Choosing a Sailing School

Aids to navigation marking the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) display unique yellow symbols to distinguish them from aids marking other waters. Yellow triangles indicate aids should be passed by keeping them on the starboard (right) hand of the vessel. Yellow squares indicate aids should be passed by keeping them on the port (left) hand of the vessel. A yellow horizontal band provides no lateral information, but simply identifies aids as marking the ICW.There are many sailing programs in the Northwest, some great (some not so great), and the differences are usually in the details. Choosing sailing schools can be perplexing to many people.

While we take tremendous pride in our program, we appreciate that the “best” course is a professional program that meets your sailing goals. Below are a few points to keep in mind, based upon our 35+ years of teaching:

Consider the Instructor Qualifications

Whether on the water or in the classroom, the sailing instructor is the most important aspect of a sailing program.  A great instructor is trained in demystifying sailing topics, managing the course based on student progress and weather, and keeps everyone safe by avoiding dangerous situations.  The instructor needs to be licensed, certified and insured. Often, "hot shot" sailors don't make the best instructors, and neither do volunteers - a good instructor is an experienced, patient, steady and mature professional.

Established School v. "Guy with boat"

The school should be established with an experienced track record, accredited by industry associations, insured, and should offer students learning opportunities outside of the class. Often, clubs and charter companies offer the strongest programs as they're personally invested in your performance on their equipment.

Course Flexibility

Every student and class is different (weather is often a factor), and you're paying to learn to sail or skills at a certain level.  A strong sailing program empowers instructors to decide whether you're well-trained, whereas weaker programs limit (and enforce) a class to a certain number of hours.

Variety and Progression

A good sailing school offers multiple classes, progressively teaching you skills as your experience and confidence grows.

Sailboats Commensurate with Training Level

Older versus new sailboats doesn't matter nearly as much as training on equipment commensurate with the skills you're taught.  While learning to sail on big, new boats is fun - keep in mind that smaller sailboats often require different equipment, sailing skills and higher performance.

Certification Offered

There are many certification systems - NauticEd, US Sailing, RYA and ASA (American Sailing Association) - that set minimal standards for sailing instruction. When choosing a school, certification gives you confidence that minimal standards are met and your training is recognized.  NauticEd and RYA are international standards (US included), whereas US Sailing and ASA are primarily US standards.  However, certification is only one piece of a sailing program, and if looking to charter your sailing experience will be scrutinized above certifications.


A minimal standard among schools is to allow students to retake courses that do not meet your expectations.

Customer Service & Communication

You should feel comfortable communicating with the school and especially with regards to cancellation and rescheduling policies.   A good school will maintain a low student-to-instructor ratio, and so it's important for the school to have advanced notice of schedule changes.  Knowing the rules, as well as good communication, benefits both the student and the school.

References & Affiliations

A good school won't hesitate to offer you recommendations or note affiliated industry partners.  For example, Island Sailing students receive a "preferred" status at many NW chartering companies, which is a mark of the quality of instruction.