Spring boating education opportunities

Dinghy sailing at the Center for Wooden Boats

Dinghy sailing at the Center for Wooden Boats

Although the weather has been brilliant for the past week or so in the Pacific Northwest, we’re still in that little interval we have every year between the end of the monotonous winter rains and the beginning of true and glorious summer, with long days, predictable northerlies, and pretty white clouds instead of lumpy gray ones.

Which means it’s the perfect time to brush up on your boating skills locally before you have the opportunity to go and embarrass yourself on that first trip through the Locks on Opening Day.

And there are a lot of options for your locally if you’re interested in getting some training or education in nautical matters.

United States Power Squadrons have been the go-to resource for boating education for the past 100 years. Despite the name, most of their courses cover general seamanship and nautical skills, and are not specific to power boats. There are squadrons scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest, so it’s generally easy to find one close to where you are.

A consolidated site showing each of the local Power Squadrons and listing their upcoming classes can be found here.

If you don’t need the training, you can also take advantage of their free program, offered in cooperation with the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, to perform vessel safety checks. No matter how experienced you are, everyone can benefit from a second set of eyes going over their safety equipment and vessel condition.

Also in the “free” column is a new effort that Seattle’s Fisheries Supply is in the process of building up: Fisco University brings in vendor representatives from various suppliers to make presentations to staff and customers and answer questions about their products. Not only is it free, but they will feed you lunch!

The schedule for this year is still in flux and nothing is posted on the company’s website, but you can check the calendar at the store, or get more information by subscribing to their email list.

If sailing and time out on the water are what you are after, two local non-profits offer a variety of classes for kids and adults alike. Sail Sand Point focuses entirely on sailing, teaching in classes or private lessons on everything from dinghies to keelboats, in locations from their Magnuson Park home base, to Kirkland, to Shilshole Bay.

Sailing at Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union

Sailing at Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union – (Photo by Steven Johnson, some rights reserved)

The Center for Wooden Boats only sails on Lake Union, but they also have a broader variety of educational programs available, from sailmaking to varnishing to casting bronze. As an added bonus, if you are taking a sailing class (and like Sail Sand Point, they offer both regular courses and private lessons), you’ll probably be learning in a well-maintained, classic wooden boat… nothing gets you into the spirit of things like zipping along in a traditional sailing dinghy.

Yacht clubs also often offer educational opportunities, for members and non-members alike.
Seattle Singles Yacht Club is offering a three-day basic keelboat class on May 6, 13, and 20 between 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. at the Mountaineers facility in Magnuson Park. No previous boating experience is required; the cost is $60. You can sign up online.

This may improve your odds of finding a life-long sailing partner, but impair your ability to pay attention in class; you decide if it’s worth the trade-off (if you’d like to separate the partner-finding from the skills-building, you can always go to the SSYC dance at China Harbor on April 14th and take care of that before going to the class).

If you are north of the border, yacht clubs and private schools seem to be the primary option for sail training; BC Sailing serves as an umbrella organization listing different organizations offering education throughout the province. And SALTS, the organization that runs the iconic Pacific Swift and Pacific Grace tall ships, is another holistic option for younger folks.

Of course there are many private businesses in the Puget Sound region that offer individual training and classes also; you can find a good list, with links to their websites, at the American Sailing Association website here.

Whatever it is you want to learn more about, there’s someone out there who can teach it to you!

3 Responses to Spring boating education opportunities

  1. Mike Brough April 11, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    Thanks for the email Scott, I did not think an insult was intended,

    I however take a bit different tack on “Education” and would not push one group above or below another based on the longer BS&S class, of which the Aux only offers a few times a year now and I suspect the PS also only does a few times a year.

    The Aux has taught the longer BS&S class at the Ballard Maritime Acad. in the past. A class of 12 was considered a large class, the BS&S is about 35 hours over several weeks. Takes more of a dedicated student for several weeks against a student that has very limited time and wants to bring their entire family to a class.

    As part of the Public Events I help at, I talk each year to several hundred people about taking a Boating Safety Class (this year everyone born Jan 1, 1955 and later and operating a boat with a motor of 15 hp or more needs to have a Washington State Boaters Ed. Card) – and I can verify that even a one day class of about 8 hours is a tough sell – “can’t you do it in less time (the state dictates the class content), how about a quick test online, how about getting my buddy to take the class and on and on.

    The Aux made the decision to teach more of the shorter ABS classes a few years ago, not without a vigorous debate inside the Aux, sometimes bordering on the physical (some instructors got hot under the collar about the short class) – the shorter ABS class meets the state requirements, we wanted people to be able to take a class that was close to their home or work. That is why you will find almost 30 classes in the Puget Sound area listed ( http://cgaux.org/boatinged/class_finder/index.php ) for the Aux and looking at the schedule, there will be more classes this year

    yes it would be nicer to have more of the longer classes, some of the Flotillas do supplement the ABS class with half day class on charting, tides and currents.

    then there is the people that walk the boat launch ramps, the contact time there is one or two minutes while giving out literature to the boaters & covering some basics (wear your life jacket, have a sober driver, take a safe boating class and have a lookout and be alert, and Puget Sound is COLD!!) – while that is a very short “education” whatever you want to call it, but what if that short talk caused someone to be safer and not T-bone your boat when you were out sailing? Is that “education” or not?

    As part of the public events that I helped with last year I gave a short pitch (wear your life jacket, have a sober driver, take a safe boating class and have a lookout and be alert, and Puget Sound is COLD!!) to I think over 1,000 people – did I save any lives? Not really a clue, I would like to think I helped a few people a bit, Will I keep educating people even if it is just a few minutes? yes, been doing this for around 20 years now, not sure that I would know how to stop.

    My web site is another little bit in the education link, is showing someone how to properly tie on a fender safety & Education? What if the fender did not fall off in the main fairway of the Shilshole Marina, so the boat operator did not get confused doing the fender recovery maneuver and did not hit the breakwater or another boat, in that case I would argue that the proper fender knot was a vital part of the education of a boater, or that the lessons learned when I did the new non-skid on my boat and wrote an article on how to do it – and a crew member did not slip and fall off a boat?

    Three Sheets is also part of the boating education link, from the posting of class schedules to the articles you have pointing out good and bad things boaters did, so Three Sheets is a vital link!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    My point, anyone that says anything about boating safety & educates anyone, no matter how small is a “Premier Educator”

    So, thanks again Scott for all the work you, Marty & Deborah do at Three Sheets to make boating not only safer, but more fun also, since to me, if you are not having fun when you go boating, you are not doing it right.

  2. Mike Brough April 11, 2014 at 8:53 am #


    You seem to have skipped over the Coast Guard Aux. and make the Power Squadron sound like they are the only place to take a safe boating class.

    The CG Aux has been dedicated to boating safety for 75 years now (this is their 75th anniversary) – you omission insulted several hundred dedicated Coast Guard Aux members in the Northwest that do many things, such as Free Vessel exams, teach boating safety classes, conduct boating safety patrols on the water, help the Coast Guard train their boat crews, assist with port and vessel safety, give tours of the Alki Lighthouse in the summer, distribute thousands of pieces of boating safety literature every year at marine dealers as well as public events (including three last year at the Shilshole Marina where I think you live), verifies Private Aids to Navigation for the Coast Guard (you do want that light to be working on that ATON on a dark and dismal night, right? – helps verify derelict vessels, has helped train Navy Reserves, and has probably helped every on the water law enforcement organization in some way, helps with security at Seafair, helps with security at fireworks displays . And the list goes on and on –

    So far this year in Sector Puget Sound, the Coast Guard Auxiliary members have volunteered over 24,000 man / person hours in support of the Coast Guard and boating safety in general.

    • Scott Wilson April 11, 2014 at 9:09 am #

      Well, all I can say is, no insult intended, Mike. A lot of the stuff you mention is great stuff, but it wasn’t the focus of the article!

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