Tag Archives: education


Celestial Navigation for Sailors with Tom Tursi

Celestial Navigation seems to be something that only the old salts talk about as necessary. Why do we need to seek out the sun and the stars to helps us navigate? These days with GPS systems on our mobile devices we feel as if we can find our way with ease. Well, navigation has become more convenient; but what would you do if your electronics failed?

Celestial Navigation is not at all complicated considering all you need is the sun, a watch, a sextant, and a nautical almanac. Get a reading at noon of your location using the sun, a  watch to note the time, and a sextant. You’ll need a nautical almanac to get some more information, and you’ll be able to plot your location on your chart. 

Easy, right?

ASA asked Author and Sailing instructor, Tom Tursi of The Maryland School of Sailing & Seamanship to tell us about his book, Celestial Navigation for Sailors, and the importance of Celestial Navigation.

Celestial Navigation in this Age of Super Electronics

I am often asked the question: “Why are you still doing celestial navigation when you could just punch a few GPS buttons and have your answer? Presto!” One answer to that question is “In case the GPS fails.” But the real answer goes a lot deeper than that, something along the lines of “Why are we sailing this slow boat to Bermuda when we could fly commercially faster, cheaper, safer…”

We could fly, but we chose to sail. And why did we do that? Well, there are many answers to this question, but having sailed offshore with many different sailors for the past 30 years, I think the answer for most lies in the desire to escape from the high-octane world in which we live and work today. Get back to some basics. Use your hands to do things and your brains and good judgment to unravel mysteries. Overcome challenges. Marvel at the open sea. Meet a storm on terms dictated by Mother Nature.

It’s uncomfortable and intimidating at sea a lot of the time, but what a fantastic experience; what challenges; what memories! Sailing day and night, day after day, an entire week! Porpoise, whales, flying fish, Portuguese men of war, tuna, shark, Bermuda longtails… Beautiful sunsets, billions of stars, storm clouds, lightning, howling winds, brilliant sun, ponderous waves… Navigational challenges, passing ship lights, fishing trawlers, weather forecasts, distant radio emergencies, sonic booms… The Gulf Stream, uninterrupted sailing, miles deep, Sargasso weed, tropical waves, deepening low… Rhumb line, magnetic variation, landfall, rage sea, peace at last…

Celestial navigation at sea is an integral part of this experience. Back to basics. Pull it out from deep within. Remember your youngster days of learning something new and difficult and marveling that it actually works when given the time and patience to delve into details? A simple optical telescope, a clock and some reference tables. Focus on a star at the outer limits of the universe billions of light-years away; capture its now dim light and measure its angle above the earth’s horizon. From this, you determine your position on this seemingly endless sea using the methods of our forebears. 

ASA Offers Two Courses in Celestial Navigation:

ASA 107, Celestial Navigation
Learn the celestial navigation theory and practices for safe navigation of a sailing vessel in offshore waters. On-water celestial navigation skills elements are demonstrated in ASA 108, Offshore Passagemaking.

ASA 117, Basic Celestial Endorsement

Learn to apply basic celestial navigation theory and practice to determine latitude and longitude at sea using a sextant and Nautical Almanac.

ASA 107, Celestial Navigation

Celestial Navigation for Sailors, written by Captain Tom Tursi, a USCG Licensed Ocean Master with over 70,000 miles of blue water ocean sailing throughout the world in sailboats under 50 feet. This is a step-by-step instructional text, specifically directed at ocean sailors, covering the celestial theory, calculations and procedures needed for hands-on practical navigation at sea. It covers the Sun, Moon, Planets, Stars and the 2102D Star Finder in detail, plus the Log entries and Dead Reckoning (DR) procedures used to assemble the celestial lines of position (LOPs) into a useable ocean navigation process. It also includes sample calculations for all of the celestial bodies used for navigation, homework exercises and extracts from the Nautical Almanac and Sight Reduction Tables needed for these calculations.

Solutions to Celestial Navigation Questions is a companion book, also by Captain Tursi, showing detailed, step-by-step solutions to the homework exercises in Celestial Navigation for Sailors.

Interested in the Celestial Navigation book? Buy it from the Maryland School of Seamanship. These books are priced at $50 retail for the two-book set.

Parts of The Whole: Understanding Sailboats and Sailing – The Sails

It’s safe to say a sailboat is only as good as its sails when you consider that capturing the wind’s energy is the premise behind what sailors do to propel their boats in a forward direction. A good captain will trim those said sails to be as efficient as possible and the proper heading will help with overall performance, but the sail is the driving force of the boat.
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Parts of The Whole: Understanding Sailboats and Sailing – The Keel

The keel is a fixed appendage on the bottom of the hull that provides the sideways resistance needed to counter the force of the wind on the sails. The keel also carries ballast, usually iron or lead, the weight of which counteracts the force of the wind that causes a sailboat to heel, or lean over. On a modern boat, the keel is shaped in the form of an airfoil wing to generate lift, which helps it sail closer to the wind.

A keelboat is generally larger than 20 feet and can be as large as a megayacht at 200 feet. A boat smaller than 20 feet without a keel is referred to as a dinghy. A dinghy has neither a keel nor a ballast. To resist sideways movement it has a centerboard or a daggerboard that can be lowered or raised as needed.

Will This Sailboat Capsize?

Unlike a dinghy, a keelboat won’t capsize. In a strong wind, it may heel a long way over, but the ballast in its keel is designed to keep it from capsizing. In a dinghy, to resist heeling you would use live ballast – the crew sitting out on the edge of the boat to counter the effect of the wind.

Smaller keelboats are often used in sailing instruction as these boats are small and responsive enough to provide the new sailor with the feel and feedback important when learning, but big and stable enough to carry an instructor and students in comfort.

Learning to Sail in the Florida Keys

Sailing In The Keys

Let’s go straight for the cliches and talk about the Conch Republic and a salty life and toss in flip-flops while you are at it. In a world away from everywhere the Florida Keys stands out as an outpost for the rest of us. The Florida Keys calls to people who would rather disregard responsibility and embrace the sensibility of not being sensible.

In other words, if you fantasize about boat life or you just want to spend time near the water, the Keys might be calling you. If you want to learn how to sail there are quite a few places in the Florida Keys where ASA courses are taught and where you can combine a getaway with enhancing your sailing education.

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The More You Know, the More Fun Sailing Is!

sunset sailingA wise man or woman once said, knowledge is power. Nowhere is this truer than in sailing, where the more you learn, the more worlds of sailing fun are opened up to you.

Like most things in life, the key to success is a good education. Courses from an ASA sailing school are designed to be thorough and enjoyable, and to leave you feeling confident on the boat. Each level expands your comfort zone, beginning with basic boat handling and continuing with coastal cruising and eventually offshore, blue-water sailing! How far you go depends on your goals and dreams as a sailor.

Often the biggest obstacle a new sailor has to overcome is not the weather or the waves, but the feeling of being overwhelmed and not sure of themselves. The more training you have, and the more time you spend on the water, the more your confidence will grow.

Take the example of Karen, who put off learning to sail for years due to uncertainty about her ability, instead telling herself she would do it “someday.” But, Karen says, she realized that “someday may never come, and if I was going to do the things I wanted to do then now was the time. Tomorrow was no guarantee. So I contacted an ASA school in Panama City Beach, FL and signed up for my lessons.”

Karen continues: “Where do I begin to explain what sailing has done for me? When I was sailing, I didn’t think about anything or anyone. No problems, no work, just me and the boat and the water and wind and all of mother nature. I felt one with the boat. I felt like I was home! It put a smile in my heart and on my face. I always want to sail, there is so much to learn and do, I will never be bored.”

Karen told me that getting a quality sailing education “completely changed [her] attitude about life.” She has plans to continue taking ASA courses and is only having more fun as she learns. Stories like these are the reason we do what we do. One of the best things about these courses is that they can be fantastic sailing adventures in themselves. Many of our schools are located in, or teach classes in, the Caribbean and other exotic locales. That means you could combine a wonderful tropical vacation with a chance to make huge strides in your sailing skills!  Learn to sail near you, or look at our list of schools outside the U.S. to find out more.

If you want to learn to sail the right way, and have a great time doing it, ASA courses are for you. You can even get started online, with our instructive and fun e-course, Your First Sail. We can’t wait to see you out there on the water!

ASA launches learn to sail online system with “Your First Sail” course

your first sailStepping aboard a sailboat for the first time takes courage. The new sailor is entering a floating world where there are new rules, and even, in some cases, a new language. What happens when someone asks you to ease the main sheet, or calls out “helms-a-lee?” Well, you don’t have to be unprepared when that moment comes! Before you hit the water, you can begin to learn to sail online.

The American Sailing Association is taking its dedication to quality sailing education to a new level, launching its eLearning system and the brand new course, Your First Sail.

Who is this course for?

If any one of the following describes you, this course is for you!

  • I have never been sailing.
  • I’ve been sailing a couple of times as someone’s guest, but I couldn’t tell you the difference between a close tack and a broad reach.
  • I’m not interested in taking a sailing class at this time, but I would like to know enough to be helpful on a sailboat.
  • I’ve enrolled in a basic sailing class, but I’d like to get a solid head start before my first on-the-water lesson.

After completing this course, you’ll understand how a sailboat works, the common commands used to steer one and some basic sailing terminology. You’ll not only get the most out of your time on the water, but also be able to actively participate in the magic of sailing!

The course is a primer for ASA 101 (Basic Keelboat Sailing), covering topics such as the parts of a boat, wind direction, points of sail, and more. It even addresses what to wear and how to board the boat! Despite its thoroughness, this self-paced course only takes around 30-45 minutes to complete, and is full of interactive diagrams, videos, and pictures to keep the learning fun.
your first sail boat diagram
The course has only been live for a couple of days, but rave reviews are already coming in:

“It was extremely informative and I really enjoyed it. I was very impressed with the eCourse; every detail flowed together smoothly. I now feel that the next time I go out with friends sailing I can participate and help now that I know the basics. I learned a great deal in a relatively short time, for a basic course I feel it was GREAT!! Thank you for the opportunity to further my boating education and I look forward to sailing with my friends!” -T.W.

So don’t let yourself or anyone you know miss out on a lifetime of enjoyment in the sport of sailing. Check out Your First Sail, and when you take that first courageous step onto a boat, you’ll be doing it with confidence. Click here to get started!