As an instructor, I hear this question quite often. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, because each of us is different. We sail different amounts and do different exercises while sailing. We learn at different speeds, and we have different backgrounds and goals. There are however a few general guidelines to follow to help answer that question.
First, if you haven’t practiced, you probably are not ready! I see this regularly. A student passes Basic Coastal Cruising and immediately signs up for the Bareboat Cruising class scheduled for two months out, with every intention of getting out and practicing. Unfortunately, “life happens,” and that person doesn’t make it out sailing. Bareboat will not be a pleasant experience for anyone on the boat, least of all that student. I know this because of having seen it as an instructor, and experiencing it myself. I was that student who struggled in Bareboat due to lack of practice in appropriately sized boats.
So, what constitutes practice in appropriately sized boats? Just going sailing will get you part of the way, however, to really get the most out of your practice sessions, set up some “exercises” to perform. If your last class was Basic Coastal Cruising, sailing a 25 foot boat with an outboard is not going to prepare you for Bareboat. Get out on a 27 to 34 foot boat with an inboard and practice the skills on it. Take 30 minutes of your sailing day to do some docking and motoring drills. While under sail, do a series of tacks and jibes. Keep your tacks tight and controlled. Turn from a close haul to a close haul. Start practicing jibes from a broad reach to a broad reach, and as you improve tighten the turns up … deep broad reach to deep broad reach, run to run, and finally run to wing on wing and back. Heave to a couple of times. Put in and shake out a reef a couple of times. Try putting in a reef close hauled on the jib alone, and another reef while hove to. Finally do a couple of crew overboard drills every time you sail!
Do this process during a half dozen sails, while on an appropriately sized boat, and you will be ready for the best learning experience in the next class.
One final thought. Don’t forget to practice the knots from all of your prior classes. Knowing how to tie the proper knot in the proper circumstance is important, and may save your life someday.