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ASA 101 Overview: What to Expect From Basic Keelboat Sailing


Students sailing and waving on Colgate 26

Imagine this: You're out on the open water, the sun warming your skin, the wind rustling your hair, the boat slicing through the waves beneath you. That's the magic of sailing and the starting point for new sailors is earning a sailing certification.


The two main sources to become a certified sailor are through either the American Sailing Association (ASA) or US Sailing. When you compare ASA vs. US Sailing, it essentially boils down to the fact that US Sailing focuses on performance sailing and racing, while the ASA focuses on cruising. For that reason, beginners new to sailing often choose to earn their ASA certification — and it all starts with ASA 101: Basic Keelboat Sailing.


ASA 101 is the starting point for a wealth of sailing knowledge and experience. In that course, you’ll learn everything from sailing terminology and safety maneuvers to sailing theory and U.S. Coast Guard regulations.


Below, we're going to unpack what ASA 101 is all about. We'll walk you through the course structure and contents to help you feel comfortable, confident, and ready to cast off into your first sailing lesson.



Underside of Keel

What is a Keelboat?

When you think about sailing, you probably picture a keelboat. However, not all sailboats are keelboats? So what makes a keelboat different? Keelboats have a fixed keel rather than a movable centerboard. A fixed keel is a heavy, weighted component that dips into the water, providing stability by countering the force of the wind on the sails.  Most importantly, it is impossible to flip or capsize a keelboat due to the nature of the weighted keel.


Keelboats come in a variety of sizes, from cozy, sloop-rigged vessels for beginners to racing and cruising boats perfect for more experienced sailors. In First Reef Sailing’s ASA 101 course, we teach students on a Colgate 26, a 26-foot keelboat designed specifically for learning how to sail. 



Colgate 26 Under full sail

How Does the ASA 101 Course Work?

Known in sailing circles as Basic Keelboat Sailing, the ASA 101 course is a fusion of nautical know-how and hands-on learning. Over the course of three days and roughly 21 hours, students go through various classroom sessions and many hours of on-water practice.


In the classroom, you’ll learn all the basic sailing terms, get your head around navigation laws, brush up on safety measures, and learn the fundamentals of sail trim and tacking. But sailing theory is just the first half of the fun.


Next comes the actual hands-on training. You'll be at the helm of a keelboat, putting theory into practice. Maneuvering, tacking, jibing, mooring — you get to experience it all.


What You Learn in the ASA 101 Course

Here's a peek into the curriculum of topics you'll learn about in this sailing course:


  • Basic Sailing Terminology: It's not just words. It's a language you'll learn to speak fluently. This is about mastering the rich vocabulary unique to the world of sailing, essential for smooth communication aboard.


  • Points of Sail: Here, you'll learn the effects of the angle of your boat in relation to the direction of the wind. These six points of sail will become second nature to you.


  • Basic Sailing Skills: Brace yourself for hands-on adventures in reefing when the wind picks up, sail trim for optimal performance, and mooring — the act of securing your boat to a buoy.


  • Safety Maneuvers: Learn how to recover a crew that has fallen overboard using the Figure 8 Recovery as well as how to stop the boat using the Heave to maneuver.


  • Seamanship: Dive into the heart of sailing — managing lines, comprehending the 'rules of the road' at sea, and knowing how and when to use safety equipment, like the trusty Personal Flotation Device (PFD).


  • Navigation Rules: This is your guide to the sea’s highway code. We’ll explore right-of-way rules, interpret buoy markers, and other sea-navigation essentials to ensure you're a responsible, safe sailor.



The successful completion of ASA 101 is a prerequisite to move on to the next level. Each new course is another chapter, enriching your sailing know-how and refining your skills. At the end, your instructor will give you the final sign-off in your ASA logbook, making you an official ASA certified sailor.





Captain Paul teaching navigation

FAQs About the ASA 101 Course

Can I Skip ASA 101?

While being ASA certified is not required in order to sail a boat, if you plan to enroll in other ASA courses, you must first complete ASA 101. If you have sailing experience, consider this course as less of an obstacle and more of a pillar that offers foundational sailing knowledge. For sailors who already have years of experience on keelboats, you can “challenge” the ASA 101 courses. This involves passing the written exam as well as passing a 3 hour practical skills test on the water.


Once you've proven your sea-worthiness, your instructor will endorse your logbook. Then, keep an eye on your mailbox for those ASA certification stickers — the emblem of your accomplished sailing aptitude.


What Does ASA 101 Get You?

When you successfully complete the course, you’ll receive an ASA logbook with an accompanying ASA 101: Basic Keelboat Sailing certification seal. Some of the benefits that come with obtaining your certification include:


  • Lowered boat insurance premiums

  • It’s the first step to being able to bareboat charter

  • The ability to comfortably sail a 20-28 foot sailboat as a skipper (sailor in charge) under favorable conditions

  • Invaluable and potential life-saving knowledge about sailing on the open seas


How Many Hours is ASA 101?

The time it takes to complete this sailing class depends on many factors. At First Reef Sailing School, Our ASA 101 course is 3 days, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm each day. Every day starts in the classroom (roughly two hours), then we have a lunch break, and the rest of the day is spent sailing on our Colgate 26. When it’s all said and done, you’ll have more than 13 hours of hands-on sailing experience under your belt.



Student's focusing on sail trim

What’s Next? Continuing the ASA Curriculum

After you have completed your first ASA certification, there are many more certifications to complete on your path through the ASA Curriculum: 



Start Your Sailing Journey Today

As one of Boston's most comprehensive and modern sailing schools, First Reef Sailing offers certification courses, charters, mile-building passages, and more. 



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