RYA or ASA course? What’s the difference?

The RYA (Royal Yachting Association) and the ASA (American Sailing Association) are the two most well-known organisations in sail training. They are a little different in size and scope as I explain later in this article.

We often get asked what the difference is between the courses offered by the RYA and ASA and so I have created the chart and notes below to help you understand the two schemes. I’ve only included the lower level courses, which are what most students are interested in. These cover the courses that you might take if you want to charter, sail on a flotilla, or start sailing your own small yacht. They don’t cover ocean crossings. I’ll write another article about the more advanced levels in due course.

Obviously, as an RYA school, we may be slightly biased 🙂 but I have included information from friends who are ASA instructors to try to give a balanced view. I’m happy to update what I have put if it is incorrect in any way. Just email me or add a comment below.

Details of RYA and ASA Courses

There are some differences between the RYA and ASA schemes:

1.) RYA theory courses (in the white boxes above)  are completed separately, in a class or online, before doing the relevant practical course. ASA schools may teach theory in a classroom but ASA courses more often include both theory and practical work taught on board the yacht. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.

2.) RYA practical courses and the basic navigation course are assessed by the instructor on the student’s performance during the course; there is no written examination. RYA Day Skipper & Coastal Skipper Shorebased courses include practical chartwork exercises and questions which students must complete satisfactorily, although they don’t get a numeric score. ASA students take a written test which they must pass with an 80% or more and a practical skills assessment which must be passed with 100%. Those who do not like written tests or for whom English is a second language may prefer the RYA approach.

3.) You can enter the RYA scheme at any level as long as you have the required knowledge or experience; you don’t need to have completed earlier RYA courses. ASA requires you to have taken the prior classes before taking an advanced class but, if you have sailing experience, you can “test” out of earlier classes such as 101 and 103 by taking the written test and an on the water practical for a fee.

4.) ASA courses use American rather than British nautical terminology – there are some differences! ASA tests include specific information pertaining to US coastguard rules. They may arguably be a better choice for those who intend to sail in the USA rather than in Europe or elsewhere in the world but charter companies accept certificates from both schemes.

5.) RYA teaching materials are particularly good in comparison to those produced by the ASA, although I understand that the ASA are working to remedy this.  RYA Shorebased courses are taught using specially produced RYA training charts, almanacs, and even a simulation GPS plotter. These include everything that you might find anywhere in the world. The practical courses have colourful course books with plenty of illustrations. They even have special books for the young sailor or cruiser – these are so good many adults like to read them!

6.) The ASA advertise that they believe learning to sail should be ‘safe, easy, and fun’. I’d probably describe the three key elements of the RYA scheme as ‘safety, quality, and enjoyment’. Both organisations are strong on safety and enjoying yourself during your instruction. Where they differ appears to be that the ASA approach stresses making learning to sail as easy as possible, whereas the RYA wants to encourage people to learn to sail as well as possible. Which you prefer will depend on your temperament and goals.

About the RYA and ASA

Both the RYA and ASA are not for profit members organisations. Any money that is made is invested straight back into the sport.

The RYA is British based and promotes all types of ‘on the water’ activity in the UK and abroad. Education is a key part of this and the RYA runs certification courses for all ages, abilities, and goals, from childrens’ dinghy clubs and PWC owners, through courses for leisure boaters of all types, right up to coaching Olympic sailors and running courses for commercial yacht skippers.  The RYA has a strong interest in education overseas and is actively involved in developing this. RYA qualifications are known and respected world-wide, with over 2,200 RYA recognised training centres in more than 44 countries.

The ASA is US based and concentrates purely on recreational sailing, both in small boats and larger yachts. There are over 300 sailing schools around the world using ASA certification, including over 40 affiliate schools in 14 countries outside the USA. ASA is the standard for sailing education in the USA, with about 85% of American sailing schools being members of the association

I’ll make the final word a comment I received from Chris, who runs an ASA school. I completely agree with him on this:

Individual instructors really determine the level of teaching going on during the course and different students will take away different things from the courses . . . What is more important than the system they go through, seems to be the quality of the instructors and the motivation of the students to learn.

General Interest- Sailing
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  • Richard Jepsen

    Couple of clarifications:

    Firstly, ASA is a ‘for profit’ enterprise, owned by Lenny Shabes.

    the US SAILING standard, different from ASA, is overseen by the national governing body of the sport here in the US. fewer schools associated, but all of the largest and most well respected schools are US SAILING affiliates. email me if you’d like more information.

    December 5, 2011, 17:00 permalink
    • Kevin Jolly

      I would like the chance to teach sailing in the USA, is it possible to convert my RYA Ocean commercial qualification to allow me to teach there?

      April 28, 2016, 05:26 permalink
      • Melody McKay Burton

        If you are an RYA instructor you can automatically get your qualification accepted by the ASA. I think there may be a small fee involved. I understand that the ASA now require instructors to have training in instruction, as the RYA have always done. Your commercial qualification should be sufficient for you to be accepted on one of their training courses. Alternatively you could do an RYA instructor’s course then go for the conversion. If you think you might want to teach RYA courses as well that would be the better path, as the RYA doesn’t currently automatically accept ASA instructor certificates. They believe RYA qualifications are superior.

        April 28, 2016, 07:36 permalink
  • melodyingreece

    You are incorrect, Richard. Both the ASA and RYA are not for profit organisations owned by their members. Perhaps you are mixing it up with another body. There have been several new private schemes set up in the past 10 years.

    April 10, 2012, 05:50 permalink
    • Maco

      I’m not so sure, Melody. The ASA website certainly doesn’t say anything about being member-owned, or having 501(c)(3) non-profit status. It does comfirm that it was founded by its current chairman, Lenny Shabes.

      In the absence of specific information to the contrary, it would appear that Richard’s information is correct. Not that there is anything wrong with training being provided by a private, for-profit company; although all other things being equal, personally I tend to prefer a non-profit like the RYA, CYA (now “Sail Canada”) or US Sailing.

      Cheers, Maco

      December 21, 2015, 04:51 permalink
      • Melody McKay Burton

        I’ll try to find out which the ASA is, Maco. I always understood it was a membership organization but I could be mistaken. I know a few ASA instructors and will ask them then post here.

        April 28, 2016, 07:31 permalink
    • Mike Pelley

      After reading the comments I became interested in the non-profit status of ASA. I discovered the following post from the ASA Facebook group:

      American Sailing Association
      March 29, 2010 ·
      Facebook error note
      When you search for “American Sailing Association,” Facebook shows the ASA as a non-profit organization. This is incorrect and caused by a bug that’s affecting multiple facebook businesses. We wanted to make clear here that we are not a non-profit institution, and we are working with Facebook to rectify that misplaced tag.

      November 13, 2016, 20:33 permalink