What to Expect – The ASA 101: Basic Keelboat Sailing Class from Sailing Florida Charters & Sailing School

You’re a little nervous, but you’re also excited. You’ve sailed a few times before and absolutely loved it, but felt like you didn’t understand everything that was going on. You’re a little worried that you haven’t read the entire book, but you know you’re a quick learner. You’re wondering how much experience everyone else has in your 4-person class.
Relax! . . . You’re going to have a great time in your American Sailing Association (ASA) 101 Basic Keelboat certification class from Sailing Florida Charters. Rest assured, after two days, you’ll have the vocabulary, knowledge, and the basic skills to sail a small keelboat with other sailors. And you’re going to meet some wonderful people who all have the same goal as you do – learn how to be safe and have fun while sailing.
Sailing Florida Charters takes pride in their excellent staff and sailing captains who want to teach others how to enjoy sailing. Each ASA 101 class is based upon a strict set of standards of what’s to be taught in the course, yet each instructor is expected to be flexible in their approach, based upon your needs and the needs of the others in the class.
With that said, here’s the outline of a typical ASA 101 – Basic Keelboat Sailing class at Sailing Florida Charters:
Your instructor, an ASA-certified instructor and United States Coast Guard-certified captain, will have contacted you prior to the class to discuss the weather forecast, how that could affect the structure of the class, and what you should be sure to bring. Water and sunscreen are the biggies . . . and lunch, a light jacket, and your ASA 101 Sailing Made Easy book are always good ideas. Yes, reading the book before the class will make the class easier and give you more time to relax at the end of the day.
On most days, you’ll park on 5th Avenue in front of the Vinoy Marina; on weekends and holidays, the road may be blocked off for St. Petersburg’s popular events, yet it’s easy to park in the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel’s parking garage for a small fee.
There’s only one entrance to the marina, give the front gate a big tug (it’s a strong magnet!), say hello to the dock master, and have a seat at the picnic tables to the right of the gate.
Around 9:00, once everyone is present, it’s down the dock to set foot on your classroom for the next two days. The ASA 101 class at Sailing Florida is taught on a 31-foot to 35-foot boat, such as our Hunter 31 – Knot Now, Catalina 309 – It’s About Time II or our Catalina 350, Comfortably Numb. After passing your gear safely to one of your teammates, you can stow your lunch in the boat’s refrigerator, finish putting on your sunscreen, and take a seat with your new friends in the cockpit.
The class will usually start with a description of everyone’s past experiences on boats, what they’re expecting to learn in the class, and what their long-term goal is – buying your own boat, chartering in the BVI’s, sailing on a friend’s boat, or any other dream you have on the water. Your Sailing Florida Charter captain will explain your schedule for the next two days and answer any questions.
Generally, the first day comprises of learning basic sailing vocabulary, including parts of the boat and the terms used to communicate with your fellow sailors. If you’re taking the class with a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse, this will be one of the most important parts of the class – having the same language takes the mystery and potential stress out of the sport.
Next, you’ll learn the basic knots necessary to feel safe and comfortable on the water. There are six basic knots that every sailor should know – the figure-eight knot, the square knot, the bowline (pronounced “beau – linn”), the round turn and two half hitches, the clove hitch, and the cleat hitch.
Decide that you’re going to learn the names of the knots and how and why you tie each one, darn it . . . and you’ll be on your way to becoming a good sailor. You’ll be happy if you consistently focus on the basics, and knot-tying is definitely one of the basics.
Then again, Captain Patrick always says, “If you don’t know your knots . . . just tie lots!” Ha!
There are many items that you’ll want to inspect on your boat, including the Coast Guard-required equipment . . . and that’s your next task – PFD’s for each sailor, a throwable PFD, fire extinguishers, flares, a sound signaling device, registration, and a check of the navigation lights.
Lunch is next – either with a bag lunch or a quick run to a local eatery, then back to the dock to get ready to set sail.
The afternoon begins with a quick summary of the vocabulary needed to sail the boat, including the different directions that the wind hits the boat (‘points-of-sail’), and the two different ways to turn the boat through the wind – tacking and jibing.
We discuss how to leave the dock using the dock lines, and off we go, your captain navigating you out from the dock and then handing you the helm.
All of the monohull sailboats at Sailing Florida Charters have in-mast furling mains, with the larger main sail rolling inside at the end of the day. We discuss how to properly arrange the boat to the wind and pull them out of the mast. Unwinding the working jib is next and now you’re sailing.
That first afternoon, you’ll sail the boat straight at different angles to the wind, learn the correct language to use with your other crew members, and how to turn the boat, using proper commands. You’ll learn how to roll both sails up and prepare for docking.
Back at the dock, you’ll discuss plans for the next day. Always a good idea to review and discuss the class, that evening and the next morning, reviewing the new vocabulary, the basic sailing concepts, and the names of the knots. The reviews in the book are an excellent way to acquaint yourself to sailing quickly.
The next day reinforces what you learned the day before and prepares you for the written test, with the schedule varying depending on the weather. You’ll review vocabulary, knots, points-of-sail, tacking, and jibing.
On the water you’ll practice your new sailing skills and perform 27 different sailing skills, including how to pick up a crewmember should they fall overboard, by practicing with the throwable PFD.
After a quick review of key points, at some point throughout the day you’ll take the written multiple choice test – a great way to reinforce your new sailing knowledge.
At the end of the day, your instructor will sign your ASA logbook – it’s official that you’ve passed your ASA 101 Basic Keelboat certification class. You’re now ready to sail and crew with others, and prepared to develop your skills as you learn how to charter and sail your own keelboat.
You’re now ready for your next certification class, ASA 103 – Coastal Cruising.