ASA 103 Basic Cruising


Prerequisite: 101

Recommended reading: 'Cruising Made Easy' by the ASA. Order from our Ship's Store.

Description: Demonstrated ability to skipper a sloop-rigged auxiliary powered (inboard or outboard engine) keelboat of approximately 25-35 feet in length by day in moderate winds (up to 20 knots) and sea conditions. Knowledge of cruising sailboat terminology, basic boat systems, auxiliary engine operation, docking procedures, intermediate sail trim, navigation rules, basic coastal navigation, anchoring, weather interpretation, safety and seamanship.

All terms below are described in the Glossary.

Sailing Knowledge

Be able to identify the following parts of a sailboat:

  • stem fitting
  • binnacle
  • through hull fitting
  • hatch
  • compass
  • binnacle
  • auxiliary engine
  • windlass
  • tang
  • transom
  • companionway
  • saloon
  • galley
  • v-berth
  • cockpit locker
  • turnbuckle
  • chainplate
  • rudderpost
  • self bailing cockpit
  • emergency tiller
  • seacock
  • ground tackle

List, from memory, the federally required equipment for a recreational vessel of 33' equipped with an inboard diesel engine.
(See listing in: Glossary)

Describe the different types of personal flotation devices (PFD or Life Jacket), their characteristics, and benefits.

List the ASA recommended safety equipment for a sailboat.

List important reasons for keeping gear and equipment stowed in assigned places on the boat.

Describe a safety harness and tether.

Describe safe refueling procedures for a vessel equipped with an outboard engine using gasoline or a diesel engine using diesel fuel.

Navigation & Weather

Demonstrate understanding of basic coastal navigation terminology and practices, including: (For definitions see Terminology, Glossary, and Unlocking the Chart)

navigation tools aids to navigation
navigation charts & symbols latitude/longitude
depth soundings determine magnetic direction
bottom types measuring distance

Describe how to prevent undue magnetic influence on a compass.

Describe the dangers of, and how to avoid, a lee shore.

Obtain and interpret marine weather information; describe the impact that present observations and forecasts may have on sailing plans for the next 6-12 hours.

Describe and identify cumulonimbus clouds and what dangers they may signify.

Define small craft advisory and gale warning and describe precautions to be taken for each.

Sail Plan

Describe the appropriate sail combinations to carry under the following wind conditions: Light (0-11 knots), moderate (12-19 knots), and heavy (20-33 knots).

Describe the procedures for reducing sail using a roller furling head sail and a mainsail slab reefing system.

Describe the benefits of, and procedures for, heaving-to.


Describe the primary responsibilities of skipper and crew.

Describe and apply the following Navigation Rules to avoid collisions: Proceeding at a safe speed (Rule 6), determination of collision risk (Rule 7), and taking early and substantial action to avoid collision (Rule 8).

Describe actions to be taken by the Give-way and Stand-on vessels (Rules 16 & 17).

List, from memory, federally required navigation lights (location, color, arc of visibility, and meaning) on boats between sunset and sunrise when under sail, power, and at anchor.
(See: Navigation Lights)

Describe a tricolor light, its uses and restrictions.
(See: Navigation Lights)

Describe actions to be taken when operating a vessel in restricted visibility such as fog or haze including adaptation of speed and use of sound signals.

Describe the meaning of basic maneuvering and warning signals (short and prolonged whistle blasts) for inland waters.

Describe the appearance and purpose of the Diver Down and Alpha flags.

Describe common anchor types, major considerations for anchorage selection, and proper scope for short term and overnight anchoring as well as storm conditions. (See Anchoring)

Describe the three stages of hypothermia, symptoms, and treatments for each.

Describe two methods for getting a person out of the water and safely back on board the vessel.

Identify common sources of fire and/or explosion and understand methods for preventing such occurrences. Describe different types of fires and procedures for operating a fire extinguisher.

Describe immediate actions to be taken when the following urgent situations arise:

Cabin filling with water Dragging anchor
Failed steering system Grounding at anchor
Fouled propeller Running aground under sail
Failed running or standing rigging Engine failure

Sailing Skills

Locate and examine for compliance the vessel's federally required and ASA recommended safety equipment.

Demonstrate on shore or aboard the vessel the correct method for putting on a life jacket while in the water.

Identify the vessel's battery selector switch and power distribution panel and ensure all switches are in the proper position for getting underway.

Ensure navigation lights (sidelights, stern light, steaming light, and anchor light) operate properly.

Perform a radio check using a working channel on the VHF radio.


Visually pilot the practice vessel in and out of a harbor, correlating nautical chart symbols to actual landmarks and aids to navigation.

Steer a compass course (+/- 5 degrees) under power for a minimum of five minutes.

Under Power

Visually inspect the auxiliary engine and demonstrate safe engine starting, operating, and stopping procedures. Demonstrate proper gear shift and throttle use.

Ensure vessel & crew readiness and depart dock or slip smoothly and under control.

Approach a mooring buoy (or other mark as a simulation if no mooring is available), stop the vessel within boat hook reach, attach the vessel to the mooring using an appropriate line or bridle, cast off from the mooring and get underway.

Set a bow anchor in water depth of 8 feet or greater using correct procedures including hand signal communication, vessel maneuvers, safety in handling ground tackle, and proper operation of windlass (if equipped). Anchor should hold with engine in reverse gear at 1/2 throttle. Raise anchor and get underway smoothly using correct procedures.

Describe and demonstrate the correct actions to be taken while under power from the time a person falls overboard until safely recovered.

Under Sail

Hoist or unfurl sails correctly using halyards and/or furling devices. Describe the effect on sail trim or performance while adjusting each of the following lines and controls (if available on the practice vessel): Downhaul or cunningham, outhaul, boom vang, mainsheet, traveler, jibsheets, jibsheet fairleads. Discuss ways to reduce heeling.

Demonstrate correct winch operation including safety considerations for line tension/breakage, hand/finger position, winch handle insertion/removal, and clearing overrides.

Without coaching or assistance from the instructor; verbalize appropriate commands and demonstrate competence, safety, and good seamanship in the role of Skipper/Helmsperson during the maneuvers listed below. Honor all aids to navigation and use properly the Navigation Rules. Ensure sails are trimmed correctly and the vessel is in control at all times. Adjust sail controls appropriately as the vessel's heading changes and or wind and sea conditions change.

Get out of Irons then select and maintain a given tack and course.

Head up, tack, bear away, and jibe while pausing briefly at each of the following points of sail: Close hauled, close reach, beam reach, broad reach, and run (with sails set wing and wing).

Heave-to and get sailing normally again.

While underway, reduce sail area by reefing mainsail and head sail; shake out reef and resume course.

As crew, give appropriate verbal responses and perform correct actions during the maneuvers listed above.

Describe and demonstrate the correct actions to be taken while under sail from the time a person falls overboard until safely recovered.

Lower and/or furl all sails and coil or flake and stow all lines properly.

Return to dock/slip and ensure vessel/crew readiness and use the auxiliary engine to bring the vessel smoothly and under control to a stop next to a parallel dock or into a slip, secure the vessel using appropriate lines and fenders.

Describe commonly accepted uses and construct without assistance and in a timely manner each of the following knots:

  • bowline
  • figure eight
  • round turn and two half hitches
  • cleat hitch
  • sheet bend
  • clove hitch
  • reef knot
  • rolling hitch

Learn more about Sailing Knots.

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