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Training for a career at sea

The rapid expansion of commercial yachting has seen a consequently increasing demand for suitably qualified skippers and crew. Simon Jinks, former manager of the RYA Yachtmaster programme tells us what qualifications you need to get aboard.

By Simon Jinks

The starting point for most people approaching a career in the sailing industry is the range of training courses and qualifications run by the Royal Yachting Association. The RYA has the world’s most recognised and comprehensive training and certification system for leisure and small commercial craft users, offering courses at over 2,000 RYA recognised training centre’s worldwide.

Their professional qualifications - from Day Skipper to Yachtmaster stand out as a badge of excellence, and the RYA Yachtmaster is seen as the gold standard in yachting. These will become prerequisites as your career progresses, and for anyone just starting out, qualification will ensure that you stand out from the crowd as someone with an assessed range of skills that is taking their career seriously. 

A commercially endorsed RYA Yachtmaster certificate fulfils the legal requirements on British flagged vessels operating in the UK, and in many non-UK ports, The marine administrations of some countries also require STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers) qualifications – see our article on STCW for more information.

RYA training for professional crew

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is the UK’s National Governing Body for boating and works with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to provide safety guidance and training to small craft users. 

Their professional qualifications stand out as a badge of quality wherever you want work in the world, and are recognised by most national authorities and commercial operators.  The RYA Yachtmaster is the ultimate aim of many skippers – both professional and amateur.  It is regarded as the gold standard by many in yachting, and with a commercial endorsement, it enables you to professionally skipper a yacht up to 150miles offshore.  Of course, different sailing jobs within different operating limits will require differing levels of expertise and RYA training has qualifications to suit every level.

The training system is very flexible and allows you to dip in and out and pick the correct course for your level of experience whether you are a complete beginner or seasoned seafarer. There are shorebased and online theory courses covering navigation, meteorology, tides and collision regulations and practical courses that put the theory into practice - working on practical crewing, skippering and boat handling. Courses are offered for sailing yachts, motor cruisers and small powerboats.   Each course has its own level of assumed knowledge or pre-course experience. Yachtmaster Offshore requires 50 days at sea, 2,500 miles including at least 5 passages over 60 miles, acting as skipper for at least two of these passages.

You are unlikely to progress far in the industry without the relevant qualifications. Shorebased courses are standard and cover all types of boats. These courses can be done online or in a classroom.  Practical courses are more specific to the type of boat. 

Introductory level

These courses are ideal for anyone new to the sailing who would like to crew or for getting some experience before looking for crewing work in the industry.

Essential Navigation and Seamanship
An online or classroom course - giving a great introduction to navigation and safety awarness for new and inexpereinced skippers and crew.

Powerboat Level 1 
One day course for anyone driving a small powerboat and useful for anyone driving a tender. 

Powerboat level 2
A two-day entry course providing the skills and background knowledge needed to drive a powerboat.  This forms the basis of the International Certificate of Competence (ICC).

It focuses on low speed close quarters handling, man overboard recovery, an introduction to driving at planing speed and collision regulations.

Competent Crew
Five-day residential sailing course getting to grips with sailing, safety and living onboard.  

Start /Helmsman 
One or two-day courses covering steering, deck work and helming a motorboat. 

Day Skipper for Motor or Sail
Five-day courses covering the practical application of navigation, skippering and boat handling onboard a boat. 

Advanced Skippering
These courses are for experienced skippers many of which will be looking at working in the industry.

Coastal Skipper Yachtmaster 
In-depth training using advanced navigational techniques and often required for commercial work as a skipper - 5-day course.

Advanced Powerboat
A two-day course covering day and night navigation and pilotage and rough weather techniques. 

Coastal Skipper motor/sail
Four or five-day course covering night pilotage, advanced boat handling and coastal passage making.

Yachtmaster Coastal or Offshore and Powerboat Advanced
These are certificates of competence that are assessed by an RYA/MCA examiner, often at the end of a short preparation course at a training centre. These are required for most offshore skippering jobs and some provide entry into the bigger boat qualifications.

Yachtmaster Ocean 
Celestial navigation and ocean weather - 5-day course. Often required for long distance skippering jobs. 

RYA short courses
The RYA offers a host of short courses, some which are good to have and others that are required for commercial use. Courses include VHF Radio, First Aid, Sea Survival, Radar, Diesel Engine Maintenance and Professional Practices and Responsibilities. 

Commercial Endorsements
A commercial endorsement is required for work on board British flagged vessels subject to the MCA's codes of practice for small commercial vessels.

A number of additional training courses and medical fitness certificates are required to be eligible for a commercial endorsement. The MCA's codes of practice categorise British flagged commercial yachts according to the type of yacht and the waters in which they operate. It is this categorisation that determines which certificates you will need. 

For a standard commercial endorsement, you will need the following:

A commercially endorsable RYA qualification 
Professional Practices and Responsibilities certificate 
An ML5 or ENG1 medical fitness certificate
RYA Basic Sea Survival certificate or STCW Personal Survival Techniques
RYA First Aid Certificate or other acceptable first aid certificate 
RYA SRC Certificate 

Qualifications, experience, endorsements and other aspects of this information can change on a regular basis - for the very latest information consult:

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