Sailing and boating are open to all. Germany’s larger rivers and lakes as well as its coastlines in Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern offer plentiful opportunity to enjoy bracing,clean air, scenery, and the sheer enjoyment of getting out and having fun.

You don’t have to own a boat as rentals exist in most every community. For the smaller lakes and rivers where boat traffic density is nil, common sense, an ability to swim and mandatory life vests for all, cover basic needs; on larger bodies of water, a degree of knowledge and practical experience, especially with any vessel over a few meters is essential.

A deutsches “Segel-Schein” or “German sailing permit” not only documents successful completion of a course of instruction but also activates insurances in case of mishap.

Qualification Goes a Long Way

Basically, Germany’s lakes are open to all. Rental of boats may or may not be restricted to those who have a license or “Schein.” The basic permit sets one up for the smaller waterways and is generally recognized in other European and EU countries.

When boating on larger rivers with international traffic such as the Rhein, the Main, the Mosel, the Danube, the Neckar and the Elbe with really big, huge barges, ships and hundreds if not thousands of pleasure craft en route, prudence demands a formal knowledge of the rules and mastering any sort of vessel. Virtually no rental outfit along these rivers leases out anything unless the Schein or proof of instruction is available. So, if you want to cruise past the Lorelei, Heidelberg Castel, transverse Martin-Luther-Land, or feast your eyes on the Mosel’s vineyards piloting your own boat or a rental, you need to take a course.

Essentially there are three levels of courses that prepare one for sailing on Germany’s inland waters. The Basic level or Grundkurs shows the elementary maneuvers and is entirely practical experience easily acquired. Then comes the “Theoretical and Practical Inland Sport-Vessel License” which gets fairly involved with all sailing maneuvers, rules and regulations. An additional theory requirement is added for those wishing to sail on Lake Constance, known as the Bodensee.

An advanced course involving training for regatta participation and competition takes the inland course work one step further along for those sailors who get bitten by the bug and really want to immerse themselves in this noble sport.

Two other levels of boating permits also exist. At this point larger craft, yachts and other types of sailing ships are initially reviewed.

There’s one for the coastal waterways and for deep, international waters. The basic permit can usually be obtained with 15 – 20 hours’ instruction, sometimes 25, and is the general point of departure for future additional instruction. The “Coastal Sports-Sailing License” requires intensive theory and in-depth practical experience. This opens up Europe’s entire coastline and the Mediterranean to those who want to enjoy the thrill of deep sea sailing.

Special instruction is also required for those who want to develop regatta sailing skills and serve as skippers.

Naturally, there are many levels of commercial pilot’s licenses, however these basic levels can easily practice the occasional or holiday sailor, friends and family, wonderful hours’ relaxation on the water.

Acquiring one’s own boat or simply renting or leasing one is fairly easy. Acquiring the basic license and obtaining additional instruction opens the path to fun and reduces liability should anything untoward occur.

Obtaining instruction in English is certainly recommended for native English speakers and others using English as their second language. While dozens of sailing schools exist nationwide, few provide instruction except in German. One school that does give instruction in English is the Segelschule Starnberg located 30 minutes from Munich, scant minutes from the Starnberg S-Bahn Station directly on the shores of the lake. It offers all levels for beginners and advanced sailors, individual instruction, and flexible times and dates. For anyone living within and hour or two of Starnberg, this is optimal; for those living further afield, long-weekend intensive courses, can be arranged. Like chewing gum or riding a bike, once learned it’s not forgotten, and goes with you everywhere.

Even if you don’t acquire your own sailboat but only rent, an occasional lesson or touch-up session certainly is helpful and fun. With the Wetterstein Alps towering the background, the pristine water, glorious homes, castles and hotels on the shores, Andechs Monastery with its cultural programs and brewery close, by and dozens of other attractions to enjoy, learning to sail on Lake Starnberg is indeed a special treat.