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Basic keelboat certification course


The US Sailing Basic Keelboat course is an intensive course designed to teach you all aspects of handling a keelboat, including sailing technique, water safety (including rescuing a person in the water), knots, vocabulary, and an introduction to weather. This is a nationally recognized certification course which, once completed, will allow you to progress to more advanced US Sailing courses including Basic Cruising and Bareboat Cruising. Please read this page thoroughly to decide if this course is right for you, and if so, which option is best for you.

The course culminates with written and practical exams, and in order to earn the Basic Keelboat Certification, each student must successfully demonstrate the ability to responsibly skipper and crew a simple daysailing keelboat in familiar waters in light to moderate wind and sea conditions. The skills tested are listed here.

Each student will receive a copy of the US Sailing Basic Keelboat textbook. Upon successful completion of the exams, students will receive a logbook, sticker, and one-year US Sailing membership.

Course Structure

The DSC offers Basic Keelboat in three different structures:

  • 5-Day Immersive Experience - Offered over 5 subsequent days (normally a Wednesday through Sunday) from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. each day, this is the most intense experience. Students get the most out of this option when they have prior experience, are comfortable with general sailing knowledge, and need the formal instruction to learn proper techniques, vocabulary, and advanced maneuvers. There will be homework at the end of each day, and the exams are held on Day 5.
  • 3-Weekend Experience - This option is a 6-day experience, offered on three consecutive weekends (may skip a weekend due to holidays, see calendar offerings for exact dates). This one is also best attempted by students with some prior sailing, and you’ll get the most out of this course if you are a DSC member and attend the Wednesday evening member sails (or have another way to practice skills) in between the weekends. There will be homework at the end of each day, and the extra day allows for a little extra instruction and review time before the exams on Day 6.
  • Self-Paced Experience - You can complete the Basic Keelboat curriculum by taking the DSC’s Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 (Intro, Intermediate, and Advanced) courses. The benefit of this approach is that YOU determine the spacing of the courses so that you can tailor the timeline to fit your learning style and ensure adequate practice in between. Each of these courses is one weekend in length, and the Level 3 course culminates in the Basic Keelboat exams.

If you have any questions on the above options or want to consult with the Adult Education Manager on which is the best option for you, please email

Frequently Asked Questions

Who should take the Basic Keelboat Course?

This course is intended for those looking for an intensive sailing course AND a US Sailing certification. The Basic Keelboat certification is a prerequisite for more advanced US Sailing courses, including Basic Cruising and Bareboat Cruising.

Should I take this course if I have never sailed before?

If you are a beginning sailor, we recommend that you pace out the curriculum, which you can do by following the “self paced” option #3 and starting with the Intro (Level 1) course. The best way to do this is to join the DSC as a member, which will give you a discount on the courses and the ability to practice in between. Practice time is the key to success as it takes time and repetition, as well as sailing in different conditions, to become truly proficient at sailing.

If you have prior sailing experience, then one of the fast-paced options may be best suited for you.

How can I get some sailing experience before taking this class?

The best way is to join the DSC as a crew member! You can come to Member Sails as a novice, and our skippers will help you get acclimated to the boats and to sailing. After you’ve come out to at least 5 or 6 sails, if you are feeling comfortable taking the helm and performing the duties of a crew member, you will have a better idea of how you enjoy learning and which option will be best for you.

What if I do not pass the exams?

If you do not pass, you will receive a Plan of Improvement, which will detail exactly what skills you need to practice. DSC members can then practice by coming out to Member Sails or connecting with DSC skippers privately. You’ll have 90 days from the date of your exam to practice and will then be able to try again, only having to repeat the skills which were unsuccessful the first time. The first re-test is free, any beyond that will incur a fee so we can pay for the instructors’ time.

Does passing this course automatically make me a DSC skipper?

Maybe! We have a high standard for our skippers at the DSC, so if you pass the practical exam with flying colors you may be certified as a skipper. DSC skippers will have the responsibility of crew safety and taking care of the fleet, so we must require outstanding performance on the practical exam for this privilege.

Boats and Facilities

This course is taught aboard the DSC’s keelboats, and you’ll sail on either a J/22 or a Sonar. Both have a heavy keel to provide stability and will not tip over during your sail!

Parking is available on site in the gravel lot of the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Classes meet behind the BMI pavilion, near the gate to the Downtown Sailing Center main dock. Please plan to arrive a few minutes early to orient yourself and meet your instructor.

Our full-day classes return for a lunch break in the middle of each day, but you should plan to be on the water for up to three hours at a stretch.

Life jackets are required to be worn and will be provided. Please wear close-toed shoes for safety. We recommend dressing for the weather (it can feel cooler on the water than on land!) and bringing a water bottle, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen and a great attitude.

Signing Up

For complete session dates, please see below. To register, click on the session below that fits your schedule. 

If the class you want to attend is fully booked, feel free to join the waitlist. We will send an email to the waitlist when a spot becomes available. It is then first-come first-serve.

Full payment is required to reserve your spot. Space is limited!

Basic Keelboat Schedule

No events available



The Downtown Sailing Center

Est 1994
1425 Key Highway, Suite 110, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 727-0722 •