Against The Wind

by Michael J. Meese
Contributing writer

Germany isn’t a country solely populated by land lovers. Throughout history until modern times, this country raised generations of intrepid mariners, and American boaters stationed in Germany can also join this country’s nautical ranks.

Aside from coastal sailing far up in the north, American boaters in the KMC will find opportunities closer to home. Such local waterways include the Rhein, Neckar and Mosel rivers as well as recreational lakes such as the Bostalsee located near Baumholder. Many of these waterways have boat rental businesses. However, obtaining the right to boat in Germany isn’t without its cost and price, or more specifically, getting the German boating license.

Nautical licensing isn’t an issue when it comes to boating on smaller, non-commercialized rivers and lakes with light boat traffic. All an American boater needs is waterway common sense. However, on larger bodies of water where boat traffic is dense, a degree of knowledge and practical experience is a must. This is where the “Deutsches Segel-Schein,” or German sailing license, comes in. Such waterways include not only the open seas, but also navigating bigger rivers with international traffic such as the Rhein, the Mosel, the Danube, the Main, the Neckar and the Elbe where sizable barges, ships and countless pleasure boats set sail; this is where discretion dictates a formal knowledge of maritime rules and regulations and mastery of any sort of vessel. Along these rivers, rarely is there a boat rental business that will rent out anything short of a raft unless the sailing license is in a customer’s hands. Thus, American boaters wanting to sail their own boat or a rental need to take a course.

There are three levels of courses that are geared at preparing boaters for sailing on inland waters. The basic level, called “Grundkurs,” demonstrates the elementary rules, regulations and maneuvers of boating. After the Grundkurs comes the “Theoretical and Practical Inland Sport-Vessel License” that delves even deeper into nautical rules, regulations and maneuvers. An additional requirement for boating theory is introduced for those boaters wishing to sail on Lake Constance, known as the Bodensee, which is a massive body of water located in Southern Germany. An advanced course entailing training for regatta involvement and competition escalates the inland course mentioned above a step further for boaters who wish to take sailing a few notches higher than just leisure boating.

There exists two more levels of boating licenses that take into account the operation of larger crafts such as yachts and various types of sailing ships, one of which is for coastal waterways and for deep, international waters. The basic permit for this level can usually be attained with 15 to 25 hours of instruction and is the general point of departure for future additional instruction. The next level is for the “Coastal Sports’ Sailing License,” which requires concentrated theory and comprehensive practical experience. This license opens Europe’s entire coastline and the Mediterranean to boaters. Special instruction is also mandatory for sailors who want to work on their regatta sailing skills and serve as skippers.

Although there are relatively few sailing schools in Germany that provide course instruction in English, there is one prominent school that does called “Segelschule Starnberg,” or  Sailing School Starnberg, which is located 30 minutes from Munich. This school features instruction in all levels, individual instruction and flexible schedules. They can arrange for long-weekend intensive courses to accommodate Americans who are stationed a few hours away from Starnberg. Many local Services and MWR Outdoor Recreation offices, as well as local Rod and Gun Clubs, can aide an American boater in finding out the basics of fees and locations for boating licensing, or at least where to obtain this information. It should be mentioned that although renting a boat in Germany is relatively inexpensive, obtaining a license could be expensive depending on the license an American boater seeks.