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An article written by our staff and featured in The Charter Connection

by Ed
August 2006

You want to charter a bareboat but your sailing experience is a bit thin. If you are a beginner you need to start with a basic course at a sailing school or at least find a friend with a boat who can teach you. If you want to gain a broad range of knowledge, particularly with a view to owning your own boat, then by all means continue taking classes, but this is not actually the fastest way to get qualified to bareboat.

If you have the basic knowledge, but lack experience on the type of boat you wish to charter, the quickest way to qualify is to book a bareboat charter, but take a 'learn to sail' skipper supplied by the company. As long as the skipper feels you can handle the boat and leaves before the end of the charter, you can say you were in charge for the last few days and would be able to bareboat next time.

An additional advantage to qualifying this way, is that when you take that big step of casting off on your bareboat charter by yourselves, you will already be familiar with the bareboat company, the checkout procedure, the cruising ground and perhaps even the boat.

Bareboat companies know that an important part of learning to sail, is experiencing things going wrong, without an 'expert' on the boat to tell you what to do. Sailing schools, particularly when catering to adults and using keelboats, invariably have thier instructors on the yacht at all times, even for a 'bareboat certification' class. Like flying, any student will tell you that the first time alone is the biggest step in the process!

It is a little known fact, but even if you have worked through your classes and have your bareboat certificate, the bareboat company will still ask you to take a skipper if you cannot show additional experience sailing a boat that is close to the size you wish to charter, without instructors or experienced sailing friends aboard.

There are exceptions to this. A course such as Steve Colgate's liveaboard Caribbean program with The Moorings, is geared to qualify students for charter and the students do indeed spend the last day and night on their boat without an instructor .

In the early 80s we started a sailing school in Maine, to compliment our charter business. We found that, while you can learn the theory of sailing from a book, the practical side is really a process of making mistakes, seeing the results and learning how to avoid them. We found that husbands and wives always learned faster on separate boats for this reason - it is much easier to make a fool of yourself among strangers, also making mistakes. We could teach anyone to sail in a 5 day beginner course but the students that went on to charter or buy their own boats, soon found that the real test was when things went wrong - i.e. something jammed or broke at the wrong moment or conditions deteriorated or the boat in front of you did something foolish. Sailing experience comes from overcoming these things without someone at your elbow, helping you stay out of trouble.

It was always a wonderful moment, when, after practicing 'docking under sail' countless times with a new class of students, I quietly left the boat and cast them off. The initial look of terror changed to huge smiles, as one by one, each of my four students, in turn, sailed the 19' Cape Dory keelboat off the dock and back to a (normally) smooth landing. We sold the sailing school many years ago when the charter brokerage started to take up all of our time, but I have to admit, I enjoyed those summer days on the water, meeting new students, many of whom went on to buy their own boat or book a bareboat charter!

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  Ed Hamilton & Company
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