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Junior Sailing Class Progressions

CYC Recommended Sailing Class Progressions

The beginner class is the best place to start learning to sail, regardless of age. Kids who start in the beginner class and go through the recommended class progression (see Class Progressions – flow chart) tend to become the most competent, confident and independent sailors.

Height and weight, not age, are important factors that might prohibit a child from starting in beginners. If a child weighs more than 120 lbs and is 6’ tall or more, learning to sail in the beginner class (in Prams) will most likely be a lesson in frustration and is not usually recommended. In that case, kids should start sailing in the ‘Adventure Sailing’ class. Kids need to take at least eight weeks (one full summer) of ‘Adventure Sailing’ before advancing to another class. Kids may advance faster, but a recommendation from the instructor and a demonstration of specific skills is required before allowing an older, “new” sailor to progress faster. Talk to the Program Director for more details.

“How do I know when my child is ready to move up?”

A.) If there is a question about which class to join, it is better to start in a lower class. Kids can be and moved up after the first few classes if need be. It is easier on a child to be moved up rather than down.

B.) Attitude is a critical factor. If a child wants to advance, they will rise to the occasion.

C.) Speak with the instructor(s) and/or Program Director during the summer for feedback on how your child is progressing, what they can to work on, and how you can help them.

Class by Class – when a child is ready to change classes:

1.) Beginners – Most kids take 1-4 sessions; 2 is average (1-2 summers). Kids are ready to move on if and when: they can sail by themselves, they are comfortable on the water (no tears, happy to go to sailing class, etc…), they are excited to learn more and move on (have a good attitude). Kids sail Prams in Beginner class.

2.) Intermediates – Most kids take 1-3 sessions; 2 is average (1-2 summers). Kids remain sailing Prams. Class meets 4 afternoons a week. They sail in windier conditions due to the afternoon timeslot – this is scheduled purposefully. Kids are ready to move on when they are comfortable sailing solo in a variety of conditions, and they demonstrate specific skills, including rigging & de-rigging un-assisted, the ability to sail upwind, sitting in the proper place, holding the tiller correctly, proper sail trim at different points of sail, proper docking, etc… A good attitude and the desire to learn more are also key factors.

3.) Adventure Optimist – Most kids take 1-4 sessions (1-2 summers). Kids sail Optimists that they own themselves or that they ‘rent’ from CYC each session. Class meets in the afternoon from 1pm-4pm, Tuesday through Friday. Kids need to be able to: sail all points of sail, especially upwind; listen to and follow directions; have a good attitude and be excited to ‘adventure’ around the Bay.
Sailors are ready to move out of Adventure Opti when they want to learn to race, or they physically outgrow the Optimist. From here, kids move to the racing track or the recreational track – Green Fleet Optimist or Adventure Sailing.

Where to next?
At this point, you need to know your child and what is best for them – meaning give them a push or let them enjoy recreational sailing and ease them into racing some day, maybe. Kids who are competitive by nature should move into Green Fleet, this includes kids who say that they don’t want to race. Often kids who are naturally competitive may shy away from sailboat racing for various reasons. While there is no need to push a sailor into racing if they truly don’t want to do it, some kids do need that push.

Most kid’s first racing experience is humbling, and thus, usually discouraging. Kids who are competitive want instant results and if they don’t succeed quickly want to give up or simply say, “I don’t like racing”. Sailing and racing sailboats is a lifetime sports. It is still possible to win events at 80 + years old. At 12, that can be a difficult concept to grasp.

Recommended Option:
4.) CYC Green Fleet Optimist Team– 1 eight-week session (1 summer is typical, though 2 summers is fine too). Green Fleet is an eight-week commitment. Kids must have their own Optimists. (CYC does not rent Optimists for the Green Fleet class.) Kids are ready to move into Optimist Racing once they have a good handle on the basics of racing and want to move into the more competitive Optimist Racing class. Green Fleet is ‘warm and fuzzy’ – all the coaches coach everyone, kids do not stay on the water as long during regattas, and they sail shorter courses than in Opti Racing. Some may start the summer in Green Fleet and end in Optimist Racing. The classes meet at the same time and the cost is the same. Though, some kids choose to stay in Green Fleet for years.

5.) CYC Optimist Racing Team – Most kids take 2-4 summers in Optimist Racing. Opti racing provides a solid foundation of racing skills and concepts. Kids age out of Optimists when they are 15. Kids size out of Opti’s when they are six feet tall or taller and/or weigh more than 130 pounds, though there are Opti sailors who weigh more and continue to sail. It is recommended that a sailor stay in Opti Racing for a minimum of two years, but hopefully three or more years depending on age and size. Skilled, experienced Opti racers can move straight into 420 racing, skipping Apprentice 420.

6.) 420 Racing Team & Lasers – Kids who have mastered the basics of sailing and racing are ready for racing 420s and/or Lasers. This typically happens by the age of 14 or 15.  Kids usually continue to race 420s and Lasers until they age out of NBYA, which is age 19 (may not reach their 19th birthday in the calendar year in which they are competing).

Junior Instructors:
Those interested in becoming a junior instructor should contact the Program Director before the sailing season starts, or ideally, the fall before. Junior Instructors must be at least 16 years old and must fill out an employment application in the CYC office.

Kids who are 15 and would like to become junior instructors are encouraged to help out on Monday night learn to sail off the dock evenings.

Start of Progression #2 (older beginner sailors):

7.) Adventure Sailing – Class runs in 2-week sessions. Participation can be for 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks, or all 8 weeks for as many summers as your sailor would like. Adventure sailing has transformed into a class for those who are at least 12 years old and enjoy sailing but not racing. Additionally, it is a class for older beginners. This class uses multiple platforms to cruise around Narragansett Bay – Hunter 140s, JY 15s, Sunfish, O’Pen Bics and anything else that we can find that safely sails to enjoy the Bay.
Kids who are older beginners in this class must take the class for at least one summer before they can move into a more advanced class; or speak with the Program Director about moving from this class to a class that will include race training.

8.) Green Fleet 420 – Most kids take 2-4 sessions, or 1-2 summers. Kids who are excited to race and have the following skills down are ready to move from Apprentice 420 to 420 Racing: roll-tack; roll-gybe; the ability to trapeze skillfully/confidently in a variety of conditions; stop the boat at the sound of a whistle; be able to set the spinnaker and keep it flying; sail confidently in up to 15 knots of breeze; be able to steer keeping the crew on the trapeze in windy conditions; dock a 420 properly; know how to tie a bowline, figure eight knot and a rolling hitch. Attitude is critical for moving on. Kids who may be missing a skill or more but have the right attitude are ready to move on to 420 Racing and/or Lasers.

9.) Keel Boat – No limit to the number of sessions taken. Kids need to be at least 12 years old. Keel boat class is great for all kids, especially bigger kids and for kids who just want to do more sailing. Keel boat sailing is a different discipline of sailing. Things happen differently on a keelboat and the group must learn the boat and learn to work together as a team. For those who want to learn basic sailing skills it is recommended that kids take a beginner class or another class in smaller boats to learn the basics.

Combining Classes:
In whatever order of classes kids progress, there are classes that can combined to maximize a child’s time on the water, or to give them a different sailing experience, whether that is sailing on a keelboat or relaxing in a class that is for fun. Some examples are as follows:
• **Beginners – add 1 day each week for 1 session ($100) or both sessions ($200); or add 2 days each week for 1 session ($200) or both sessions ($400)

• Green Fleet & Mon/Fri. Adventure Sailing

• Opti Racing & Mon/Fri. Adventure Sailing

• Opti Racing & Apprentice 420 ($75 discount/session off Apprentice 420)

• Apprentice 420 & Tues-Thurs. Adventure Sailing

• Optimist Racing & Keel Boat Crew Training

• 420 Racing & Keel Boat Crew Training

• Adventure Sailing & Keel Boat Crew Training

• Lasers & Tues – Thurs. Adventure Sailing

• 420 Race & Lasers ($75 discount/session off Lasers)

• 420 Race and Mon/Fri. Adventure Sailing

* The Adventure Sailing class can be added to almost any class. It is offered in two-week sessions and kids can join for 2, 3 or all 5 days of the class each week.

** Kids can add one or two days a week extra of beginner’s each session. Adding a day or two must be done for an entire session and must be the same day(s) each week – i.e. add every Thursday for session one for a child in beginner A.

Kids learn the basics best when they sail by themselves. Thus, it is recommended that kids start sailing in the beginner class and move up to Intermediates, then Adventure Opti, then Green Fleet, Opti Racing, then 420’s and/or Lasers. Racing solidifies skills, and will provide confidence as is true with any other sport. The sport of sailing, however, can be more daunting for a variety of reasons. And, unlike many other sports, sailing is a lifelong sport. If your child is competitive by nature, at some point they will most likely enjoy racing. Some kids need pushing, some kids don’t. Like all things parenting-related, knowing when to push is the hardest part, and that is indeed still up to you.

For those who may not know, a large number of high schools and the majority of colleges have sailing teams, programs and/or sailing is a club sport. At all levels, kids are competing against one another most weekends in the fall and spring. While there are not sailing scholarships, it is a sport in which many coaches have ‘pull’ and can be of help with admission to high schools and colleges across the country.

Though only two specific pathways are discussed here, kids learn at different rates and in different ways. We will work with you to try and find the best classes and progression for your child. Please contact Meg Myles directly at to discuss the best options for your child(ren).

Last, but not least, if you want your kids to succeed and excel in sailing, the best thing you can do is to go sailing with them. The kids who tend to be the most confident, knowledgeable, successful and lifelong sailors are those who sail with their parents. If you are a parent that has a boat, take your child and their friends sailing. The more you include your young sailor’s peer group, the greater the chance that your child will love sailing as you do.

For those who are not sailing families, encourage your sailor to race with adults on weekends, on Tuesday nights, whenever there is an opportunity. The more exposure to different kinds of sailing a young person can have, the more it will help them to become competent, 'complete', and confident lifelong sailors.

Class Progressions – flow chart