Getting a Sailing Qualification while on a Sailing Vacation

Debunking the “Zero to Hero” programs

To Debunk def: expose the falseness or hollowness of (a myth, idea, or belief).

“Can we get a sailing certification while on vacation?”  We get this question a lot, and intuitively it makes a lot of sense, right? You think “Woohoo! Let’s go on a vacation, learn to sail, and get a certification all at the same time!”

It doesn’t always work out that way. While training and earning a sailing certification while on a vacation is possible, it doesn’t make nearly as much sense as you may think. See this on-the-dock video from Grant after doing a weeklong Vacation Training in the BVI on a 45 ft Catamaran with 3 couples who want to venture globally to vacation destinations. They already knew how to sail and had gotten their certifications through NauticEd in their home waterway – this BVI trip was about rounding out their sailing vacation knowledge.

Let’s focus on 2 key questions:

#1 What’s your previous experience & training?

The first consideration is your prior experience and training. The challenge of going from ‘learning to sail’ to a ‘bareboat’ level certification within one week will not give you the qualifications to charter a boat or the focused training you’ll need to be a competent sailor.  It’s possible — and many companies market such “Zero to Hero” programs – but that investment will fall short of both industry chartering and training qualifications.

The Yacht charter company perspective is that they want to see a sailing resume that demonstrates your competence and usually includes over 20 days of skippering experience on a boat of similar size and type to what you’re chartering.  Simply, they want to know you’re capable before they let you take their (often very expensive) boat on your own. Read Why a sailing resume trumps a sailing certification for more info….

The training and education perspective is that it takes time to become competent with handling large sailboats.  Simply: if you’re the skipper on a bareboat, consider that you’re also the helmsman, navigator, electrician, cook, engineer, and so on…!  That requires much knowledge-theory and practical training, more than can be reasonably done well in a week.  And note the safety and enjoyment of your crew/friends/family is dependent on YOUR competence.

Also, it’s important to consider that education and experience go together.  Training is limited to certain weather conditions and navigational areas, and so showing you have additional experience beyond training demonstrates that you can APPLY training to different conditions and situations.  Again, it’s why yacht charter companies prize experience over training….

The exception? If you have prior experience and training – let’s say you’re “close” to qualifications or are a bit rusty – then it makes complete sense to hire a captain or instructor to help refine your skills to become competent, confident and meanwhile build that much-needed experience!  We suggest you take several of NauticEd’s online knowledge-theory courses beforehand: captains and instructors are expensive, and the best use of their time is teaching you practical skills (not lecturing knowledge).

Experiential Training. The above said, we want to emphasize, however, the amazing feelings and exhilaration you get when you are actually out there in gorgeous tropical waters slapping through the waves and learning a skill – that someday you can do yourself. So by all means do it – just ensure your expectations are aligned with a bit of reality. Check out our Experiential Training article about gaining experience while on charter with an instructional skipper.

#2 What are the vacation expectations?

Vacation or certification - which do you want?

If several of your family/friends are there to relax and have drinks on the bow – their ‘fun time’ will conflict with your training. Do they want training, or do they want to focus on something like the 10 Best Boat Drinks?  Many examples of how training may spoil fun time: sacrificing snorkeling time for multiple man-overboard circles, picking up mooring balls and dropping anchor repeatedly, raising and lowering the sails multiple times, reefing, navigation problems at breakfast and dinner time, maneuvering around marinas in and out of slips, and other such training/assessment activities are no fun on vacation for the non-training crew member.

At about day 2, the non-training members are going to mutiny and either ask for a hotel for the rest of the week or demand to stop the training. In essence, your instructor will become a highly paid tour guide, and the odds are that somebody won’t be happy.

The exception? If you and all your crew (family/friends) want training and will take it seriously, then great!  Go for it!  However, please consider our point #1 on prior experience and training before investing too much into it – you want to temper your training expectations.

Our Advice:

Consider the two questions above, and if you’re not 100% a “yes” on training is right for you AND your crew (friends and family) on the vacation then we recommend you consider alternatives:

Bali 4.5 Catamaran Flybridge Action
  1. Talk to NauticEd about hiring an available qualified American National Standards Vacation Training Instructional Skipper. There is a lot to learn on vacation that you can not learn at home  – managing the dinghy and the dinghy davit, energy management, water management, food provisioning and management, generator use (and cleaning the weed out of the intake filters), the stack pack, roller furling systems, navigating in unfamiliar waters, crossing borders, weather and swell avoidance, the list goes on. Getting training on all this is happenstance along the way while vacationing for a week.
  2. Hire a captain!  Most captains are more than willing to share knowledge and skills, and so while not formal training you’ll learn a LOT while building that precious experience.
  3. Train locally or regionally: research and explore your training options before the vacation.  You can begin your knowledge and theory training immediately with NauticEd courses, a precursor to practical training. You’ll not only be better prepared for your vacation, but you’ll have MUCH MORE FUN!
  4. Go ahead with the original plan: But just set your expectations to a properly earned certification you will be due at the end of the week. NauticEd has several excellent vacation training companies that we highly recommend – they are tuned to reality and will not upsell you on expectations.
  5. Hire a Local or fly in an instructor: Many times there is not an instructional skipper in your desired vacation destination, so the choice is yours: hire a local captain (who will teach regardless) or fly in an officially recognized Sailing Instructor (who may not know the area). Generally, if you are still in the learning phase of your sailing education then we would advise to hire a local so that you can enjoy the area and still gain valuable sailing training information from the local captain.

Speak to us about our recommendations to achieve your sailing and vacation goals.  Helping you achieve your goals is what we do for a living!

We hope this helps! 

Now you can book your training experience or captained bareboat charter vacation with confidence.

NauticEd are global yacht charter agents. We don’t charge you a fee – you get the same price as going direct AND you get our expertise. We work with all yacht charter companies worldwide and can search the global database in seconds for you – we save you money and can steer you clear of the not-so-great companies. You’re paying a lot of money for a vacation – we can help you make it better!

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My vision for NauticEd is to provide the highest quality sailing and boating education available - and deliver competence wherever sailors live and go.
Grant Headifen
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Last updated on May 12th, 2024