Best Sailing Schools in the BVI - 6 Tips to Help You Choose
Looking to become a skipper? If so you need to find yourself a great school. This post specifically looks at the best sailing schools in the BVI. Why learn in the BVI? We'll look at that below. Let's first look at the six factors you should consider in finding the best sailing school in the BVI for your needs (and if you want to know which course to do read this earlier post).
1. Great Instructor
The single most important factor to your skipper course is your instructor. If your instructor is great, you will have a great time. Simple. And just as important you will learn a lot. However, many schools do not proritise on their instructors. Some do not even have instructors as employees. Rather they hire in contractors on an as-needs basis. By doing this they can in no real way guarantee the quality of teaching.
What should you do? When researching schools, make sure they have a "Your Instructors" section on their "About Us" tab of their website. Read up on the instructors. Ask the school which instructor you are likely to have. Chances are the school should be able to confirm that there is a high chance of Instructor X (a specific individual). If the school has put an instructor up on their "About Us" tab with a bit of a spiel about him/her, this tells you already that they are proud of said instructor. This alone speaks volumes.
Image: Sailing Virgins
2. Great Boat
If you're going to spend a lot of money on a fast-track course, you want to know that you have a decent boat. If you're going to spend a week focusing on sailing, would you rather spend it on a slow, ten-year-old cruising yacht or a newer, comfortable racer/cruiser? Remember you will be living on this boat for a week! Comfort is all part of it.
What questions can you ask the school? Find out the age of the instruction boat. Anything from 4-8 years is fine (you will very rarely find school boats younger than 4 years old unless you book a custom course). Find out the type of boat it is. If you can find a racer/cruiser this is going to be a much more enjoyable sailing week than a simple cruiser. After all, you are here to sail. Using a car analogy, if you're going to rent a car, for the same money you'd probably prefer to rent a Porsche 911 over a Camry, right?
Image: Sailing Virgins
3. Great Location
You have probably already answered much of this yourself. For a week of sailing who wouldn't want warm water, blue skies and reliable trade winds? There is a reason why the British Virgin Islands is a worldwide mecca for sailing; sailing conditions have a lot to do with it. There is not a lot of difference frankly between the BVI and the USVI in terms of sailing (they are neighbouring island groups). However, it is generally believed that the BVI offers more in terms of interesting bays and islands to explore.
Once in the BVI, find out where the school is located. Is it near an airport or ferry terminal? Where do you meet your instructor? Is this a place where you can relax, grab a beer and something to eat? After all this is your vacation. Ask these questions to your shortlisted schools.
Image credit: Michael Vanarey, thanks also to Mariah and Jenn!
4. Reputable Sailing Curriculum
There are a few respected several sailing associations available. Just make sure your school teaches to one of them. If they teach American Sailing Association (which is based on the Sail Canada syllabus), International Yacht Training, NauticEd or the original Royal Yachting Association this is fine; particularly if you are seeking a bareboat skipper qualification. If you are seeking your Yachtmaster and you are planning to work in Europe, you may wish to do an RYA course as they are the original and - according to many sailors - the best Yachtmaster course. We have another blog post comparing the three major sailing organisations and relative newcomer (and technological leader), NauticEd.
Image credit: Yacht Shots BVI
5. Recent 5 Star Reviews
Reviews are one thing but the recency of reviews is more important. Why is this? Back to my first point: the most important aspect of your course is your instructor. Instructors, being sailors, tend to be fairly transient. They will most likely work one season in the Med, another in the Caribbean and then possibly move on. Check out the recent reviews. If the school has a high number of reviews that are less than six months old (or even better during the season, in the past few weeks), you can be fairly confident that they have their act together. Sailing Virgins is the highest-rated sailing school in the Caribbean, on all the major platforms.
6. Right Time of Year
Time of year can be important for sailing conditions. The best time to sail in the BVI, if you are just looking at reliable wind, tends to be the December-February months. These months are also when things are pretty social and busy. Choosing shoulder seasons such as November and April can be a great strategy to have decent sailing conditions plus a less crowded environment. Want to sail to a bay with hardly anyone else there? You are most likely to find that on the shoulder season. There's the trade-off. We wrote a whole blog post about this which you can see here.
Is there a time when you shouldn't do a sailing course? We'd say during the hurricane season is a good time to skip the place, but not for the reason you might be expecting. Hurricanes are actually fairly rare (and decent travel insurance will help mitigate this risk). It's just that the wind conditions are (somewhat ironically) at their worst during the hurricane season. And the place is HOT. If you must do a course in the months of July-September we suggest you look further south, to places like Martinique or the Grenadines. They are much less likely to see a storm and have generally better conditions during those months.
If you're looking to do a sailing skipper course, chances are you are looking to find the best school for your needs. This post lists six factors to look at when deciding on not just the best sailing school generally but the best schools in the BVI. Even if you are not looking specifically at the Caribbean, by asking potential schools about the six listed criteria: Instructor, Boat, Location, Sailing Association, Recent Reviews and Time of Year you will be well placed to find a school that meets your needs.
At Sailing Virgins we believe we are the best sailing school in the Caribbean. For one, our instructors are well trained and "on staff", all hand-selected by the owner. Next, there is a very high chance our students will learn on a Beneteau First 40, a legendary racer/cruiser designed, made in France and owned by Sailing Virgins. Sailing Virgins is based at the Castle Maria, a five minute drive away from the Road Town Ferry Terminal in Tortola. Teaching is to the American Sailing Association syllabus. Five Star Reviews are coming in thick & fast! And most importantly, we're not resting - we want to build on this lead. Email us for a free consultation about how we can help improve your sailing.