum of two times per month on your own and try to find opportunities to crew with others. After sailing regularly for a few months, take ASA 103, continue with your sailing as weather permits and take 104 the following year. Continue to put in time on the larger boats, and then start to plan your charter!
- Leave your ego at home. Sailing is a journey of lifelong learning. When I began the process of becoming an instructor, I’d already sailed for over thirty years; it’s hard to believe how much I didn’t know. Being around boats, or even crewing, is not the same as running the boat. Bring an attitude of humility and a desire to learn.
- Share what you are learning with others: There is no faster way to cement knowledge than to share it with others. Teaching forces us to recall and repeat the details of the subject, and that reinforces our learning. Teach your spouse, your kids, or anyone who will put up with you.
- When you can’t sail – keep learning: Read books, watch videos, and read magazine articles. It’s a big body of information – keep consuming it.
- Solicit feedback from instructors and crew: Did I maintain a calm demeanor (an especially important trait for a skipper)? Am I communicating instructions clearly? Is everyone enjoying themselves? Those may sound like silly questions, but stress often causes people to be abrupt, loud, and sometimes intolerable. Stress in sailing is usually the result of a lack of experience, so be mindful of this and moderate your behavior. Be a duck – calm on the surface, paddling hard underneath the water.
- Build a formal sailing résumé: Keep a detailed record of every vessel you sail on. As a base for what information to capture, I suggest you use the U.S. Coast Guard form for Sea Service (Small Vessel Sea Service Form), and have the skipper sign it. If you ever decide to become a licensed Captain, you will thank me for that advice. Then take that information and place it in chronological order on your résumé to include date, boat name, boat size, type (Mono, Cat), your position (skipper, deck hand, etc.), location, days underway. Put all of your certifications at the top and ask your club operations manager if you can list their phone number as a reference.
- Build your sailing network: Develop contacts and stay connected with them. This will expand your ability to sail with your network and help you stay motivated.
- Consider adding ASA 105 to your own “requirements”: People think that chart navigation is irrelevant because GPS is so accurate and widely available. Heck, we navigated from Panama to the French Marquesses using an iPhone loaded with Navionics. We also had a total of three phones, one tablet, a computer, a sat phone with GPS, a Garmin GPS, a sextant, and an ocean chart (referred to as a sailing chart). Electronics are great until they don’t work. I always chart my position at regular intervals, so that if everything quits, I can at least dead reckon.
- Try to get heavy weather experience: If you have the opportunity to sail in stronger winds with an instructor or experienced skipper – take advantage of it. It might mean flying to a location such as the San Francisco Bay for one of your ASA courses.
- Take additional ASA courses: I’d strongly recommend ASA 118 Docking, and ASA 119 Marine Weather. One course to consider prior to running your own bareboat is ASA 106. This course is sometimes offered as a week-long trip where you can do some ocean sailing and see some cool places (ours went to Bimini in the Bahamas). These courses will help build your skills and confidence. I’ve noticed that docking is the single biggest stressor for many sailors, and even for us captains once in a while!
This list gives you some ideas on how to round out your sailing experience. Having a solid foundation, along with your ASA certificates, will allow you to feel comfortable when you are the one responsible for the safety and welfare of your crew. You’ll be more confident and relaxed, and your crew (or family), will thank you for it.
About the author:
Cam Seamus developed a love of boats and the sea at an early age, growing up in Dana Point, California. After working as a corporate executive, he went on to become a licensed captain and sailing instructor who worked for several years in the yachting industry. His work as a sailboat captain contributed to his memoir, Two Years Behind the Helm, and his first novel, The Captain. Cam has sailed all over the world and crossed oceans, but he is always happy to return home to San Diego. He is a proud veteran of the United States Marine Corps.