Looking at a 50ft ‘gin palace’ with huge engines designed to waft the millionaire owner at 30 knots up the Channel and beyond, you’d be surprised to know you don’t actually need any qualifications to skipper it in the UK.
Nor do you need to have a license to bomb around on a jet ski. Given the power and speed of these vessels it is a very good idea to get qualified before you step aboard one!
The RYA defines a powerboat as something like a Rigid Inflatable Boat you’d use as a safety boat for your club, or even a jet ski. It has a number of qualifications specifically for these boats, and separately has a set of qualifications for motor cruising.
Blasting up the river or coast at speed on calm waters in the sunshine, without a care in the world, it is easy to forget that a silly mistake can turn a fun day out into a memorable experience for all the wrong reasons!
Earlier last year a Sky TV executive was doing just that on their RIB in Cornwall. It was a sunny day and he and his family were having lots of fun when his wife took over but didn’t attach the kill cord to her leg as she should.
At speed, she turned the boat too hard and it threw everyone overboard. The kill cord didn’t come off the console and the engine carried on, killing her husband and one of her children. Tragic.
Attaching the kill cord is an essential but easily forgotten part of taking control of a powerboat. We’ve looked at an accident in the Volvo Ocean Race recently where the navigator made a schoolboy error that led to his yacht ending up on a reef in the Indian Ocean.
The RYA has a number of courses that teach you all you need to know to enjoy your time aboard a powerboat, showing you everything from engine maintenance to passage making and safety manoeuvres.
Consider the RYA Powerboat levels 1 and 2 so you can safely navigate inshore waters – these will equip you to do more involved powerboat courses, perhaps to be of more use at your sailing club or to have a blast up the coast to the next port on a day trip.
One of the courses anyone who wants to play a fuller role at their sailing club, is the RYA Safety Boat course. This is a 2 day course that takes you through rescuing windsurfers and dinghies that have run into problems, as well as a number of other advanced skills that you will need while watching over other water craft.
Motor cruising is more than undocking and heading off into the wild blue yonder. Though you don’t have to learn to sail, there are a lot of skills involved in making a passage between ports. If you haven’t a clue what happens in the engine room then when a minor issue stops the engine you could have serious problems!
As with its famous sailing qualification programme, the RYA runs a number of courses designed to get you running your motor cruiser safely between home port and destination.
One of the key differences between sailing and motor cruising are the speeds involved. On most cruising yachts, in 6 knots of adverse current you will either go backwards or stay still relative to the coast because your boat will only be doing six knots through the water. Similarly, on longer passages, tides can really impact your plan as they can significantly add or subtract from your time at sea.
With motor cruisers, many of which can do 20 knots of speed through the water, tides aren’t so important.
Fixing your position using a hand compass is going to be tricky as in 10 seconds you might have done 200 metres. Coastal navigation at speed is a skill of its own, and learning such skills will hold you in good stead on a longer passage.
The syllabus starts with the RYA Helmsman course, which shows you the basic elements of handling a boat in sheltered waters and engine maintenance.
You then progress to the RYA Day Skipper (Power) that involves passage planning, the laws of the sea, meteorology and more involved engine maintenance. This has a theory element that is identical to the RYA sailing navigation course.
Beyond, you can do the Advanced Helmsman and on up to Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster courses. These will take you from a novice with no skills or experience to expert level, competent in taking your vessel and crew anywhere in the world.
Looking for a specific powerboat course, in a specific location? Use our search tool today.
Worth a Read: Our Friends at ‘BoatShop 24’ have just released this great article; The Top Powerboat & Motor Boat Training Schools in the UK