Regulations and the Sailing Program

Published on September 23rd, 2019

by Nate Hathaway
I’m a (USCG) licensed director of a sailing program. I didn’t grow up with a yacht club or sailing program in my backyard and it wasn’t until working on schooners after college as an educator that I got into sailing.

That said, for as much as tall ships get a bad rap sometimes with pirate clowns hanging around and a scruffy tatted up crew, that community tends to really follow the rules (in my professional experience over the last seven years) as USCG inspected vessels complying with manning and equipment standards.

It was a bit of a shock to transition into community sailing and yacht club programs and learn about the vast amount of unlicensed operation occurring. However, after seeing the way some of these high school kids can sail, and better comprehending the difference between near-coastal waters and beyond versus all of your sailing in sight of a club or facility onshore and also in a protected harbor, I wish the rules around licensing were a little more lax.

A 16 year old high school sailor working as staff who can whip a Club 420 around a course better than the car she’s learning to drive should not need a 6 pack or 100 ton ticket to take two 8-10 year olds out in a sloop under 20 feet in a protected harbor, in approved conditions (under 18 kts), with chase boats and staff nearby.

Yet, technically she needs a license, taking passengers/ students for hire, according to folks at the USCG National Maritime Center with whom I have e-chatted with on multiple occasions.

So for all the clubs and programs out there with youth in boats with their students/ clients/ passengers, how do we manage this?

Putting all kids into Optis is honestly not the best way to teach sailing because someone is always shouting over the breeze from a motor boat above them, there’s no opportunity to correct mistakes onboard or takeover immediately, and precious few come to love those little boxes and race them versus the many who seem to find them frustrating and isolating.

So can we legalize it? Can we legalize the practice most clubs and programs have of putting unlicensed summer ‘instructors’ in boats with these kids under strict limitations on breeze and sailing area and craft? In some ways, it’s what learning to sail always was before all the bureaucracy. In some places you still get folks scratching their heads and knee-jerking at the idea of requiring licenses.

So is there a middle ground?

All I know is my organization pays dues to bigger organizations that should do more than just give us a sticker and paper certificate every year – and we as sailors should make things as simple and transparent as possible to help bring more folks into the fold.

We’ve already realized that the hamster wheel of Olympic training and elitism is not growing the sport, but how do we work with the resources we have and make it easier to comply with regulations that make sense and get more kids on the water having positive experiences?

Call me a crazy Community Sailing Director, but let my people go sailing! Let my students not be forced into individual boxes and let them enjoy sailing together in small keelboats that I can drop instructors into from time to time.

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