Skip to content

Questions Answered

What is the SBSSA?

The Santa Barbara Sea Shell Association is a local group of about 40 families in Santa Barbara who are continuing a 75-year tradition of teaching young people to sail by putting them on the water, by themselves, in their very own boat, racing against others at their own level.

Who can join the SBSSA?

Any child who will be at least 8 years old by Memorial Day, and is not over 18, can become a member of the Santa Barbara Sea Shell Association, although the Board can approve a younger skipper if the situation warrants.

Do you really race?

You bet! Our kids learn to sail by racing against others at their own level. We follow the same rules and regulations that govern sail racing all over the world. But if that conjures up an image of serious, stressed-out sailors and tense parents, that couldn’t be further from the truth! The spirit is enthusiastic and fun, and winning is never more important than good sportsmanship, learning, and family time together.

Who teaches my kid to sail?

You, the parent! At the beginning, you will be in the US Sabot with you child progressively letting them take control of the rudder and main sail. At some point—it may be during the first or second season—your child will feel ready to do his/her/their first solo. She/he/they will sail around the usual course in the Novice fleet for 10 solo races, at which point she/he/they will graduate to the C-fleet. Each achievement will be celebrated.

The solos do not have to be consecutive. Once in the C-fleet and beyond, your child will be sailing alone.

For the first three sessions of the season, there is an instructional series presenting the basics about the parts of the boats, points of sail, basic sail trim, and the racing rules of sailing. Then, new skippers will pair up with an older skipper and head out on the water to put the things they learned into practice.

Do I race against kids my own age?

Not necessarily. Skippers are ranked by experience and skill, not age, into different classes (although of course the older skippers are usually in the higher classes).

Beginning skippers start in the Novice class, where they are allowed to have an experienced sailor in the boat with them. This is often a parent, but those with parents who do not sail can always find a willing partner to help them out. There’s a lot to learn to become a competent sailor, and the Novice class is where our young sailors literally “learn the ropes.” The Novice class is not a racing class.

After a while, Novices are ready to solo, and there are always cheers from the beach when a young Novice crosses the finish line after his or her first solo. Then after 10 solos, the Novice is ready to move up to the “C Sabot” class, our entry level racing class.  After the first 10 solos, the young skipper’s achievement is typically celebrated by a friendly dunk in the harbor, at the hands of the other skippers.  Eventually a young skipper gets his or her “First First,” (first first-place finish), which is another cause for celebration.

At the start of each season we reassess the skill levels of our sailors. When the young skipper is ready, it’s on to “C Sabots,” “B O’Pen Skiffs” or to the, “A RS Tera”—and eventually to the two-person boat, the RS Feva. Along the way, there will be opportunities for trophies, out-of-town sailing trips, picnics, and lots and lots of sun, sand, and fun.

Will I capsize?

At some point, all dinghy sailors will experience a capsized boat. Learning to right the boat, by pulling or standing on the daggerboard, is a necessary skill to learn. On warmer days, many skippers will choose to capsize for the fun of it! And, from time to time, we might even make capsizing a requirement for the advanced skippers to finish a race. But not to worry; the safety boats will be standing by to assist those novices who capsize accidentally.

How much does it cost?

Most families find Sea Shells to be surprisingly inexpensive. The annual membership cost for a family is $200. In addition, your skipper will need a boat (a used US Sabot costs from $300 to $600) and the storage fee in our condos to is $175/year. Boats can also be rented directly from SBSSA from $250-$300 per season. A first-year family with one skipper is looking at $200 in fees to the club, plus the rental of a boat for $250. In addition you will require at least two PFDs (life vests). Nobody goes on the water without one, not even the adults, and adults are required to help on the safety boats.

When a skipper who owns a US Sabot graduates from the US Sabot fleet and moves to the O’Pen Skiffs or RS Teras, the Sabot can generally be sold to a new family for roughly what they paid for it. It’s not uncommon for an older skipper to sell their Sabot and use the proceeds to buy their next boat to continue their sailing adventures.

Skippers in the A-Fleet and B-Fleet and RS Feva fleet have a different cost structure as the O’Pen Skiffs, RS Teras, and RS Fevas are club-owned. They pay rental fees to the club for the use of the boats in addition to the membership fee. The rest is up to you: beach chairs, umbrellas, cleats, lines, and tiller extensions are common but not always necessary purchases. We will not hit you up for additional donations during the year, nor do we do door-to-door fundraising like some youth organizations.

Will I need a boat?

Yes, all skippers will own or rent their own boat.

Expect to pay $300 to $600 dollars for a used US Sabot.

The one boat will last a skipper’s entire SBSSA career or until ready to sail on the O’Pen Skiff, RS Tera and RS Feva. The US Sabot can then be resold. Boats can also be rented directly from SBSSA.

Where can I store my boat?

We have an arrangement with the City in which we can store our boats in a series of storage sheds we refer to as our “condos,” right on the beach next to the launch ramp. There is a fee of $175 per year, and one work day at the beginning of the season to paint and repair the condos.

Do the parents of the sailors need to know how to sail?

No! It helps, of course, but there are many parents in the Association who do not sail. While we have instructional and  “hut meetings” in which we teach young skippers the fundamentals of sailing and the racing rules, most of the learning takes place out on the water while the skipper is a Novice. Those parents who do not sail will want to make arrangements with an experienced adult or older skipper (many alumni are available for hire) who can go out with the Novice during these crucial early sailing days and provide on-the-water instruction. There is usually no problem in finding someone who can help out. And many non-sailing parents have been inspired to learn to sail themselves so as not to be left behind by their kids! Some parents decide to learn to sail with their children; it’s a great bonding experience, and a lot of fun.

What are the parents’ responsibilities?

We are not a “drop and dash” organization. Parents are required to stay with their kids on the beach during racing, to help their kids and to help run the races. At minimum this help takes two forms.

  1. Twice a year you will be asked to be one of two families on the Race Committee. On those days, your responsibilities are to get the safety boats over to the beach from their dock near Marina 1, lay out the racing marks, decide which courses to sail during the 3 kids’ races, run the starts, and at the end of sailing pick up the marks and return the safety boats to their dock. If you don’t know anything about sailing, have no fear. New families will be paired with experienced families, and there are always lots of helpful adults on the beach if you have any questions.
  2. Secondly, parents are required to help crew the two safety boats, which are on the water throughout each race to help any skipper who gets into trouble.
  3. In addition, you will be asked to help out during our one fundraiser, the Wine Tasting and Yacht Tours event held each October, during which we raise the majority of our operating budget for the year. It will include organization and planning, getting silent auction items, preparing appetizers, and helping on the day of the event. We work in shifts, so there will be plenty of time for you to enjoy the event, too.

For those who wish to become more involved, we have many opportunities to volunteer to help run the group.

Where do you sail?

We sail in the quiet-water area of the harbor, a stretch of West Beach between Stearns Wharf and the boat launch, known (at least to us) as Sea Shell Beach.

How often do you sail?

We sail Sundays at 1pm from mid-April to the end of October, with two-day regattas (Memorial Day, Semana Nautica, and Labor Day), and no sailing in July. Please see our calendar.

What are the race days like?

At about 12:00 on Sunday the boat ramp at the far end of the harbor starts to fill up with families arriving and rigging their sailboats. The boats, most of which are stored right next to the boat ramp in our “condos,” are wheeled over to the ramp, rigged, and carried or rolled into the water. Experienced skippers sail around from the launch ramp to the beach, but new skippers can always find someone to help them “bring the boat around.” On a good day we’ll get 20 or more boats out there—a marvelous sight to see so many boats being rigged all at once!

By 1300 hours (1pm), all skippers will have sailed around to the beach and signed in for the races, and the mast meeting begins. This includes a few announcements, things to watch out for, etc. Then the race course for the first race is laid out, and the countdown to the first race starts with a toot on an air horn. RS Fevas start first, followed 3 minutes later by “A” skippers, followed 3 minutes later by the “B” skippers, the “C” skippers, and finally the Novices. Occasionally, fleet starts may be combined, for example, B and C fleet may start together if the fleets are small. Following the same clear right-of-way rules as any sailing race, the skippers duck and weave at the start, trying to get that all-important good start without hearing the dreaded “over early” call from the beach. Then all high-tail it for the A mark, with cries of “Starboard!” and “Room at the mark!” reminding those who need it who has the right of way.

While the skippers are racing, parents can relax and watch the races. If you’ve never raced before, it is really amazing how caught up in the action you can get. You can call out help and instruction from the shore to Novice skippers, but this will get any skipper higher than Novice disqualified. In addition, several parents crew each of our two safety boats in each race, righting boats that capsize, giving help and encouragement to the Novice skippers, occasionally untangling overzealous skippers from the mark buoys—and otherwise just relaxing and chatting.

Each Sunday features 4 races: 3 for the kids, and one race for the adults who care to participate. (The adult races can become very competitive!) Then it’s back to the boat ramp to de-rig the boats and cart them back to the condos. We’re usually on our way home by 4:30 or 5:00.

Do I have to commit to sailing every Sunday?

No. Don’t let the time commitment scare you off. There is no reason you can’t come down when you want, sail as much as you want, and go home when you want. That being said, it helps development of the relationship with other skippers when participating regularly.

If you want to win a particular trophy you’ll probably need to there every race of the series. Some race series are one day events, some are weekend events, some take place over the course of three Sundays.

See our calendar of events

For More Information, please email our commodore.