Of course you have questions.
The big one being “Can I really do this?” 

Learning the skills necessary to become your own captain can be easily achieved in a fun-filled weekend. With our Sailing Charter Certification Course, you will be trained to lead a sailing cruise for your family and friends. Even if you know the fundamentals of sailing, you will become confident with your newly acquired “bareboat” cruising skills. Since 1980, Sailboats Inc. Sailing School has certified over 12,000 sailing skippers.

Our certification programs have been perfected, since 1980, to train the weekend sailor who longs to experience deep water on larger yachts, as well as the person who has never sailed.

Sailing is like anything. Learning how to do it from an experienced instructor will increase your enjoyment and dramatically shorten the time it takes to be proficient.

What is Crew Certification ?

This course provides basic knowledge and skills enabling the individual to be capable member of the sailing team.

  • Basic boat systems and terminology
  • Basics of docking, line handling and knots
  • Sailing principles and points of sail
  • Steering under power and sail
  • Interpret charts and use GPS
  • Practice anchoring
  • Practice safety and emergency exercises

Students age 13-17 are welcome to take the Crew Certification Course, but must be accompanied by an adult.

What is bareboat chartering?

You ‘bareboat’ charter when you rent (sailors say ‘charter’) a sailboat without a hired captain or crew. Bareboat chartering avoids the annual cost of keeping a sailboat year ’round or paying crew wages and tips on a ‘crewed’ charter. Bareboat charterers are expected, however, to provide their own experienced crew and to have the skills to manage the boat they charter. For the active, involved, vacationer, bareboat chartering is a far more satisfying vacation than being a mere passenger, and so has become a popular and affordable vacation alternative. Because bareboat chartering demands very specific skills to keep the captain and his crew and the boat safe, charter companies increasingly demand charter skills acquired in the organized fashion that a school provides. Hence the sort of instruction Sailboats Inc. Sailing School provides: drills and exercises specifically designed to teach the needed skills of chartering–docking, anchoring, navigation, reefing, sailing, emergency drills, etc.

Once I receive my Sailboats Inc. Sailing School certification, are there advanced training opportunities?

Yes! While additional training is not required to bareboat charter, participating in an advanced training course will refine your newly learned sailing skills and increase your experience level. Click to find out more about our Advanced Offshore Course.

How can we practice our new skills?

Graduates receive discounts on Sailboats Inc. charters and are entitled to charter as Captain, without further training, immediately after the course. Because swift practice is the best teacher, we encourage back-to-back, school-then-bareboat charter–that is, booking an immediate first charter on the very same type of boat you sailed in school. To encourage a prompt bareboat charter (just you and your experienced crew; no paid captain needed) for each new graduating skipper, we extend a 15% discount on a first Sailboats Inc. Charters, charter within the current season or the following season.

Do you permit unpaid riders during the course?

The space available on the boat is limited.  With 4 students plus 1 instructor, there is no room for riders who would just audit the course even in the company of paid family members. It is just impossible to accommodate riders without doing a disservice to the students or the instructor.

May I bring a youngster along to take the course with me?

Since 1980, we have taught many parent-child combos and had a uniformly great time doing so. Our new Crew Certification program is designed for and perfect for teens:

This course provides basic knowledge and skills enabling the individual to be capable member of the sailing team.

  • Basic boat systems and terminology
  • Basics of docking, line handling and knots
  • Sailing principles and points of sail
  • Steering under power and sail
  • Interpret charts and use GPS
  • Practice anchoring
  • Practice safety and emergency exercises

Students age 13-17 are welcome to take the Crew Certification Course, but must be accompanied by an adult.

Other thoughts:

  1. Enthusiasm and motivation are the keys–a teen on a holiday course he/she did not choose and does not want, is not a motivated student and young people fake interest badly and resist learning. However, every one of our instructors have taught youngsters who were utterly captivated by sailing and boats and made inspired sailors, a real joy to teach. You would know best where your child fits on this continuum.
  2. If your son or daughter is a minor, he or she cannot really charter a boat in their own name since he cannot sign the charter contract– yet. That’s why we offer the crew certification program.
  3. A highly motivated teen is invariably a fabulous sailor, with youthful bravery and video game reflexes, and few of the mental distractions of adulthood. We have had to deal with the occasionally embarrassing situation where the child is the noticeably better sailor!

With all that said–come join us! There is nothing more fun that learning a task with ones child, you remembering what it is like to be young and gung-ho, he seeing you at your most proud and accomplished. It has all the makings of a memorable family event.

Can you accommodate family groups?

We regularly accommodate family groups, and can accommodate yours and even tailor the instruction to suit your needs. Typically our groups are 4 individuals per boat. If you need or anticipate that 4 of your family would want separate certification, you constitute a full boatload and we can give very individualized instruction. If however, you have younger children who need some delicate handling but do not wish to be certified (indeed, they cannot legally charter until 18 yrs. old) we will be happy to set up a special session to accommodate your needs. Our new Crew Certification program is a great way to introduce your entire family to big boat sailing.

Do you cancel for inclement weather?

Since our training boats are cruisers intended for offshore use in a variety of weathers, we rarely if ever cancel class for weather reasons. Certainly class is never canceled for merely inclement weather. Much of our training involves ship-handling, skills like docking, anchoring and close quarters maneuvering that can be done in rain, with or without wind, and skills like navigation and knot work that can be done in harbor, rain or shine. Sailing drills could wait for an excessively high wind to ease. In any case, summer winds rarely exceed 25 knots at all of our locations, a manageable speed for these boats, and squalls above that are short-lived and often avoidable, as they would be on an actual charter.

Naturally, our instructors are under strict orders to avoid alarming students or sailing into an obvious squall that could be skirted, and we try to time the sailing sessions to exploit appropriate winds for beginners.

It is also a blessing that in the 3 days of class, we usually have a representative variety of winds and weather, enough wind to teach sailing and enough crosswinds to make docking practice realistic.

Do the courses provide some written notes we can take away with us?

Each graduate receives a waterproof, laminated, ‘flip-book’ of key sailboat cruising skills, a ‘CRUISING CHECKLIST’, with field-tested, cautious, step-by-step routines designed to jog the new captain’s memory. Each topic contains the exact steps we recommend for each cruising skill the new skipper has just learned. These great class-notes are a useful and safe guide for any future cruising, and avoid the problems of note taking on a moving boat.

What is the difference between the Sailboats Inc. certification programs and the ASA or US Sailing programs?

We began our certification program in 1980 with the goal to teach adults the skills necessary to charter a cruising sailboat.  Our curriculum is the result of 30 years of experience with over 11,000 graduates who attest to the success of the Lake Superior Sailing School Learn to Sail program.   We offer a 3-day intensive course that focuses on boat handling, basic navigation and sailing to allow our graduates to safely charter a 30-32’ cruising sailboat.  No association fees, no hoops…just learning the necessary skills to enjoy time out on the water.

Our philosophy differs in that you begin your training immediately on a full-sized, 29-30’cruising yacht with an inboard engine and wheel steering – the same type you will charter.  We don’t spend your time or money, on small boats that do not teach big-boat charter cruising.

As Sailing Magazine states in their “Here’s Proof” article of our program, “Technical terminology, useless jargon and irrelevant theory are kept to a minimum.”

There is no government agency or association which regulates certification course content or certification to bareboat charter.  There is no organization you must be a part of to bareboat charter – just the skills necessary to handle the size boat you wish to charter and familiarity with navigating the cruising grounds.

When comparing sailing schools, please ask these key questions:

  1. How long has the sailing school been around?  Sailboats Inc. Sailing School – since 1980
  2. How many students has it trained to date?  Sailboats Inc. Sailing School – over 11,000
  3. Do they begin training on full-sized, inboard engine cruising yachts? Sailboats Inc. Sailing School – Yes
  4. How much time will it take to have the skills necessary to bareboat charter? Sailboats Inc. Sailing School – 3 days.
  5. Are all of the instructors USCG licensed? Sailboats Inc – Yes.  All Sailboats Inc. Sailing School instructors must hold a captain’s license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard.  Their training entails a minimum of 2,880 hours on the water, an equivalent of more than 5 years of full-time study.  They must then retest every 5 years.

Our licensed instructors are trained to teach a schedule of carefully planned drills and exercises, tailored to promote safety and build cruising skills.

Do I need prior experience?

NO, you do NOT need to be an experienced sailor to take Sailboats Inc. Sailing School, and the course does not presume you have any. In fact we joke with students the first day that it is an industry secret that nobody who charters boats to the public really cares if you are an expert sailor or not. They are much MORE concerned with your skill at docking, anchoring, reefing, man overboard, avoiding running aground, times when the boat and crew are at risk. This is what charter experience really provides. No one hurts themselves sailing. Also, even very experienced sailors need practice at chartering, a separate art form, if they have sailed or raced smaller boats. Do NOT be concerned at all if you are inexperienced at sailing; you will be among your peers.

Are your instructors licensed and experienced?

ALL of our 15 male and female instructors are U.S. Coast Guard examined and licensed, with an average of 20 years of ‘sea-time’ as instructors, some with 30 years and more. Their training entails a minimum of 2,880 hours on the water, an equivalent of more than 5 years of full-time study. After their ‘sea-service,’ each must pass rigorous USCG examinations in regulations, seamanship, first aid/CPR, and then retest every 5 years.

After they are licensed, we train our instructors to teach a tight schedule of systematic on-the-water drills designed to promote safety and build cruising skills.

Most are professionals in other fields as well–business, law, medicine, teaching, and include ex-Navy, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine veterans. Many are veterans of 20 years and more.

What kind of yachts do you use?

Sailboats Inc. Sailing School uses full-size inboard-powered 29′-30′ cruising yachts, since the weight of these vessels at 7,000#-10,000# provides the real heft and small ship performance of the larger (35′-55′) boats used in charter the world over. Our vessels also have galley, engine room, navigation equipment, along with creature comforts and features that many smaller vessels do not.

What can I expect during the on-the-water training?

During the two and one-half days (approximately 22 hours), our instructors (average teaching experience: 10 years, many with 20 years and more), will encourage you while you take the helm of a 29′ or 30′ yacht and perform carefully planned drills and exercises. You will enjoy constant practice in safe, professional and skillful boat handling, learning cruising tips that would take years to acquire on your own.

Do I stay aboard during the course?

We want you to get the most out of your learning experience.  The reality is we teach an intense three day course filled with many new techniques and terminology.  We have found that being able to step ashore at the end of the learning day and retire to the quiet of a hotel room or campsite for a ‘full size’ shower, some privacy and undisturbed sleep pays dividends in more alert learning.

Please keep in mind that there may be a total of 5 adults on board a 30’ yacht (including your instructor).  While there are sleeping berths for 5, at least two students would be required to share a bunk.  There is also the consideration of privacy, sleeping habits, etc.  Please give us a call to discuss and we will do the best we can to accommodate your needs.

What comes with the Sailboats Inc. Sailing School course?

The 3-day comprehensive bareboat charter course includes all home study materials, lunch for days 2 and 3, beverages each day, 2 hours classroom and 22 hours on-the-water training.  Sleeping on board is available on a per case basis.  Please see ‘Do I stay aboard during the course?’ for further details.

What skills will I learn at Sailboats Inc. Sailing School?

Our comprehensive three-day, (two hours classroom, twenty two hours on-the-water) ‘mini-vacation’ course, is intended for those with or without prior sailing experience, and is taught on 29’-30′ cruising yachts, by a team of veteran U.S. Coast Guard licensed captains, both men and women, who are also professionals in other fields.

Student skippers learn the fundamentals of CHARTERING, as opposed to sailing instruction alone, and practice classic charter skills: engine use, docking, anchoring, reefing, sailing, navigation, etc. Emphasis is on precisely those skills and no time is wasted. As Sailing Magazine in Here’s Proof notes, “Technical terminology, useless jargon and irrelevant theory are kept to a minimum.”

Will I be able to bareboat charter directly after I take the Sailboats Inc. Sailing School?

Yes.  Upon successful completion of Sailboats Inc. Sailing School, you will have the skills to safely captain or crew on a 30’ yacht in light to moderate conditions, in familiar waters or crew on similar sized yachts in open water and more challenging conditions.  If your dream is to sail larger boats or in more exotic locations, you can do this by simply practicing your newly learned skills and building your sailing resume (see our Advanced Offshore Course).


We are united by a genuine love of sailing, and we share this love with our families, our friends, and through relationships with the broader sailing community.

Sailing School Locations and Dates

Enjoy the Apostle Islands just outside of Bayfield, Wisconsin on beautiful Lake Superior. Or the relaxed river town of Lake City and is located 65 miles southeast of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul, Minnesota).

Go from student to sailor in three days

In just three days, our students can complete a certification course that fully prepares them to sail any vessel on any water. We turn novice into know-how, in other words, and we instill confidence and competence into every participant. The proof? Over 12,000 sailors since 1980.