Learn to Sail
Like other youth sports and activities sailing is meant to be fun, empowering, and social. Sailing offers a unique medium to teach more than just practical skills. Sailing can offer calm moments of feeling connected to nature, along with excitement and adventure. Adversity and challenges along the way provide many opportunities for personal growth and team work.
Sailing is easy to learn, but hard to master. Indeed people have spent their whole lives trying to master it, or branching out into related activities like kite boarding or windsurfing. Sailing is as much a lifestyle as it is a sport, one which you will be able to enjoy for your whole life or with your entire family. Your child might decide they want to be an Olympic sailor, or they may be content using their knowledge for cruising around Puget Sound. The skills learned in a small sailboat are transferable to all other forms of sail powered craft. Often the greatest reward in sailing are the intangible lessons it teaches you about yourself.
Where to Sail
There are about fifty different organizations that teach small boat sailing classes in Washington and Oregon. Sailing classes are taught by a variety of different organizations. Some are entirely volunteer based, while others employ year-round professional staff. Historically yacht clubs were the hub of youth sailing activities. That's shifting however with community based sailing programs now being offered through parks and rec departments, local independent sailing centers, or as extensions of larger non-profits.
Community Sailing vs. Yacht Clubs
When it comes to Learn to Sail classes, community sailing programs and yacht clubs have a lot in common. Just like community sailing programs, most yacht clubs offer youth junior sailing classes that are open to the public, though yacht club members may receive a discounted price. Because most instructors are trained by US Sailing, the activities, curriculum, and quality of instruction is similar between yacht clubs and community based programs.
After "Learn to Sail" is where you'll notice the biggest difference. Historically yacht clubs have tended to focus more on racing and competition. Only a small minority of community based programs offer competitive summer race teams, although a growing number are now also supporting high school sailing teams during the school year. Your child can have a great experience at either a community based or yacht club program. The key to any outstanding program is that it's safe, fun, and that the students are learning.
Large vs. Small Programs
The largest programs in our area each serve nearly 1000 kids annually. Programs like Willamette Sailing Club, Seattle Yacht Club, and Sail Sand Point are some of the largest around. These programs employ over a dozen staff members and instructors each year during peak season. They also employ year round professional staff and offer programming in the off season. Larger programs are usually able to offer a wider variety of courses because of the resources available to them.
Smaller programs are much more common and can also offer outstanding instruction. Often smaller programs are more affordable, largely because they rely more on volunteers. With fewer students, class sizes are usually smaller and more intimate. These programs often have strong ties to their area, since they may be geographically isolated from more populated areas. This often creates a warm feel and strong sense of community. You'll often find multiple generations working together and mentoring new sailors at these smaller programs.
Cost and Scholarships
Learning to Sail is not expensive, or at least no more so than any other day camp, recreational class, or club sport activity. Community sailing centers are generally a little more affordable. For a 40-hour course, the cost is typically around $300-400. When you break that down, most programs cost between $7.50-$10.00 per hour of class time. That's cheaper than a baby sitter! It's hard to make the argument that youth sailing is elitist when you compare it to other youth activities and camps.
Many community sailing programs and yacht clubs offer scholarships for sailors to attend class. The criteria vary from program to program, but most believe that financial circumstance is no reason to miss out. In support of this, The Sailing Foundation grants scholarships for youth sailors in Washington and Oregon who qualify for the Free/Reduced Lunch Program.