For those dreaming of spending their college years on the water, racing yachts against some of the country’s best athletes, this article is for you. Choosing just the right college or university can be a daunting task for any would-be collegiate sailor. After all, not every school has a sailing program, and those that do vary dramatically.
That’s why we’ve researched sailing programs all over the country to find the 30 best colleges for sailing. Because not every program offers the same opportunities, and because not every collegiate sailor is looking for the same experiences, we weighed many considerations when coming up with our list. Our considerations include:
- Rankings: We considered recent years’ rankings from Sailing World, a unique ranking system in which sailing coaches essentially rank each other’s teams.
- Competitive Schedule: We looked at each sailing program’s schedule to gauge how active they are, and therefore how many opportunities per season a member of the team or club would have to compete
- Non-Competitive Activities: Because not every sailor seeks to be competitive, we also considered non-competitive activities such as recreational sailing events and lesson programs.
- The “It” Factor: Finally, we considered anything else that makes a program appealing for those students who enjoy sailing. These miscellaneous considerations include facilities, access to water, previous titles won, and successful alumni, among other things.
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
A fixture near the top of the rankings, Boston College has long been a powerhouse in collegiate sailing. The college’s sailing team has won the Intercollegiate Sailing Association National Championships a whopping 20 times since the program’s founding in 1863. Recipients of coveted titles such as College Sailor of the Year and Sportsman of the Year frequently come from Boston College’s roster, and the school boasts a number of alumni who have gone on to find massive success in the sailing world.
Few collegiate sailing teams have been as successful as that of Boston University. Located in Boston, Massachusetts — a nautical city if ever there was one — Boston University is a haven for water-based sports. The BU Sailing Team has won a whopping seven National Championships in its successful history. Quite a few notable sailors have come out of the Boston sailing program, including three “College Sailor[s] of the Year,” 2012 U.S. Sailing Rolex Yachtsman of the Year nominee John Mollicone, and Volvo Ocean Race skipper Ken Read.
Bowdoin College, located in Brunswick, Maine, is another coastal school with a location that makes it ideal as a sailing powerhouse. Bowdoin has multiple sailing teams, all of which compete as part of the competitive New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association. The sailing teams consistently rank near the top of the rankings, and the women’s sailing team has been especially successful in recent years.
College of Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina
The waters off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina have long been prime sailing waters. So it should come as no surprise then that College of Charleston is one of the best colleges for sailing. The school’s sailing team competes in the South Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association and is consistently ranked near the top of the Intercollegiate Sailing Association’s rankings. Recent big wins for the team include Singlehanded National Champions (2014), Sloop/Match Race National Champions (2015), Co-ed Team Race Champions (2017), and Leonard M. Fowle Trophy winners (2015, 2017). Amongst the College’s sailing team alumni are 100 All-Americans, four “College Sailors of the Year,” and two “Women’s College Sailors of the Year.” A number of Olympic contenders are currently on the team.
Hanover, New Hampshire
Dartmouth College is home to a competitive sailing team, as well as a program through which any interested student may take sailing lessons. Both the team and novice sailors sail out of the college’s boating facilities on Lake Mascoma. While the Dartmouth sailing team has found massive success competing in collegiate regattas along the East Coast and throughout the country, those sailors not on the team have the option of group or private sailing lessons.
New York City, New York
Fordham University’s sailing program is less than 20 years old, but it has easily become one of the best in the nation for sailing. The university is a member of the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association, and they compete across the Eastern United States and beyond. Fordham’s sailing teams, which train at the Morris Yacht and Beach Club in City Island, Bronx, are no strangers to the top of the rankings. They have competed at the Coed National Championship the last four years in a row, and the women’s team are frequent competitors at the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Championship.
George Washington University
Washington, D.C.-based George Washington University is another great college for sailors and aspiring sailors. GW’s sailing team competes as part of the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association. The teams compete up and down the Atlantic coast in places like New York, Maryland, Virginia, and Rhode Island, among other locations.
Georgetown University, which is located near the Potomac in Washington, D.C., has a co-ed sailing team that has racked up the national championships in recent years (14 since 2001). They’ve even brought home a world championship title! The team competes in the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association, and has included 79 All-Americans and six College Sailors of the Year.
Grand Valley State University
Grand Valley State University is just one of a handful of Michigan-based schools to make our list of the best colleges for sailing. Sailing at Grand Valley is a co-ed club sport, meaning aspiring collegiate sailors of all ability levels are welcome to join the sailing club in order to learn and, if they want, compete. The club sails on Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa during the fall and spring, and during the autumn months the team competes in regattas throughout the Midwest nearly every weekend.
Like most of Harvard University’s programs both academic and athletic, the sailing program is excellent. The Harvard University sailing team competes as part of the Intercollegiate Sailing Association, and frequently returns to Cambridge with honors from regattas all over the country. Sailors who are not interested in competing may join the sailing club and participate in lessons either privately or in a group.
Hope College is a great school for collegiate sailors of any experience level. Because sailing is a club sport at Hope, novice sailors have the opportunity to learn via a lesson program. Meanwhile, more experienced sailors wanting to hone their sailing skills can take part in competition throughout the Midwest and beyond as part of the Midwest Collegiate Sailing Association.
Located on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, Marquette University is a great choice of college for anyone interested in collegiate sailing. The university boasts both a Sailing Club and a Sailing Team, the latter of which competes as part of the Midwest conference of the Intercollegiate Sailing Association. Between the club and the team, there are always recreational events occurring for those with any level of sailing experience.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may be best known as an academic powerhouse, but it’s home to a number of extremely successful sports programs, as well. MIT has men’s, women’s, and coed sailing teams which compete in the New England conference of the Intercollegiate Sailing Association. The teams hold practices at the Walter C. Wood Sailing Pavilion.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan is home to a sailing team that competes successfully throughout the Midwest and the rest of the country. Any student with an interest in sailing has the opportunity to join the program, as customized and/or private lessons are offered by the MSU Sailing Center. The Center even puts on a four-week “Learn to Sail” program for all ages during the summer.
When the Northwestern University Sailing Team was first established in the late 1950s, it was a a laid-back program which students joined in order to learn to sail. Today, the team is a competitive, nationally recognized team which competes in the Midwest Collegiate Sailing Association. Northwestern’s sailing team has won a number of national championships, placed 2nd in the Fall Dingy Championship (2007), and has graduated two All-American athletes — Roslyn Rea and Scotia Ryer.
The Ohio State University
Sailing has been a sport at the Ohio State University since 1939. Since then, the Ohio State University Sailing Club (OSUSC) has become one of the most competitive teams in the Midwestern Collegiate Sailing Association and in the country. The team especially excels in 420 and FJ sailboat regattas, though they occasionally compete in larger yacht races as well. Anyone with an interest in sailing is able to join in at a practice.
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
Unlike so many other top-ranked sailing programs, Penn State Sailing at Pennsylvania State University is a program anyone with an interest can join. The co-ed club aims to promote the sport on and around campus, and offers sailing lessons and teams for all abilities. Of course, there are also opportunities for those who want to compete at the highest level of collegiate sailing. The sailing teams compete on the East Coast and nationally as part of the Intercollegiate Sailing Association.
Stanford University offers a number of competitive, intercollegiate sports, including sailing. The Cardinal have a long history of success in the Intercollegiate Sailing Association (ICSA). This is especially true for the women’s team, which won the ICSA Women’s Singlehanded Championship in both 2000 and 2018. Students who are interested in sailing, but who may not yet be ready to compete, are able to take part in Stanford’s sailing camp and recreation program.
Texas A&M, Galveston
Texas A&M University’s campus in Galveston specializes in all things “ocean oriented,” and sailing is no exception. Anyone who is interested in sailing is welcome to join the TAMUG sailing team, as long as they are willing to attend practice a minimum of one day a week (practices are held daily) and can pass a five-minute swimming test. The team competes as part of the Intercollegiate Sailing Association, with 5-6 races and regattas on the schedule for each month.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California
Located right on the Pacific in Santa Barbara, California, UC Santa Barbara has one of the top-ranked sailing programs on the West Coast. The sailing team sails out of the UCSB Boating Facility, at which interested students can also take sailing classes to satisfy their sports requirements. The team competes in regattas all over the country, and consistently ranks in Sailing World’s top 20 rankings.
University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
Like so many of the other sailing programs on our list of the best colleges for sailing, the University of Iowa Sailing Club is a student-run organization. Volunteers who run and sail in the program work hard to promote the sport on and off campus by competing in regattas throughout the Midwest and putting on special sailing-themed functions for those at the university and the public. The club, which owns its own fleet of sailboats and practices on Lake Macbride, also offers sailing lessons to anyone who might be interested.
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
University of Michigan has had a sailing program since 1938, and they’ve been a sailing powerhouse for just as long. The Michigan Sailing Team consists of co-ed and women’s dinghy and keelboat teams, all of which compete in the Midwest conference of the Intercollegiate Sailing Association. Michigan are consistent competitors at national sailing events, and recent big wins include 1st place at MCSA Coed Championship (2019), 2nd place at MCSA Women’s Championship (2019), and 1st place at Big Ten Team Race (2019).
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
University of Notre Dame is home to a co-ed sailing club team. The team competes throughout the country and attracts would-be collegiate sailors from all over. Despite being one of the Midwest Collegiate Sailing Association’s most competitive teams, the sailing club welcomes students of all sailing abilities and interests, and even offers lessons.
University of Pennsylvania
Perhaps not surprisingly, University of Pennsylvania has a long history of excellence in sailing. This has been especially true in the last decade, during which Penn has consistently ranked near the top of the inter-collegiate rankings. Penn Sailing were invited to compete in the Intercollegiate Sailing Association’s national competition in 2008, 2009, and in every year since 2016. The team trains at the Corinthian Yacht Club of Philadelphia, and competes in team, women’s, and coed events.
University of Rhode Island
Kingston, Rhode Island
Aspiring collegiate sailors come from all over to attend University of Rhode Island and to sail as part of the University of Rhode Island Sailing Team. As part of the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association, this elite team has a long history of competitive excellence. Indeed, numerous Olympians and 28 All-Americans have graduated from the program over the years. The team practices at the University of Rhode Island Sailing Center in the town of Wakefield, an impressive facility which houses 18 Whitecap Turbo FJs, 10 RS Quests, eight Whitecap Turbo 420s, and even a few power boats.
University of Toledo
Ohio’s University of Toledo is located near Lake Erie, making it a unique addition to our list of the best colleges for sailing. The university is home to more than 20,000 students and offers would-be collegiate sailors a vibrant and sports-focused campus. The University of Toledo sailing team has a long and well-respected history within the sport. They have made two appearances in the ultra-competitive InterCollegiate Sailing Association National Championships (2008 and 2009), and have taken home three Midwest-Collegiate Sailing Association Championships, most recently in 2009.
University of Virginia
At University of Virginia, sailing is a student-run club sport (Thomas Jefferson would be proud). It is open to all students with an interest in sailing, though there are also competitive teams who race as part of the Mid Atlantic InterCollegiate Sailing Association. Because the club places just as much of a focus on recreational sailing and social events, each Saturday in the fall and spring is spent on the water. During these “Lake Days,” sailors can practice sailing basics and hang out with like-minded friends.
University of Washington
The University of Washington Sailing Team is a student-run, student-funded, and student-coached program that has become quite competitive in the Northwest District of the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association. Though the sailing team’s Division I status is pending at UW, it is growing rapidly and attracting sailors and aspiring sailors from all over the country. In recent years, the team has dominated the rankings in the Northwest, and continues to move up in the Midwest and nationally.
University of Wisconsin, Madison
University of Wisconsin is home to a competitive program which competes as part of the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association. The university’s Sailing Team is student-led and allows undergraduate men and women of all sailing abilities to take part. The team, which is coached by former collegiate sailor Dave Elsmo, practices at the Hoofers Sailing Club on Lake Mendota. They compete in various regattas around the Midwest, but have also been known to compete in Boston, Charleston, Annapolis, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
New Haven, Connecticut
Sailing is one of 35 varsity athletic sports at Yale University. Yale’s teams compete as part of the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association. Interestingly, Yale is home to the world’s oldest college sailing club, the Yale Corinthian Yacht Club, which was founded in 1881. Known as YCYC or “yic-yic,” the Corinthian Yacht Club is located on Short Beach in the town of Branford and has 24 high-performance 420s for the club’s use. Students can join the team officially, take a sailing course for university credit, or sign up for private lessons and clinics.