Expand Your Horizons with Adult Learn to Sail

By Katherine Stone

Go places, find new friends, live better!

Growing up our dad had a beautiful wooden Knarr and when he could no longer get his daughters to sand and varnish the hull, he bought a new Islander 36. I have fond memories of sailing with Dad, however, none of his daughters was ever allowed to take out the boat without him. Thankfully he purchased an Albacore for his girls to sail… and race. My sisters and I campaigned that boat all over Lake Erie and the Niagara River. So, when sitting down to write this article on Adult Sailing, I realized that we had been fortunate enough as young girls to attend sailing school during the summer at our sailing club. Girls were never allowed to helm when I went to sailing school, but I did learn to race, not only through the sailing school program, which I later ended up running, but from other sailors. Having the Albacore allowed us to helm for each other and make our own decisions out on the water. With Dad’s help, we learned how to care for and maintain the boat. When I got older, I purchased my own Laser and then a J/24. The J/24 is where I really learned how to prepare the boat to race, learned the rules and honed my racing tactics – all from other sailors. Now that I own a cruising boat, we have had to learn about a whole new set of systems, electronics, navigation and winterizing the boat. Thank heavens for other sailors who can always be found to offer advice or a helping hand, not to mention all the videos on Google!

Where to start

So where does an adult, new to sailing start to “learn the ropes” about sailing, cruising and/or racing? Well, the best place to start is your local sailing club. There are over 300 recognized sailing schools in Canada, of which 175 are members of Sail Canada (SC). It is important to do some research, as not all of them offer adult classes and some do not have certified Sail Canada instructors. Fortunately, most sailing clubs allow non-members to take lessons and then when they get “hooked” are encouraged to buy their own boat and join a club.

Chalk talks on land are a big part of all sailing courses.

The Sail Canada (SC) programs are delivered with the support of Provincial Sailing Associations, member clubs, and other organizations across Canada. These programs range from CANSail dinghy, windsurfing, keelboat, cruising, powerboat to navigation. In order for these organizations to offer SC-programs, the courses must be taught by current SC certified instructors at the appropriate level. Their training system is recognized internationally by World Sailing, charter companies and nationally by the Canadian Coast Guard, providing significant proof of sailing competency. ASA (American Sailing Association) also has these same types of courses that are recognized internationally.

Why learn to sail?

So, why learn to sail? As you will soon find out, it’s not only a sport, it is a way to enjoy time on the water to get away from it all, be with family and friends, but most importantly it is a lifestyle. You will learn new skills, make new friends, gain confidence in your abilities, and test yourself to go beyond your comfort zone with new adventures. You might even find that it will become your best tonic to deal with stress. I know that the list and suggestions that I am going to offer will only touch the surface, but at least they might get you going by investing some time in a beginner sailing school.

Learning the art of loading a winch on a Colgate 26 before hitting the water.

These schools offer everything from Adult Learn to Sail in dinghies to keelboats, navigation, PCOC, VHF Marine Radio, marine electronics to cruising courses.


Prince Edward Island – Charlottetown YC, Sail PEI and Waveskills

Newfoundland            – Royal Newfoundland YC, Sea School of Newfoundland

New Brunswick           – Rothesay YC

While sailing, everyone takes a turn at all the positions.

Nova Scotia                  – Cape Breton Sailing School (docking course), Bedford Basin YC, Nova Sail (offers International Certificate of Competence required to charter in Europe)

QUEBEC                         – Beaconsfield YC, Royal St. Lawrence YC, Pointe-Claire YC (offers ladies only course)

ONTARIO                     – Gone Boating Adventures (Toronto), Georgian Bay Sailing Coach, Advantage Boating (Ottawa & Kingston), Adventure Sailing Plus (Penetanguishene), Harbourfront Centre Sailing and Powerboating (Toronto), Port Dover YC


Manitoba                    – Gull Lake YC and Sailing School, Gimli YC

Saskatchewan             – Saskatoon SC (Redberry Lake)

Alberta                        – Ghost Lake Sailing Academy, Wild Rose Charters Sailing School, Northern Alberta Sailing College (Edmonton & Wabamun), Glenmore SS (offers women only)

Navigation skills are a key component to the Basic Cruising Course.

BRITISH COLUMBIA     – Nanaimo Yacht Charters & Sailing, Simply SS (offers International Yacht Training on Granville Island), Island Cruising Yacht Charters and SS (offers SC, ASA and IYT in Sidney), Bewley Sailing (Vancouver), Tula Sailing (North Saanich), Rocky Point Sailing Assoc (Port Moody)

The CANSail program as well as the Start Keelboat Sailing and Basic Cruising Standards cover a variety of topics and skills including: ashore knowledge, weather, safety, gear/equipment, duties of the skipper and crew, seamanship, rules of the road, Canadian Regulations and use and position of sails to provide propulsion. This website lists all of the Sail Canada sailing schools in Canada. www.sailing.ca/sailing-schools

Should you want to make a holiday while taking a course you might want to consider Steve and Doris’s Offshore Sailing School which operates out of the British Virgin Islands and the Gulf Coast of Florida. With a variety of USSA and IPC (International Proficiency Certification) courses taught in the Colgate 26 keelboat, 43-50’ monohulls or 40-45’ Catamarans you can book a time slot of 3, 6 or 8 days to suit your schedule and skill level. The number of courses is astounding with live-aboard cruising, coastal/offshore passage making, maneuvering in tight quarters, coastal/celestial navigation, power cruising and many more.

Women only courses can certainly boost your confidence.

The Barefoot Offshore Sailing School (BOSS) operating out of St. Vincent also has a variety of course offerings with ASA or Sail Canada certification. Taking their high-level one or two-week courses will take you beyond these standards and cover skills such as advanced anchoring, navigation, night passages, sail trim, spinnaker handling, cruise planning and heavy weather tactics.

Want to stay in Canada? You may wish to look at Island Cruising located in Sidney, BC. Using extended coastal/offshore passages on mono-hulls or catamarans they operate 50 nm off the Pacific Northwest to the Panama Canal. With certification courses under ASA, ISPA or Sail Canada, you will cover skills such as night passages, offshore first aid, vessel preparation, watch-keeping, weather window planning, emergency procedures and abandon ship protocols.

Maybe you aren’t into cruising and just want to be able to improve your racing skills by learning more “go fast” sailing techniques such as how to tweak sail trim, tactics, rules, reading the wind and honing your starts. A graduate of the Offshore Sailing School in the Florida course put it simply by saying, “It was the most challenging and satisfying week. We came away feeling deeply ‘grounded’ in our knowledge of better sailing techniques. And setting the spinnaker was a blast. A fantastic week!”

Zest sailboats are a great learn to sail boat – even for adults.

Want something closer to home? You will be sailing on the waters of Lake Ontario with the National One-Design Sailing Academy on Flying Tigers based out of Oakville, Ontario, but also with certified travelling instructors in Hamilton, Barrie, Kingston and Toronto. They specialize in building your confidence, tackling your anxiety, and improving your mark roundings – all to make you a better racing sailor.

Remember that there are adult courses offered at most sailing clubs as well as the ones I have listed here. There are some websites below to get you started. Whatever you choose, you will be able to find a course that suits your time schedule, skill set and aspirations so that you can enjoy getting out on the water to sail, which just might become your new lifestyle.




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