Once you have learnt how to sail and mastered the art of skippering a yacht on short voyages, the next natural progression is to embark on the MCA/RYA Yachtmaster Scheme and attain a Certificate of Competence.
These sailing qualifications are recognised around the world as a clear mark of your sailing ability. Unlike a Day Skipper or Coastal Skippers Certificate there is no RYA Course or Syllabus to follow. Simply they are a test of your sailing ability conducted by an examiner, authorised to do so by the RYA.
Sailing Schools offer a preparation course running straight into the exam both of which normally run over a period of 7 days. It should be noted that these course are designed for you to brush up on some specific skills and areas of the exam that you will be tested on and not teach you how to sail. So you should have all the necessary experience prior to joining the course and be a confident sailor.
For some, Yachtmaster exams are taken just for a sense of achievement and offer a way of improving your sailing knowledge and techniques. For others wishing to embark on a career in the marine industry they are essential qualifications to achieve.
In this article we take a look at
Qualifications within the RYA Yachtmaster Scheme
RYA Yachtmaster Coastal Skipper : Not to be confused with the Coastal Skipper course completion certificate, the Yachtmaster Coastal is the first of the Yachtmaster Scheme qualifications.
At this level you are deemed to have the knowledge needed to skipper a yacht on coastal cruises but not necessarily the experience needed to undertake longer passages.
During the exam you will be set tasks to demonstrate your ability to skipper a yacht and may be asked questions on all aspects of the RYA Cruising Scheme from Competent Crew to Coastal Skipper.
RYA Yachtmaster Offshore : The most widely recognised qualification and anyone holding this certificate is deemed to be competent to skipper a cruising yacht on longer passages but not more than 150 nm from harbour.
The examiner will be set tasks to test your ability as skipper of an offshore cruising yacht and you will be asked questions on any part of the syllabus for all courses except the Yachtmaster Ocean.
RYA Yachtmaster Ocean : Considered as the pinnacle within the sailing world and commonly taken by those seeking a career in the marine industry. You have sufficient experience to skipper a yacht on passages of any length in all parts of the world.
The exam consists of a written and oral test of your knowledge of ocean passage making including planning, navigation, worldwide meteorology, crew management, yacht preparation, maintenance and repairs. You will also be questioned on your sights taken at sea during an ocean passage.
RYA Yachtmaster Scheme
Certificates awarded within the RYA Cruising Scheme, such as the Day Skipper or Coastal Skipper are awarded by your instructor at the end of your course on the basis of continual assessment assuming you can demonstrate your abilities for the level you are at. There is a set syllabus and the courses are intended to teach you how to sail as well as improve your sailing skills.
MCA/RYA Certificates of Competence are awarded after a short practical assessment by independent examiners. They are designed to test your ability to skipper a yacht and are some of the most widely recognised and credible yachting qualifications available.
The RYA oversees the Yachtmaster Scheme on behalf of the MCA. Carefully chosen Yachtmaster examiners will assess both your sailing and skippering abilities.
Whilst Sailing Schools run a 5-day preparation course in advance of your examination aimed to bring you up to speed and prepare you for your exam. It is assumed that you already have the knowledge and the sailing skills required for the level you are being examined for.
Just like the RYA Cruising Scheme, you can join the Yachtmaster Scheme at any stage. You do not need to have completed any of the shore-based courses and nor do you need to complete a preparation course before taking your exam.
So if you are confident enough and sufficiently well prepared you can simply book an examiner through the RYA and take the test on your own yacht or one that you have chartered in.
However, most people appreciate that by taking a 5-day preparation course in advance of your exam will significantly increase your chances of passing.
Reasons for taking a Yachtmaster Prep Course
The whole purpose of a Yachtmaster Prep course is to prepare you for your exam and be challenged by an instructor who understands what an examiner is looking for. To find areas where you are weakest and allow you the opportunity to practice and develop your skills.
It is an advanced and intensive course and certainly no holiday and whilst you may be an experienced yachts person it is not often that you will practice the following
The course is largely a practical course and designed to hone your sailing and boat handling skills. Whilst you will cover certain areas of theoretical knowledge it is important that you are fully up to speed with regards to the following before attending the course.
By attending a course you will undoubtedly learn a new set of skills and it will importantly get you into the mindset so that you are fully prepared to take the exam.
Format of the Course & What to Expect
Courses run for 5 days starting on a Friday evening. The exam follows immediately after the course and can run for up to 48 hours depending on the level and number of candidates.
We restrict the number of students down to a maximum of 4 persons to give everyone as much practical hands-on time as possible. The courses are run on board one of our 36 – 39-foot sailing yachts which are based in Mercury Yacht Harbour on the River Hamble. The courses are run within the Solent where you can practice navigation, pilotage and boat handling in a whole different range of different tidal and weather conditions. Ultimately there is little benefit in sailing in a straight line so it is highly unlikely you will venture out of the Solent opting to focus more on the entering and exiting as many ports as possible.
The first evening is all about getting to know the other students and your skipper. It is unlikely that you will leave the marina that night but you will cover certain safety briefings so as to maximise the available time the following day.
During the next 5 days, you will hop from port to port within the Solent. You will live onboard for the full five days, each of you will take it in turns to be the skipper of the day and take responsibility for the crew and general running of the yacht.
Whilst there is no set syllabus to follow there are certain standard areas that the instructor will cover in order to prepare you for the exam. The rest of the course, however, is up to you and everyone else on board to determine based on areas of weakness and what needs to be practised.
You will focus on areas of boat and sail handling and be encouraged to push yourself outside of your comfort zone so as to build up your confidence prior to the exam.
We aim to end the course mid-afternoon on Wednesday so that you have some downtime to relax and calm any nerves prior to the examiner joining on Wednesday evening.
Format & Nature of the Exam
If you are booking a Yachtmaster Preparation course through a Sailing School then the School will arrange an examiner for you.
You will be required to prepare a passage plan for a fictitious sailing trip in advance of the examiner joining the yacht. You will be asked to do this under exam conditions and without the assistance of your instructor or other students. The examiner will give your instructor basic details of a trip from which you will need to create a detailed passage plan. This will get collected by your examiner at the beginning of your exam and be expected to answer questions on the reasoning of your passage plan during the course of your exam !!
It is highly likely that your examiner will want to set off straight away in order to carry out part of the assessment which will take place at night, so be prepared !! The examiner will nominate one person, in turn, to act as skipper and to take responsibility for the yacht. And whilst the obvious pressure will be on this person, at the same time the examiner will be quizzing and watching everyone else to see how you all behave and interact onboard.
You will moor up or anchor somewhere for a few hours overnight before continuing with the assessment the next day. But don’t forget that you are being continually assessed so stay on your guard at all times.
Whilst this is naturally a pressured environment the examiner is there to find out what you know and ultimately wants you to pass. They will do all they can to relax and encourage you to demonstrate that you have the right abilities to pass, so relax and try to act as normally as you can.
Depending on the number of candidates the exam can take anything up to 48 hours. At the end of the exam, you will be told immediately whether you have been successful or not.
Exam Fees are normally payable directly to the examiner and in addition to the course fee charged by the sailing school.
Yachtmaster Offshore Exam Fee – £210
Yachtmaster Coastal Exam Fee – £181
Pre Exam Requirements
Min Age… 17 years
For holders of the Coastal Skipper Practical Course Completion Certificate the sea time is reduced to
Half the qualifying miles must have conducted in tidal waters
Min Age… 18 years
5 Passages over 60 miles
2 of these passages having involved sailing overnight
5 Days experience as skipper
Half the qualifying miles must have conducted in tidal waters
All candidates must
Hold a RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate of Competence
Have completed, as skipper or mate of a yacht a qualifying passage which meets the following criteria
a) Candidate fully involved in the planning of the passage, including selection of the route, the navigation plan, checking the material condition of the yacht and her equipment, storing with spare gear, water and victuals and organising the watch keeping routine.
b) During the passage a minimum join stop distance of 600 miles must have been run by the log, the yacht must have been at sea continuously for at least 96 hours and the yacht must have been more than 50 miles from land while sailing a distance of at least 200 miles.
c) Hold First Aid qualification as for Yachtmaster Offshore
The exam will take about 6 to 10 hours for one candidate and 8 – 14 hours for two.
The exam will take about 8 to 12 hours for one candidate and 10 – 18 hours for two.
The exam consists of a written and oral test.
Own Boat Exams
As well as saving money, if you own your own boat then it is logical that you would prefer to be examined on a yacht that is familiar to you.
There are a few requirements
To book an exam simply contact the RYA.
Converting between Sail and Power
Holders of a Yachtmaster Coastal or Yachtmaster Offshore certificate may take a conversion exam from sail to power or power to sail. Please note that the exam for converting from power to sail may take slightly longer.
The exam will take about 3 hours and you may be asked on any aspects of the syllabus but will concentrate on those section which are notably different between sailing vessels and power boats.
Pre Exam Requirements
Mileage must be in the type of vessel you are converting to and must be within 10 years prior to the exam. Half of the qualifying sea time must have been conducted in tidal waters.
Yachtmaster Coastal Conversion Exams
Yachtmaster Offshore Conversion Exams
If you are planning on working commercially then the use of Yachtmaster Coastal, Yachtmaster Offshore and Yachtmaster Ocean certificates is permitted for the skippers of these vessels provided that the certificates are commercially endorsed. Commercial endorsements are valid for 5 years.
How to obtain a Commercial Endorsement
You will need to send your Yachtmasters Certificate to the RYA with the following
Standard of Training and Certification of Watchkeepers
For larger vessels and for certain administrations you may be required to hold an STCW 95 endorsement. It is commonly required if you are working outside of the UK on non UK flagged vessels.
You will be required to attend 4 courses
Renewing your STCW Endorsement can be achieved by sending the following to the RYA