Best Locations for Your First Sailing School
From East to West, the United States has some wonderful places to learn to sail. With a handful of top sailing destinations to choose from, the trick is not to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time of year.
Top Places to Learn
Sailing is taught anywhere where sailing is popular. The major coastal hubs for sailing instruction in the United States are southern Florida, the San Francisco Bay area, southern California, Chesapeake Bay, New York, and New England. There are plenty of other places to learn in and around the U.S., including the Great Lakes, the Caribbean, the Texas Coast, and Baja California. To find out what sailing schools operate in these various regions, refer to our article on finding a sailing school.
Each location has its peculiarities to be aware of. In particular, find out what seasons have consistent wind in any area you consider. Trying to learn to sail out of season can be a very frustrating experience.
Some brief descriptions of sailing areas appear below. Additional information can be found by contacting a sailing school that you are interested in. Be sure to ask when the sailing season begins and ends in their region of the country.
Florida is the boating and sailing capital of the United States, with sailors and sailing schools dotted all around the coast. Some prime spots for sailing are Biscayne Bay in Miami and the Florida Keys. This area boasts a long sailing season, interesting sailing destinations, beautiful weather, and a very boat-friendly community. Both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico sides have prime sailing spots, although the Gulf is better protected from the rough conditions of the Atlantic.
As all Floridians know, the summer brings thunderstorms in the afternoon on a regular basis. If you're thinking about taking a vacation to Florida to learn to sail, be aware of getting caught out in a storm.
San Francisco Bay Area
With plenty of wind on a daily basis, strong currents, and heavy shipping traffic, San Francisco Bay offers the most rewarding -- but also the most challenging -- sailing conditions in the United States. Due to the layout of the Bay, wind and current can converge from multiple directions, testing a student's ability to read wind and current changes while sailing. These world-class conditions, coupled with beautiful scenery right out of the marina, make the Bay Area a favorite of many sailors.
Because the conditions are so favorable for instruction, some of the best schools in the country are located in the Bay Area. The two main hubs of instruction are the Sausalito/Tiburon area north of San Francisco and the Berkeley/Oakland area east of the city. Both locations offer fabulous scenery and steady wind conditions. Because summer weekends are typically quite crowded, San Francisco Bay is also one of the best places to learn about traffic flow and right-of-way rules.
The sailing season typically extends from May to October or November. Be wary of taking classes in the winter because the wind is far less reliable and temperatures can easily drop into the 50's, making for uncomfortable days of drifting or motoring around.
The sun is shining, the wind is strong, and the people are beautiful in L.A. and San Diego -- a combination that oft leads sailors to love the Southern California waters. In additon, the weather is favorable for sailing all year round, though it will be best in the summer months. The one drawback is that there is no enclosed space as large or majestic as the San Francisco Bay, which can force beginning students to stay close to the marina during rough conditions in their first days of class. Southern California has a strong reputation for racing, with many talented instructors and race captains calling it home.
While the sailing season is shorter than Florida or California, the Chesapeake bay offers beginning sailors a wonderful variety of options. The bay itself is an enormous expanse of protected water with favorable conditions from April or May through September, depending on the year. Much like the San Francisco Bay, the Chesapeake has a variety of conditions from calm to choppy depending on what part of the bay you choose to sail through.
The scenery surrounding the Chesapeake is beautiful, with a mixture of forest, rocks and marshland providing endless natural variety. Finding the same amount of undisturbed coastline is nearly impossible in more southern sailing destinations.
New York Area
New Yorkers can find great sailing on both the Hudson River and Long Island Sound, which both have their share of high-quality schools and marinas. The area's main draw is its convenient proximity to the New York Metropolitan area, but it is also an area worth visiting even if you have to travel a bit farther. The wind blows strong, the water is protected from the harsh Atlantic, and the forest scenery is beautiful.
The drawback of this area is its short sailing season, with fairly consistent conditions from May through September. On a cold day, the biting wind can make pulling on ropes during your sailing course very uncomfortable, so make sure to bring the proper attire if you're sailing in the spring or fall.
Cape Cod has the best sailing environment for larger boats in the New England area. The scenery is classic New England forest, most spectacular in the summer and fall. The cape is not as protected as other areas of the country, so expect some challenging conditions from a sailing course in this chilly but beautiful sailing destination.
Again, the drawback of this area is its short sailing season, running from May through September. Be sure to bring the proper attire if you're sailing in the spring or fall, and brace yourself for foul weather if you schedule a course outside of the sailing season.
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How to Find Sailing Schools to Consider -- Make sure to start yourself with a solid list of schools to compare before making a decision. The right school for you isn't always the easiest to find.
Compare Sailing School Facilities, Marinas, and Surrounding Waters -- Learn quickly what to look for when evaluating a sailing school's facilities.
How Much Should Sailing School Cost? -- Learn how to compare prices and see some typical course costs.
The Final Decision: There Can Be Only One -- A summary of the most important aspects of a sailing course and thoughts on how to make your choice.