What Sailing Qualifications Do You Need?

What Sailing Qualifications Do You Need? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

One main question you probably have in mind is, what qualifications do I need to sail a boat? And if not, what licenses do I need to sail in international waters?

Well, we have compiled for you all the information about the licenses you need as well as sailing qualifications needed.

To quickly answer the question on which qualifications one needs to sail a boat, we can say that there is no “boat license'' you need to obtain to sail a boat but there are different requirements and qualifications you need to get to navigate through different waterways.  However, these sailing requirements and qualifications differ from state to state within the US, and between countries overseas. You can learn more here about state specific boating license requirements.

This means that even if you have a local sailing license such as one from American Sailing Association (ASA) or have met all the sailing requirements in your state, it might not be accepted overseas. That’s why we recommend that you get the International Certificate of Competence (ICC) if you would like to go beyond local water bodies.

Some states are quite flexible when it comes to sailing qualifications you need to venture out on the water, but this doesn’t mean that there are no requirements. You do not want to find yourself in trouble with the law enforcers.

Simply put, we can say that sailing a boat requires you to go through strict tests. Therefore, if you would want to be on the safe side, you need to get all the licenses and certifications needed to sail a boat since this is mandatory in some states.

One of the certificates you should not miss is the International Certificate of Competence. This certificate shows that you are competent enough to handle boats in foreign countries. It is mostly recognized worldwide and confirms that a candidate can safely sail during the day.

So, how do you obtain sailing licenses, including the International Certificate of Competence? Well, there are several courses you should undertake, and in this brief guide, we will take you through different legal requirements you need to meet as well as the courses you should undertake so as to become a qualified sailor.

Note that our guide is only suited for those who are looking for qualifications for sailing a boat for recreational purposes.

Let’s get started…


Table of contents

Sailing Certification Organizations

There are two respected organizations that offer international sailing certificates. These include;

  • International Yacht Training
  • American Sailing Association

The American Sailing Association is the veteran school for sailing qualifications. ASA has been offering sail training for a long time and serves as a non-profit organization.

The ASA is US-based and focuses purely on offering certificates to people who are interested in recreation sailing- it doesn’t offer certificates for commercial or racing qualifications. Most beginner sailors in the US prefer to get ASA certification. Some of their training includes information that is relevant to only those sailing in the US waters.

IYT can be termed a newcomer as it started in 2002. Unlike the ASA, IYT is not a non-profit organization. One benefit of IYT is that it offers courses in different languages. ASA courses are only taught in English.

Sailing Qualifications Needed

Regardless of whether you want to charter a boat with family or friends or you want to make a career out of sailing, there are specific qualifications you have to obtain. We will discuss the various courses you need to take to get certifications from the above three organizations.

Beginner Courses

Beginner sail courses can take between two days and a week and involve a mixture of classroom work and practical tasks. In ASA the courses are called 101-103.

After you complete these courses, you are requested to apply your skills on smaller boats or yachts so that you can have a feel of how to sail. This way, you will have lesser chances of making mistakes than when you start with heavier boats.

Just like any other beginner course, the courses offered in this first step are all about helping you understand the basics of sailing so that you can learn to sail right from the start.

As such, they are invaluable, and you should take them seriously. They also offer an opportunity to have any general questions you may have about the courses that suit you, places where you can get sailing experience, how you can build your miles, and much more answered by an instructor. These courses will provide you with all the necessary skills you need to assist a skipper.

Intermediate Courses

Intermediate sail courses take three days to one week and involve onboard learning (practical). In ASA, they call it 104 while in IYT, the course is called International Bareboat Skipper. You may also find a purely classroom-based course for the same in other organizations.

Intermediate courses are aimed at providing skills to sail a boat within sight of land during the day. Candidates take up these courses so that they can sail a boat or yacht with a recognized charter company. Many charter companies require individuals to have a certification in an intermediate sail course. Others require one to have an International Certificate of Competence as well as certification for VHF radio operation.

Advanced Courses

In most cases, advanced sailing courses are known as Yachtmaster. You will find them split into three sub-groups by IYT, including Coastal, Ocean, and Offshore.

ASA divides the courses into 106, 107, and 108. To undertake Yachtmaster courses, a candidate must have managed to get a minimum of 800 miles at sea. These courses are meant to enhance candidate skills, such as enabling them to navigate in bad weather, sailing at night, blind navigation, etc.

It is important to mention that the Yachtmaster Offshore course/ ASA107 requires a candidate to have logged in more sea miles-2500 sea-miles. For the Yachtmaster Ocean course/ ASA108, you get to learn advanced navigation skills to allow you to sail a boat in deep waters.

More about Sailing

It is important to mention that the above timeline applies to the average sailor who wants to sail for recreational purposes- they do not cater for commercial sailing.

For those who are new to the field of sailing, you should start at the beginner level. Your local sailing club can offer all the information you need to get started by undertaking a beginner course in sailing.

A quick Google search for sailing lessons in your local area should return results for friendly courses you can undertake in different schools.

With beginner courses, you will be able to experience a sailboat under the supervision of an instructor. The majority of these beginner courses come with all the equipment you need, including life jackets and standard wet gear. This means that at first, you will not have to invest in these things.

Entry-level lessons help you familiarize yourself with basic sailing techniques, navigation, how the boat moves, standard procedures for operating the boat, etc.

Once you are done with beginner courses, you will want to advance to intermediate courses so that you can get professional qualifications. Depending on the country you are in, these courses may differ slightly. Also, the cost will vary. You should contact a local sailing club to get the details of the course and prices.

Below are the requirements and curriculum of ASA;

American Sailing Association

There are different sailing courses offered by the American Sailing Association, and thus the requirement needed for a certificate of competence varies. You should check out the different courses and their requirements on their official website.

Now that you know the courses you should take for you to qualify to sail a boat locally, let's talk about the requirements for sailing around the world- getting an International Certificate of Competence.

About International Certificate of Competence

For people who want to sail small boats or yachts on international waters for recreation purposes, this is the certificate to get. This certificate is internationally recognized and certifies that a skipper is competent to operate a boat or yacht for recreational purposes. Note that this certificate is not meant for commercial purposes.

Just as the name suggests, this certificate is recognized internally as a license for boating, although it is not an actual license.

Therefore, if you want to sail around the world for recreational purposes, this is the certification to get. It acts as an international driver’s license, but solely for sailing into other countries. Keep in mind that this is a certificate you get as part of advanced sailing courses.

What Does The ICC Course Involve?

The International Certificate of Competence course is divided into two parts- the theory assessment part and practical assessment. Let’s discuss the two parts in detail;

The ICC Theory Assessment

This part covers the following;

  • Navigation and chart work whereby you learn how to calculate the course when sailing, how to read latitude/longitude bearings as well as measuring distance
  • Regulations for international boating
  • Buoyage
  • How to identify shapes; night lights, day ships, sound signals
  • How to use VHF Radio
  • Buoyage

The ICC Practical Assessment

This covers the following;

  • Engine checks
  • Fire safety
  • Primary medical care and first aid
  • Boating safety
  • Anchorage
  • Leaving and returning the boat to the shoreline

Note that the above areas may vary slightly depending on your locality, but they all interrelate.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Sailing Courses?

How long does the ICC course take?

The International Certificate of Competence course takes approximately 3-4 weeks to complete. However, the duration for the course can vary from country to country and also based on the ability of the candidate to complete the course.

Where can one undertake the ICC course?

As we mentioned earlier, popular websites such as American Sailing Association have lists of schools that provide the ICC course.

But you can do a simple Google search that includes your local area to get details of the nearest centers that offer ICC courses. The most popular areas are in the US, but you can find centers in most countries that offer this course.

What is the approximate cost of the ICC course?

The cost of the course varies from place to place and also depends on your learning ability. If you don’t have previous experience or knowledge in sailing a boat, you are going to incur more to get to an advanced level of sailing. In terms of fees, it can range from $100 to $1,000s. The exam fees are not extreme.

There are many online courses you can take if you want to enhance your skills. The courses can help you prepare for the ICC exam.

Again, you can visit the official website of ASA to get more information about the course details and costs.

Will I need to renew my ICC?

Your ICC will be valid for five years, after which you will need to renew it.

Do charter companies require one to have any experience before leasing you a yacht or boat to you?

Well, charter companies want assurances that you will be able to handle their boats. They also do not want you to damage their boats or get into accidents. That’s why they will ask questions about your experience.

They will mostly ask you whether or not you have chartered similar sized boats before in similar waters, and also if you can handle currents and tidal ranges. They will also gauge your reef navigation skills and if you can confidently anchor a boat. These are some of the things they will be looking for before leasing a boat or yacht to you.

Is there anything else I need to know about ICC?

There have been changes enacted in the last couple of years. For instance, charter brokers are now requesting more qualifications than the ICC for high-end boats valued over $400,000.

However, this depends on the broker in question, but it is crucial that you become aware of this. You don't want surprises when you have already planned for your vacation.

Are there fast-track skipper courses one can undertake?

Yes. Many sailing schools have fast-track, intensive courses that you can take for a week. A fast track skipper course covers more about boat navigation techniques in your locality.

Can you undertake an intensive sailing course with no experience?

Yes. However, it is important to mention that these are intensive courses, and thus are meant for people with some sailing experience.

Most schools recommend students to undertake beginner sailing courses before doing a fast-track bareboat skipper course. This way, you will have the basic knowledge of sailing, and thus it will be easier to learn navigation skills.

Are there advanced qualifications one can undertake?

Yes. You can undertake Yachtmaster certification/ASA 106 as well as Bareboat Skipper to allow you to sail in moderate conditions during the day. There are also Yachtmaster courses that empower one with skills to sail at night. You can contact the nearest school in your locality to know more about advanced courses you can undertake.

To summarize all this, we can say that sailing qualifications required to sail a boat vary from one country to another. Some countries may not have legal requirements when it comes to sailing qualifications, but it is always best to get a certificate to avoid inconvenience.

If you are not planning on venturing into international waters, local competence certificates will be enough. However, if you will be traveling in international waters, you will need to get an International Certificate of Competence (ICC). This will protect you in foreign waters as you will be compliant with maritime laws.

If you want a charter boat of varying sizes without a skipper, you may need to undertake an advanced course for proof of competence.

Finally, just to remind you, all the certificates and courses we have discussed here are for those planning to operate a boat for recreational use. There are professional certificates needed for those who want to operate a boat for commercial purposes.

What Sailing Qualifications Do You Need?
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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