If you’ve moved in sailing circles for any appreciable length of time, you’ll no doubt have come across the Royal Yachting Association and the sailing courses they offer.
RYA courses are considered the gold standard when it comes to sailing, and you may well have taken one or more yourself. If that’s the case, at some point, you’ll have heard mention of the RYA Yachtmaster. It’s the greatest test of sailing prowess, and the ‘Yachtmaster’ title is only awarded to those who can demonstrate exceptional sailing ability and command of their vessel in a variety of challenging conditions.
It’s an exam that’s set by the Royal Yachting Association. There’s no specific course to take – plucky potentials must simply pass a day long exam to receive their Yachtmaster certificate.
As there’s no specific training, candidates must develop the necessary skills on their own, and hope they’ve prepared sufficiently come the day of the exam.
Naturally, the RYA provides some guidelines regarding the skillset and level of proficiency necessary to pass the Yachtmaster exam, which we’ll get in to later.
There are a couple of different Yachtmaster certificates – the Yachtmaster Coastal, and the Yachtmaster Offshore.
Both exams require the same theoretical understanding of sailing and navigation. They also test for the same level of competence in sailing and entering a harbour on a coast.
However, as the name would suggest, the offshore exam is for yachtsmen who want to prove their sailing prowess further away from the comfort of the shoreline, and undertake the longer passages that are possible when one ventures away from the coast.
Although there’s technically no formal course that you need to have passed before taking the Yachtmaster exam, it goes without saying that you’ll need to be a highly proficient sailor.
RYA courses are the best way to build a solid foundation of sailing skill, and if you’re in any doubt about your level, we recommend you look into the RYA Day Skipper and Coastal Skipper courses first. It’s worth worth asking a sailing instructor what level they’d put you at, and if you could benefit from either of these courses before tackling the Yachtmaster.
Then, if you’re serious about taking the Yachtmaster exam, it would be well worth looking into a Yachtmaster exam preparation course.
Classroom-based courses are available that thoroughly cover all aspects of the theory and navigation, and should provide some coverage of your weakest areas. They can generally be combined with the exam itself, which is held on the last of the five days.
It’s also possible to take a practical on-board course that covers boat handling skills, navigation, meteorology, passage planning and execution, and will help you bring up your weak areas.
Also feel free to check out our recommended experience requirements for the Yachtmaster exam. If you meet most of these, you should have a good chance of attaining the coveted Yachtmaster certificate.
The Yachtmaster exam is really just a chance for you to show your competency at the helm of a yacht in front of someone who’s qualified to judge. You’ll meet your examiner on-board, and they’ll tell you what they’d like you to do. Generally you’ll be asked to plot and sail a passage, answer some questions and perform some manoeuvres along the way.
The whole thing should take no more than around eight hours, and perhaps shorter depending on the passage you’ve been asked to sail.
You’ll be expected to keep track of your position and to make some tidal calculations. You’ll also do some close-quarters manoeuvring under sail and power, and a man overboard rescue procedure.
Ultimately, the examiner is looking to see that you’re fully in command of your vessel.
So, to recap: if you’re still relatively green, the RYA Day Skipper and Coastal Skipper courses will build your foundation and round out your basic sailing skillsets, and you can aim to steadily improve your sailing skills during the weeks and months following.
Then, when you feel ready for the challenge and meet the recommended experience levels, get yourself on a Yachtmaster preparation course, and set your sights upon achieving the highest sailing accolade awarded in the field.