Best Sailing Lessons in San Francisco Bay

Sailing Lessons in San Francisco

The attraction and promise of summertime season on San Francisco Bay: strong winds, swift currents, eerie fog, warm sun, and friendly locals will pique your interest, sharpen your skills, and construct your self-assurance as a sailor. Today, let’s talk about how to start sailing in San Francisco and make the best out of your time in this summer locale. One of the best ways to get started is with sailing lessons in San Francisco Bay.

There’s something undeniably exhilarating and empowering about cruising on a yacht in the face of strong wind. That feeling may be very addictive, and that’s why avid San Francisco Bay sailors are not intimidated by the strong gusts of wind that may appear fearsome to the uninitiated.

With the right teacher, you can gain practical knowledge, preparation, and practice exercises that allow a worthwhile summertime cruising season.

Table of Contents

Yachts on San Francisco harbor

What Is Involved in Learning to Sail in San Francisco?

If you can sail in San Francisco, sailing anywhere else will become a piece of cake. Sailing in the bay offers various conditions and challenges unique to the San Francisco region. In autumn and winter, San Francisco experiences mild winds and mild weather.

Spring and summer bring constant winds that are over 1500 knots each. Since the estuary feeds the bay, some strong currents and tides make sailing even more complex. Sailing offers breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the San Francisco skyline. These characteristics make the San Francisco Bay a first-class sailing area based on professional yacht brokers and cruise ships.

Learning the San Francisco Bay area’s sailing needs deep respect for the culture, a dedicated budget, knowledge of the local sailing schools, and the motivation to keep learning.

Do I Need a License to Rent a Yacht to Sail Myself?

“Do I need a license to rent a boat?” is one of the first things every aspiring sailor asks first, and it’s easy to understand why. Some people don’t even have a driver’s license but are interested in sailing. The short answer to this question is, no, you don’t need a license to charter a boat for yourself. That is, as long as you are not the one who will be sailing. The act of sailing itself requires a licensed professional. The long answer is a lot more is involved.

For renting boats, most businesses offer two types of bookings. The first is called a bareboat charter. A bareboat charter is renting the boat without any crew or supplies. You will have to provide the rest by finding your own captain, crew, and supplies. Alternatively, you can sail it yourself as a potential sailor once you get your license. The other option is a guided charter, which could be a great starting point for newbie sailors. The business provides you with the crew and supplies. If you want to get a feel for sailing, this is an excellent time to observe professionals working.

“On a day when the wind is perfect, the sail just needs to open, and the world is full of beauty.”


How Much Does It Cost for Sailing Lessons in San Francisco?

There’s no real way to value how much sailing lessons will cost you. There is too much variance in the qualities of sailing schools, from programs offered to schedules of classes. You should consider which sailing school you want to go to and see if your budget fits. Experienced sailors have very different needs on their boats compared to beginners who barely know the boats they plan on sailing.

Price is a factor, but that’s not the most important thing. Whether the program is cheap or expensive has little bearing if you don’t review their programs closely. Consider how much of the program is spent doing practical, on-boat lessons versus sitting in a classroom. Paying extra or less should reflect the programs. Review their teachers and see if you can find reviews of the staff.

Different parameters are needed for each aspiring sailor. If you are in a time crunch, perhaps a short course is what you need. Pay within your needs, not your means. That means you should spend exactly as much as you need, without being too cheap or too lavish.

What Is the Difference between US Sailing and ASA?

US Sailing and ASA may seem the same on the surface, but there are a lot of crucial differences you should know.  Knowing how to sail includes subjects such as navigation, boat maintenance, and crew management that need different lessons based on your sailing purpose.

US Sailing is very explicitly meant for the sport of sailing. The sport of sailing means sailboat racing, which is a very different beast from recreational sailing. ASA (American Sailing Association) is the course best taken for those who only seek to learn how to sail safely and surely. Since ASA has a broader coverage of sailing as opposed to the niche of sport sailing, many more schools use ASA programs and certifications in their courses. In short, ASA and US Sailing have different teachers and different certifications offered.

Yachting for pleasure and sport began in Holland in the late 16th century. The word “yacht” comes from the old Dutch, jacht, and abbreviation of jachtship, “hunting ship.” These original yachts, made for the rich and noble, were 14 to 20 meters (45 to 65 feet) and fast and maneuverable.

US Sailing or ASA certification?

To know which one you should pick, you need to take stock of what you want. ASA and US Sailing offer different skill sets, despite the surface-level similarities. If you’re looking to become a professional, certification is a must, especially if you want to be chartered on a boat. If you’re going to pursue the sport of sailing or like the idea of more extreme sailing, US Sailing is the one for you.

Otherwise, most recreational sailors are perfectly fine with ASA certification. One thing to note is that you don’t need certification to sail. All you need is a license. Of course, an ASA or US Sailing course is a great way to get your foot in the door as you get access to the expertise of real sailors.

Sea Bird Sailboat
Sea Bird Sailboat | Photographer: Michael Slater / BoatingSF

The most important difference between ASA and US Sailing is scope. US Sailing is limited only within the United States, from its community to its teachers. ASA has training schools around the globe, and everywhere you look in many harbors, you are likely to see an ASA program school.

Both US Sailing and ASA train youths and adults alike. US Sailing is strictly local, unlike the broader reach of ASA, but instructors are usually centralized. This difference means you can find competent teachers in either course you choose to pursue. Introductory courses are offered for both, and if you’ve already spent some time sailing in your free time, shorter courses are offered if you prove your sailing skills.

If you want to keep your navigational skills up to speed, attend an ASA course called “Radar Endorsement.” There are endorsement courses that let you have an “expertise” in a specific subject. They are not necessary to your certification but could provide precious knowledge for your sailing. In essence, though, you are probably likely to learn the same things from both courses. ASA has a more extensive community, but US Sailing is more appropriate for the racing niche.

Is ASA certification necessary?

Certification depends on what exactly you plan on doing with it. If you will be sailing recreationally, then there is no legal need to get an ASA certification. If you’re pursuing a professional line of work, then an ASA certification is likely required. Recreational sailing is very different from professional sailing. You will be tasked with a company boat and will have to keep passengers safe. There is responsibility and safety attached to sailing like a professional. A certificate acts as proof of your experience.

In addition, an ASA school is a great place to build connections within the sailing community.

For those looking to learn sailing for its own sake, without the need of turning it into a career, it’s still worth your time to get an ASA course if you can afford to do so. In essence, sailing is something you need to learn through doing. An instructor is there to guide you on what exactly you should be “doing.”

What Is a Basic Keelboat?

A keelboat is a river-bearing workboat or a small to medium-sized recreational sailing yacht. First category boats have shallow structural keeling, almost flat bottom, and are often used downwind when forced into open water, while modern recreational keelboats have prominent fixed keels. Fin keels have a considerable draft.

Keelboats have no motor and are generally steered with a tiller. The wind and its sails power it. They were used for exploration during the Lewis and Clark Expedition but mainly used to transport cargo or settlers in the early 19th century. They can reach up to 80 feet (15 to 24 m) long and 15 feet (5 m) wide. Keelboats have a cabin in the middle or stern and are sometimes built with an open deck.

Small Sailboat Near Rocks
Small Sailboat Near Rocks | Photographer: Michael Slater / BoatingSF

Where can I get sailing lessons in San Francisco Bay?

Here are a few sailing schools you can find around the San Francisco Bay area.

Modern Sailing School & Club – Sausalito


Phone: (415) 331-8250

Since 1983, Modern Sailing School and Club has introduced people to sailing from their headquarters in Sausalito, California. Even if you’ve never been on a ship, they can teach you everything you need to know to lay a solid foundation on this rewarding foundation of sailing.

MSC is committed to making your learning experience as safe and enjoyable as possible. Their classes and courses will help you instantly build trust with your tutors, who are some of the most experienced in the entire San Francisco Bay area.

MSC’s instructors hold a 50-tonne master’s license (or more) from the US Coast Guard, reflecting decades of navigation experience. World cruisers and Coast Guard commanders are in the ranks of MSC’s esteemed roster of students and teachers. Our high standards have earned us awards in the boating community, including the School of the American Sailing Association award in 2004 and 2009.

Sailing lessons on a Cataling 30 with Modern Sailing School
image credit: Modern Sailing School

Their Basic Keelboat program is $855 for members and $1,025 for non-members. Other courses cost about the same. If you want to get cheaper courses in this school, it’s recommended that you apply for membership, as it saves you hundreds of dollars.

Afterguard Sailing Academy – Oakland


Phone: (510) 535-1954

San Francisco Bay is the best place in the world to learn to sail. We don’t have any fluff, and it’s all here. The area is therefore ideally suited as a  place of learning. Our school has two locations for sailing lessons. The wind blows from each of the two coasts all year round. The Bay Area is also protected from the strongest winds of the climate and the seasons. Calm, shallow Riviera waters to start all introductory courses up to ASA101. Then their classes venture into the Central Bay of SF.

Afterguard offers an enjoyable and unique course in the middle of Central Bay. It involves ASA 104 to 114 courses taught in an overnight adventure course. Some of the advanced multi-day offshore courses are offered as well. Afterguard is a unique, for-profit ASA school that supports a foundation that provides nonprofit courses to high school teenagers and downtown summer camps, year-round programs for veterinarians, and community sailing.

They are known as the small school with a heart, with over 30 boats little is relative. It’s a welcoming, family-like small business feel and friendly (no yelling) teaching style that you’re sure to find at Afterguard.

Their Basic Keelboat Course costs $595 for school members and $715 at full price. Their most expensive course is an offshore passage course, clocking in at $2,155 for full-price and $1,795 for school members.

Spinnaker Sailing, San Francisco


Phone: (415) 543-7333

Spinnaker Sailing has been in business under the same owner since 1980. Located in one of the best marinas on the west coast, South Beach Harbor, this place is perfect as the breezes are excellent, the water is shallow, and it’s easy to get to, only 3 minutes from the boat dock at their teaching site. The waters south of the Bay Bridge offer protection from gusts of wind from the center of the bay but still have winds in the 1525 knot range, perfect for learning to sail in their glider fleet.

The school is located in San Francisco, South Beach, within range of the famous SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco. Dozens of recreational spots such as restaurants and arcades offer fun after-sailing options. Their instructors are US Coast Guard Masters who have dozens of years of teaching behind them. They have also sailed and competed professionally.

Many of their employees are very active in sailing one or more racing programs along the West Coast. They give their students the confidence and ability to safely navigate the winds and currents of San Francisco Bay with loved ones pulling the ropes and enjoying a fun adventure together. We offer the youngest training fleet on the west coast.

Their Basic Keelboat Course will cost you $450 for members and $600 for non-members. Their most expensive course, Advanced Coastal Cruising, sets you back $1,575 for members and $2,100 for non-members.

The spinnaker is only used when the wind comes from behind the vessel. The main and jib sails can be used for all points of sail. The mast is the vertical pole that the sails are attached.

Spinnaker Sailing – Redwood City


Phone: ( 650) 363-1390

Spinnaker Sailing was founded in 1980 and has offered sailing lessons in San Francisco Bay for the past 30 years. As the oldest operating ASA academy in the country, Spinnaker Sailing has taught thousands of boaters with certifications and proved itself an industry leader in maritime instruction processes.

Sailing lessons in San Francisco with Spinnaker Sailing
image credit: Spinnaker Sailing

In Redwood City, California, their location is the best place to sail, with beautiful weather, calm seas, and constant gusts. Along with the local courses, Spinnaker also offers bareboat charter and catamaran certification courses for their overseas sailing vacations in the South Pacific, Caribbean, and the Mediterranean.

Spinnaker Sailing is proud of its teaching staff, who have been teaching for over ten and sometimes even 30 years. Their instructors are certified by ASA and licensed by the US Coast Guard teaching staff at Spinnaker Sailing have decades of teaching experience to make learning safe and fun. Their dedication and genuine interest in each student’s success make Spinnaker Sailing a special place to learn to sail.

Students who graduate from the school receive international ASA certifications and the confidence to sail all around the globe. Their sailing guarantee is their way of reassuring students of their ability to sail confidently in their counted classes.

Their current fleet consists of 20 boats of varying sizes that have been selected for their compatibility with the San Francisco Bay. Spinnaker hosts a series of Wednesday night races where members compete against each other in a uniquely designed fleet.

Their Basic Keelboat Course costs $783 for members and $1,045 for non-members. Most of the other course programs hover around that price range.

Tradewinds Sailing School & Club – Richmond


Phone: (510) 232-7999

Tradewinds Sailing School offers a program for sailors of all levels who are serious about mastering the basics of sailing and want to continue being experienced boaters. With over 50 years of teaching experience, their successful method is based on a deep understanding of how people learn.

Instructors are selected purely based on their sailing ability and their passion for the craft. They will show you the secrets of navigation that other sailors don’t share. They also want to learn to sail to be easy and enjoyable without shortcuts.

Sailing lessons in San Francisco with Tradewinds Sailing Club
image credit: Tradewinds Sailing Club

Why should you choose Tradewinds Sailing School? They have excellent instructors certified by the American Sailing Association (ASA) and are USCG licensed employers. They provide you with a professional training program with proven methods of teaching. Their instructors follow a certified ASA instructor and evaluator’s standard curriculum.

Each of their ASA courses offers the maximum number of hours in the water for you to sail. On average, 6 hours a day is spent in the open water. They are affordable, and their courses include ASA certification and textbooks from the start.

Specialized courses are available. They don’t stop with ASA courses; you can expand your learning with their advanced studies. The school also has a program especially made for women. Tradewinds offers the unique opportunity to learn to sail with other women using your sailing skills.

Their Basic Keelboat Course is priced at $895 for the mixed and all-women classes. Their most expensive course is Offshore Passage Making, at $2,595.

SailTime – San Francisco – Emeryville


Phone: (415) 869-2861

SailTime’s program is designed to make you feel like sailing on your own boat. If you master the right skills and certifications, you can go one-hand sailing, sailing at night, and use the boat for long weekends. San Francisco Bay has long been known for having some of the best sailing spots globally. The waves are consequently small and the landscape spectacular. Some of the best boat trip destinations in the bay area:

  • Angel Island for food and foresting
  • The waterfront restaurants of Sausalito
  • The currents of Raccoon Strait
  • An overnight stay at Clipper Cove
  • The shops of Jack London Square
  • Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge
Sailing lessons in San Francisco Bay with SailTime
image credit: SailTime

The school is located between two beautiful marinas on the bay, just north of the Bay Bridge. Their location provides quick access to significant boating areas like The Slot, Olympic Circle, and Central Bay. School benefits include two-finger upwind ramps, security gates, Wi-Fi, ample parking, well-tended bathrooms with showers and washing facilities, and a great view of the bay.

SailTime’s prices are by request, but from what can be gathered online, a membership costs $1,500 and includes an ASA 101 Basic Keelboat Course, as well as discounts to the other courses.

Final Words on Sailing Lessons in San Francisco

Overall, if you want to expand your knowledge and do not have a private tutor handy, then an ASA school is the choice for you. As listed above, there are several schools where you can get sailing lessons in the San Francisco Bay area, and you should do your due research by inquiring about each school on their sites. Make sure to stay within your means, but never at the cost of your needs. There is no price too steep for necessary knowledge.

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