“The beauty of community sailing centers is that we provide a pathway to sailing,” said Traci Mead, executive director of DC Sail. “It’s very affordable and you don’t need to have your own boat.”
These organizations put people on the water while educating students of all ages about boating, safety, science and environmental stewardship. Their programs are open to the public and, by emphasizing equity, bring the benefits of sailing to people who have historically faced exclusion from aquatic recreation.
The non-profit US Sailing provides leadership, national standards and education for the sport, including accreditation and support for community sailing centers. While the exact number is difficult to estimate, more than 130 of US Sailing’s member organizations have identified themselves as community sailing centers, and 42 of them are accredited. In total, there are probably a few hundred across the country.
A community sailing center has been offering affordable and affordable boating since 1946. Community Boating Inc. (CBI) in Boston is the oldest public sailing organization in the country, with a fleet of over 120 sailboats. Its programs teach people of all abilities to sail, row and windsurf the Charles River – and encourage volunteerism. As non-profit organizations, the centers rely on community involvement, program revenues, and donations to support operations.
A bucket list boat trip in the San Blas Islands, Panama
Many CBI-like centers opened in the 1980s and 1990s as community members created alternatives to boat ownership and expensive yacht clubs. Today, many offer classes and activities even in the country’s most spectacular urban settings; If you’ve ever dreamed of admiring the New York skyline from a sailboat, Hudson River Community Sailing offers access from Chelsea and Inwood. The centers allow participants to learn about and explore all types of waterways, including large and small lakes, rivers, bays and coastlines. And they are an increasingly popular way to gain public access to water, according to US Sailing.
“Community sailing is a big part of the future of sailing,” said Jen Guimarães, youth education manager at US Sailing. “It’s giving a lot more people the opportunity to try it out.”
Community Sailing New Orleans (CSNO) is one such newcomer. The center began its programming in 2021 and expects to serve around 1,200 adults and children this year. To help create a more accessible waterfront in the post-Katrina West End, everything was built with the goal of eliminating economic, physical and social barriers to navigation.
CSNO’s foundational programs, many of which are free, include navigation and maritime career courses for younger children and high school students, adaptive navigation for people with disabilities, and instruction for veterans and military personnel. The center also offers classes for adults to learn to sail, clinics for women, boat rentals and social sailing.
“You would be surprised how many people have lived here their whole lives but never enjoyed Lake Pontchartrain,” said Khari Parrish, director of operations at CSNO. “I am excited to help people in New Orleans get on the water and experience a different perspective on their city.”
In Washington, DC Sail operates out of two marinas and runs programs for youth and adults. On the piers of Diamond Teague Park, Kids Set Sail summer camps take children ages 7 to 15 from safety training to the pier for rigging and hands-on instruction aboard the center’s docile 18-foot dinghies.
The organization also offers more than $20,000 a year in scholarships and participates in US Sailing’s donor-funded Siebel Sailors Program, a free opportunity that has taught nearly 1,500 children across the country to start and continue sailing.
“Our goal is to get as many children into the water as possible, learning about safety and the importance of our waterways and the human impact on them,” said Mead.
Like other centers, DC Sail dives deep, helping students build their skills and confidence. Its vibrant high school racing program has promoted young sailors to national competitions.
Adult offerings include refresher classes, learn to sail and racing. Participants come to the organization for a variety of reasons: some sailed during childhood summer camps and want to take formal classes, and others have wish-list sailing goals. Some Washington residents have weekend classes but sail in the Chesapeake Bay. Still others are planning charters further afield, learning the basics so they can better bond with their captain.
Moored at Gangplank Marina on the Wharf, the 65-foot American Spirit schooner is a fundraising resource and an opportunity for the public to participate in sailings, private charters and events.
Community shipping centers can be waypoints and final destinations on anyone’s sea voyage. For example, some participants may obtain their small boat certification and then proceed to cruise courses elsewhere that allow them to travel and charter their own boat. And getting your small boat certification gives you the knowledge to look for boat rentals at other facilities as you travel, allowing you to explore new waterways.
In the Greek islands, a ‘slow journey’ odyssey to the distant Ionians
“You can jump in a kayak or rent a boat, so now when you travel, you can choose to go somewhere where you can get in the water,” Guimarães said. “It can inspire you to seek new destinations after having the experience of learning to sail to change your life.”
Thanks to the growth of community sailing centers, it’s possible to try sailing at a reasonable price — and join a community that serves everyone wherever they are, from land-based sailors to old-timers. Children can learn science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts that are central to sailing curricula. And everyone can cultivate the skills of teamwork, leadership, trust and appreciation for maritime activities and the environment that can come from sailing.
“They are a wonderful way to access the water with a group of support people, whether you are there for a day and want a private lesson, want to rent a boat or want your child to experience an exciting summer camp,” Guimarães said. .
Operating in San Diego for 51 years, Mission Bay Aquatic Center (MBAC) is one of the largest watersports teaching facilities in the world, with a fleet that includes more than 50 sailboats, 15 windsurfers, 90 kayaks, 100 surfboards, 70 paddle boards and more. In 2021, the center served more than 30,000 members of the public with a variety of classes, programs and rentals.
Its navigation programs allow participants – most of whom have never sailed before – to progress from dry land to advanced navigation. That said, most people don’t pursue certification as an end-goal, choosing to simply enjoy the water.
“What we do here is much more than sailing,” said Paul Lang, manager of instruction and maintenance at MBAC. “Sailing is a tool to get people outdoors to do something active. We are the first step in providing access to people who see sailboats from shore and think, ‘How could I do this?’ ”
Williams is an Oregon-based writer. her website is erinewilliams. with.
Small boat programs are located on the piers of Diamond Teague Park, 99 Potomac Ave. IF. The schooner American Spirit is moored at the Wharf, 650 Wharf St. SW.
Sunset Sails on American Spirit are $50 for non-members. A $225 annual membership allows members to purchase up to four Sunset Sail tickets for $25 each, plus other benefits. Sailing refresher courses cost $75 for members. An adult learn to sail course at the basic membership level is $515. Kids Set Sail summer camps are $350 per week, and the high school racing program is $550 per spring or fall season. Scholarships for young people are available. Open Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm
New Orleans Community Sail
101 N. Roadway St., New Orleans
Many of CSNO’s youth, adaptable and veteran sailing programs are free for participants. A beginner adult keelboat course costs $375, and a custom Women in the Wind clinic costs $32 per person. Youth sailing camps cost $325. CSNO operates seven days a week; hours depend on the season.
Mission Bay Aquatics Center
1001 Santa Clara Pl., San Diego
MBAC has a variety of classes, youth programs and rentals. A basic sailing course for adults is $180, a basic sailing course for adults is $180. Private lessons are $150 for two hours, $75 each additional hour. Sailboat rental for qualified sailors is $40 for 2.5 hours. Basic youth sailing and multisport camps cost $465. Financial assistance is available. Open Monday to Sunday, 9 am to 7 pm
21 David G. Mugar Way, Boston
The oldest public sailing organization in the country, CBI offers programs for adults and children, as well as accessible programming. Classes for adults and youth include introductory and advanced sailing, running, windsurfing and rowing. There are also STEM classes for youth, a two-week beginner sailing class, and sliding scale costs from $1 to $395. CBI’s Universal Access Program offers adaptive instruction and equipment, also on a variable scale. One-day keel rental for experienced sailors from $85. Two-hour kayak rental from $34 per person. The CBI operates daily; hours depend on the season.
Potential travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Travel health advisory information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map, showing travel recommendations by destination, and on the CDC’s Travel Health Advisory page.