Register today and get £50 off

Enter voucher code
in the booking form

How to pass your RYA Day Skipper practical course

The most popular RYA practical course teaches aspiring skippers to take charge on short passages - taking credit when all goes well and being responsible when it doesn’t.

By Iain Barbour

“Fun, exciting, full-on, and exhausting! I learnt a huge amount and can’t wait to go sailing again to put it all into practice.”

That’s the sort of reaction that many students give after completing their Day Skipper practical course.

For some, it might be the first time they’ve been fully in charge of a vessel, whilst for others with some skippering experience, it’s a chance to work on the skills they need to refine to boost their confidence.

Either way, it’s sure to be an action-packed adventure working from early morning till late in the day under the expert guidance of an experienced RYA Instructor.  

Aspiring skippers are taught practical navigation, pilotage, boat handling, seamanship, skippering techniques and the all-important berthing in marinas. 

For many students, it’s those close-quarters manoeuvres and sailing onto buoys and MOB recoveries that take up much of the learning time to make sure the skills are well developed.

Building on previous RYA courses or your own sailing experience you’ll learn how to safely and enjoyably skipper a small cruising yacht in familiar waters by day, and there will also be an introduction to night sailing to give you an understanding of the different challenges that this involves.

You’ll be expected to have practical experience in line with the Competent Crew course for sail cruising or Helmsman Certificate for motor cruising. If you don’t hold these certificates then you should have an equivalent skill base. For sailors, this means that you should be able to helm on all points of sail and be competent at deck work. Motor boaters should be competent at helming in open water and have a working knowledge of carrying out simple berthing and mooring situations.

As its name suggests, the practical course is very much a hands-on experience with little time to teach navigation or other theoretical subjects.  Therefore it’s highly recommended that you study the RYA Day Skipper theory course first, which covers knowledge-based training, before moving on to develop your real-life skippering skills.  This allows you to spend all of your time focusing on the key skills of boat handling and practical navigation.

Let’s look at each of these courses.

Day Skipper theory course

There is no pre-knowledge requirement for the theory course, although it is expected that you will have some practical sailing experience.

There are 17 sections in the syllabus ranging from understanding nautical terminology to calculating tides and tidal streams. In broad terms, the content relates to:

Information: locating and using information such as weather forecasts, tidal data or navigational information in the planning and execution of a passage

Regulations and guidance: gain a working knowledge of the collision avoidance rules, marine pollution responsibilities, and safety equipment requirements for small yachts

Techniques: learn and plan the use of pilotage and navigation techniques, passage planning strategy and dealing with emergency situations

Day Skipper practical course

The practical course is run ‘on the water’ over 5 days and is examined by an RYA instructor on a continual training and assessment basis.  This allows sufficient time for each student to practice each element of the course syllabus, which includes;

Preparation for sea, deck work, navigation, pilotage, meteorology, rules of the road, maintenance and repair work, engines, victualling, emergency situations, yacht handling under power, yacht handling under sail, passage making, and night cruising. 

As part of the course, you will also experience the excitement of executing a short passage plan at night.

Most sailors know that many stressful and embarrassing moments occur when in sight of others. Therefore quite a lot of time is spent entering and leaving ports using a range of techniques and approaching a range of berthing and un-berthing situations. The instructor will guide you through each scenario, working towards you taking more responsibility and decision-making. At the end of the course, you will have experienced a number of situations, either first-hand or as a crew member for another trainee Day Skipper, which will put you in a better position for doing the same when you are on your own.

To ensure you get the most out of the course it’s important that your previous sailing experience means you have good wind awareness and can sail around a course using all points of sail with basic sail trim and be able to control the boat’s speed. It’s assumed that those undertaking the practical course are already competent in crewing activities. These should include; hoisting, reefing and dropping sails; preparing to come alongside (warps and fenders); points of sail with basic sail trim, tacking and gybing the yacht. The aim is to refine and enhance these skills taking you to the next level.  Race-quality sail trim is not expected but you should have good wind awareness and be able to sail the yacht safely and efficiently on all points of sail.

As a Skipper you must be able to look at the bigger picture and students who have insufficient sailing experience will struggle to handle the many elements involved in skippering a yacht. 

The practical course will, of course, include the application of the theory elements but there’s insufficient time to teach this from first principles so it’s important that as well as sailing experience you have theory knowledge to Day Skipper level.

The practical course moves away from the hands-on crewing roles and looks to develop your ability as a crew manager. During the course, you will gradually take over more and more of the skippering role for short passages. In addition to the preparation and planning, you will develop a feel for the execution of your passage and pilotage plans.

A minimum of five days sailing and living on board, 100 miles logged and four hours of night sailing is required before you can take the practical course.

Can you take the practical course without first passing the theory exams?

Holding a Day Skipper theory course completion certificate is not a pre-requisite for sitting the practical course, but as I said, you must have the same knowledge level as somebody that has completed the theory course. There simply isn’t the time to learn theory whilst putting it into practice.

The recommended route is to do the training in two parts. The first part is the theory course which covers knowledge-based training, whilst the practical course which forms the second part develops your real-life skippering skills with a focus on boat handling and practical navigation

Students arriving without a good working knowledge of the Day Skipper theory course syllabus at the beginning of the practical course are at a considerable disadvantage and will most likely struggle to pass. 

The immense satisfaction at the end when you successfully complete the course will be a well-deserved reward for all your hard work and commitment to becoming a Skipper!

By extending your understanding and experience you can feel calmer and enjoy your time on the water - and a more confident skipper will certainly mean your crew have a more pleasurable time aboard!

And once you’ve passed your Day Skipper practical course you can start building your experience and can have the confidence to take decisions to extend your sailing area.

The RYA Day Skipper Practical Certificate is internationally recognised and you can use this or an International Certificate of Competence (ICC) to charter abroad.  You can apply to the RYA for an ICC once you’ve passed the practical course.

If you have any questions about RYA Day Skipper theory or practical courses please contact us or call us on +44 (0) 238 218 2604

Recommended reading

RYA Day Skipper Shorebased Notes
RYA Day Skipper Practical Notes
RYA Weather Handbook
RYA VHF Radio with GMDSS
RYA Day Skipper Handbook Sail
Day Skipper for Sail and Power
Reeds Skippers Handbook

Pre-course experience
5 days, 100 miles, 4 night hours on board a sailing yacht
Assumed knowledge
Basic navigation and helmsmanship. It is recommended you complete the Day Skipper theory course beforehand
Minimum duration
5 days, 3 weekends or 3 days plus 2 days
Minimum age
Course content
Preparation for sea, deck work, navigation, pilotage, meteorology, rules of the road, maintenance and repair work, engines, victualling, emergency situations, yacht handling under power, yacht handling under sail, passage making, and night cruising.

Back to Noticeboard
We use cookies to improve the user experience and help make this website better. If you continue to use this site you agree to our Cookie Policy. More details here