Is A Qualification Needed For Elite Yacht Racing Photographers?

Posted on July 26, 2016 by Richard Shrubb under Sailing Courses, Sailing Experience Courses, Yacht Racing Comments Off on Is A Qualification Needed For Elite Yacht Racing Photographers?

The cat will turn around this mark. Where do you need to be in 5 seconds time?

The cat will turn around this mark. Your boat driver needs to think “where do we need to be in 5 seconds time?”


Most yachtsmen and many of the non sailing public will be aware of the ultra fast foiling classes of boat such as the America’s Cup and the GC32 catamarans that captivate audiences around the world while blasting along at 50mph.

Technology has raced ahead of boating qualifications and where photographers boats were once seen as a necessary pestilence by racing yachts, these boats are now widely seen as being in danger of getting someone killed.

Leg amputation in summer 2015

In June last year a photographer’s boat didn’t read the movements of a giant trimaran called Spindrift 2, and the giant multihull hit the photographers RIB, slicing through both the boat and the passengers’ leg.

The leg had to be amputated and this led to the prosecution of the skipper of the 40 metre long trimaran.

June 2016 – serious damage to a GC32

GC32 boats aren’t as sexy as America’s Cup boats but are nevertheless flying, foiling catamarans that travel at huge speeds with large audiences watching their races.

Earlier this year a GC32 hit a photographer’s boat on Lake Garda. Thankfully no one was killed or injured, but it could have been much worse!

Something will happen…

Given that there have been two accidents in two years it is almost inevitable that something worse than an amputated leg will happen unless elite yachting organisations get their heads together.

Foiling multihulls travel at speeds where the RIB driver has to use full throttle to pass them to get ahead of the race even with 200HP engines on the back. You know all about it when you are travelling at 40mph on the water!

A Sailing Anarchy blog recently covered all the aspects of what a spectator or photography boat driver has to cover to avoid accidents with these crazy fast sailing boats. They concluded that with all the alertness and hard work, “If you have done it right you come ashore about as knackered as the sailors at the end of the day.”

The author of the blog felt that no qualifications are suitable for elite photographer/spectator boat qualifications. Let’s look at some of the aspects he covered and attempt to put together a set of RYA qualifications that would make you a sane choice to be selected to drive a boat in one of these situations;

  1. Dinghy racing is about knowing the rules and tactics to maximise your chances at reaching the mark before anyone else in your class. You really need to know racing intimately so you can read the yacht racers on the water. You know what they are thinking? Then you can go in close to them on the water with reasonable confidence that they will not be going to the spot you choose. Sailing qualifications are fairly easy to get, so I have selected the top RYA racing qualification, the RYA Advanced Racing qualification that requires several seasons of racing. You will have raced seriously for 3-4 years and may well have done the RYA Performance Sailing qualification as well.
  1. The RYA Advanced Powerboat According to the RYA website, “Candidates should be competent to the standard of the Intermediate Powerboat Certificate with a thorough knowledge of the navigation and chartwork to the level of Coastal Skipper / RYA Yachtmaster Shorebased certificate.” The weakness of this course is that apart from the shorebased qualification you only need 4 days of practical tuition to get to this level. We will cover experience in the next section.
  1. RYA Yachtmaster Offshore. This requires a considerable amount of passagemaking and you should a good knowledge of sailing from this. Sadly, the Sailing Anarchy blog complains, “a piece of paper would be a start but having experienced people with masters tickets tickets earned in a few weekends thinking they are the next Joshua Slocum and International Judges who have passed their exam yet hardly been on a race boat in their life I think a comprehensive CV is even more relevant.”

You can’t buy experience!!!

As the Sailing Anarchy blog indicated above this, people can and do do intensive sailing courses and do not get sea sense from time at sea because they don’t get the time in.

I have enough experience in my RYA logbook to go for a Yachtmaster. I did that over years getting wet whenever I saw the water. I didn’t log the thousands of miles I have done in all sorts of other watercraft. Saying that, I wouldn’t be confident to zip in front of an AC45 to get a close shot in before safely getting out of the way – it is insanely dangerous doing that even for the pros!

I set out to write this blog to try to argue with the Sailing Anarchy writer believing (wrongly as it turned out) that the RYA has the courses to qualify you to be a photography boat driver in elite racing. Sadly, having looked at the RYA syllabus, other than the RYA Advanced Racing qualification there isn’t much that cannot be short-cutted by buying an intensive course.

I must defer to my betters – get a glowing CV as a yacht racer yourself, don’t shy away from slower regattas as a safety / photography boat driver, and get as much experience as you can. Perhaps the RYA would do well to offer such a new qualification – that can’t be short-cutted with an intensive course – and then we won’t see someone killed by a hot shot learning how little they actually know about yacht racing the hard way…



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