How to become a professional sailor

Updated July 13, 2018

There are hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy sailing as a hobby, but some take it to the next level and become professional sailors, captaining vessels on cruises and teaching sailing to the rest of us. It’s a challenging, fun, and exciting career if you love the water and the outdoors. If you think you would like to become a professional sailor, this article explains the steps you need to take.

Begin your quest to become a professional sailor by learning to sail a small boat. The basics can be learnt in short courses that include basic boat handling, how to tie all those knots, and water safety. But learning to sail is just as much a matter of doing it as studying it, so you will need to practice and gain the experience to become proficient before you can qualify for advanced training.

Learn the basics of navigation. You will need to know how to read charts, plot courses, and navigate a boat using the techniques of celestial navigation. This requires a solid knowledge of trigonometry and basic mathematics. Learning to read navigation charts is also essential but involves more than just knowing what the symbols mean. You must be able to relate them to your surroundings, not only to plot your course, but to anticipate and avoid dangers.

Earn an assistant instructor's certification. To do this you must be at least 14, have sailing experience, and be certified in CPR and First Aid. No teaching experience is required. This step, while not mandatory before advancing further, is an ideal way to improve your skills and qualify to assist certified instructors so you can gain teaching and sailing experience. To earn an assistant instructor’s certificate, you must complete the American Sailing Association’s (ASA) required Instructor Qualification Clinic (get further details and schedules of clinics using the ASA link below)

Become a certified sailing instructor for small boat or keel-bot (or both). To meet the requirements for a full Instructor's certificate, you must be at least 18 and have all the above qualifications, plus have three years sailing experience and either have teaching experience or demonstrate that you can teach effectively. Finally, you must pass the required Instructor Qualification Clinics to earn your ASA professional instructor's certificate.

Take the examination to get a United States Coast Guard professional license. The license is issued for five years for those who pass the examination. A physical exam and drug test are also required to get a USCG license. Use the link below to learn more about the Coast Guard licensing program.

Things You'll Need

  • Good basic education, especially mathematics
  • CPR and First Aid certification
  • Sailing experience
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About the Author

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, W D Adkins has been writing professionally since 2008. He writes about business, personal finance and careers. Adkins holds master's degrees in history and sociology from Georgia State University. He became a member of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2009.