Tops in Training?

Until recently, the U.K.-based Royal Yachting Association was the only training establishment recognized by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency — the U.K. government organization formed to promote safety at sea and to put the resolutions of the International Maritime Organization into practice for British-registered leisure and commercial vessels. The RYA Yachtmaster certificate is recognized worldwide as a superlative marine qualification for captains of recreational and private vessels, and it is a prerequisite for the MCA’s Class 4 Master of Yachts commercial qualification.

Now, however, a Florida-based company, International Yachtmaster Training, has also been granted approval by the MCA for its own Yachtmaster training program, to rival the RYA’s. Both organizations are dedicated to providing the skills and knowledge required for safe coastal, offshore and ocean-passage making in both sail and power vessels.

The RYA Yachtmaster program

The RYA’s Yachtmaster accreditation scheme is the most well-known and widely accepted sailing qualification in Europe. For the full Yachtmaster qualification, the RYA uses independent examiners to assess the skills of students at the end of their course, rather than allowing the instructor to decide if the candidate has attained a sufficient level of competence.

The Yachtmaster certificate is an internationally accepted skipper’s license, and the production of it is nearly always insisted upon by charter companies throughout Europe. In addition, it entitles the holder to an International Certificate of Competence, which is mandatory in nearly all the inland waterways of Europe.

Certain other benefits are available to boatowners holding an RYA Yachtmaster certificate, such as discounted insurance. Insurance companies now insist on at least one member of the crew being a fully qualified Yachtmaster during a trans-Atlantic crossing, or similar ocean passages, before they will provide coverage.

The different levels of qualification attainable under the RYA-approved training programs include Competent Crew, Day Skipper, Coastal Skipper, Yachtmaster Offshore and Yachtmaster Ocean. A commercial endorsement allowing the candidate to skipper yachts under 24 meters (79 feet), with up to 12 paying guests onboard, can be added to any of the last three qualifications after completion of a medical examination and a basic sea-survival course.

RYA Competent Crew

This very basic course comprises a few days out with an instructor, learning the art of daytime helming, crewing and seamanship in inshore waters. There is no written course work or examination for this elevel of training, and no previous experience is required.

RYA Day Skipper

Part 1 (Shore based) — This is a classroom course for students with little or no navigational experience. The syllabus includes, buoyage, collision prevention, chart recognition, tidal calculation, position fixing, bearing taking and course laying. There is no final examination, but the instructor will make an assessment of your acquired skill level.

Part 2 (Practical) — Intended for students who are competent in the basics and have spent five days or more at sea during daylight hours. The course puts into practice the navigation, pilotage and chart-reading skills learned in Part 1, by the end of which you should be a competent daytime skipper in tidal waters. It also qualifies you for an ICC, which may be necessary if you sail or charter in certain European waters.

RYA Coastal Skipper

Part 1 (Shore based) — Also the theory course for the Yachtmaster certificates, this is another classroom course, this time covering more advanced navigation, meteorology, dead reckoning (DR) and estimated positions (EPs), running fixes, secondary ports, lights and shapes, sound signals, passage planning, and safety procedures. The course comprises around 40 hours teaching and has three separate exam papers.

Part 2 (Practical) — Many skip this stage and go straight onto the Yachtmaster course; although, those with lesser sea time might stick with the Coastal Skipper course, which is a more intensive course than the Day Skipper. To qualify for the practical course, entrants must have at least 400 miles logged and 12 night hours. Candidates are expected to have skippered a couple of times and are usually those yachtsmen aiming to skipper a yacht on long coastal or offshore passages by day and night. The emphasis on this course is effective passage planning, day and night pilotage, yacht handling in confined spaces under power and sail, together with handling emergency situations.

RYA Yachtmaster Offshore

Practical — The yachtsman’s Holy Grail, the Yachtmaster ticket involves a fairly stringent assessment by an independent examiner after completing a thorough practical course aimed at enabling the candidates to skipper a yacht, day or night, on any passage up to 150 miles offshore that does not require astronavigation. Before taking this examination, the candidate must have logged 2,500 sea miles, with five separate passages of more than 60 miles, including two as skipper, two overnight and a total of 50 days at sea — half of which must have been in tidal waters. The arduous preparation course for the concluding two-day examination includes blind navigation, night pilotage, man-overboard drill, advanced boat handling under power and sail, and heavy-weather tactics.

To be eligible for the Yachtmaster certificate, candidates must hold a valid Short-range Radio Certificate qualifying them to operate digital selective calling (DSC) VHF marine radios and be fully familiar with Global Maritime Distress and Safety System emergency procedures. They must also have completed a two-day first-aid course in an approved training establishment.

RYA Yachtmaster Ocean

This is a shore-based course with an oral examination that delves heavily into ocean-passage planning, advanced worldwide meteorology, and astronavigation, and is usually taken sometime after the candidate has completed the Yachtmaster Offshore course and logged a few thousand miles as skipper in a variety of situations. You will be expected to have completed at least one nonstop 600-mile passage, logged complete with sun/moon/star sights and reductions.

The RYA Yachtmaster examination

The examiner meets you at a pre-arranged time on the boat of your choice. You may use your own (but it must conform to the necessary MCA safety standards), or more commonly, you may use the school boat at the end of the practical course.

You will be asked to plan and undertake a short passage as skipper, although later you will probably be asked to plan a longer one in theory only. The passage plan must include tidal calculations, ports of refuge, weather and traffic considerations.

You will need to have an accurate idea of where you are throughout the exam, even when the pressure might be on another candidate taking the exam simultaneously. You can never be sure when the examiner will give you a blind pilotage assessment — this is when he asks you to go below with the curtains pulled and shout up instructions to the helmsman and crew. Often he will switch off the electronic instruments at the same time and have you estimate your position using DR. Or he might be feeling generous and just leave you with an echo sounder to help you confirm your whereabouts. In busy tidal waters, this can be quite nerve-racking, but immensely satisfying if all goes to plan.

In normal situations it is better to stay up on deck rather than spending a large part of your time at the chart table doing the math. Examiners would rather you have an eye on what is going on around you than be point-perfect with your fixes. If you feel it’s necessary, make up a pilotage card — a brief list of all the navigation marks and identifying objects you might come across during your passage, with the distances between each, so that you have a good idea what to expect next.

The IYT Yachtmaster scheme

Florida-based IYT is a private corporation set up in 1997 by two Brits to offer a similar recreational training program to the RYA’s, including Yachtmaster Coastal, Offshore and Ocean certificates, but also to provide training to the U.K.’s MCA Deck Officer Class 4 CE (yachts) commercial qualification. As with the RYA’s recreational program, IYT’s Yachtmaster courses are approved by the MCA as suitable prerequisites to Class 4 qualification, which is now mandatory for masters, deck officers and engineers operating vessels over 24 meters (79 feet) in load length.

Since starting, IYT has successfully put more than 3,000 candidates through its Yachtmaster Offshore program and is now expanding its operation worldwide. At first, IYT used only in-house instructors and its own vessels, but recently it has licensed agencies in South Africa, Majorca, Greece, Turkey and now the U.K. to carry out its training modules, with plans to expand further into Europe and beyond in the near future.

Unlike the RYA’s system, whereby any competent sailor with the requisite sea time logged can take the Yachtmaster exam, IYT insists that all candidates complete the entire course, which is slightly more comprehensive than the RYA’s, before they are entitled to take the final exam. Cynics might say this is to maximize overall income, but Mark Fry, founder and president of IYT, insists it is to ensure that every yachtmaster has all the skills required to make them thoroughly knowledgeable and responsible skippers.

IYT Yachtmaster Coastal

This is a comprehensive live-aboard course over five (power), or six (sail) days, intended for recreational yachtsmen who already have a basic knowledge of boating. It comprises familiarization with nautical charts and publications, DR and EP fixing, tidal direction and level calculation, pilotage, safety, and meteorology.

Minimum entry requirements for the course are 30 days and 800 logged miles, including two days as a watch leader and 12 hours on night watch. Candidates may take the course prior to achieving these qualifiers, but the certificate will not be issued until they have been fulfilled, logged and verified. Applicants must hold a valid first-aid qualification and a VHF radio operator’s license.

The course concludes with an oral and practical examination in which candidates must demonstrate that they have the ability to handle the boat with confidence — simply completing the course is not a guarantee of passing and receiving a Yachtmaster Coastal certificate. This Coastal certificate is accepted as proof of competency by charter companies worldwide.

IYT Yachtmaster Offshore

The Yachtmaster Offshore training program is an all-embracing course designed to take experienced crew to the highest level of competence. Offshore ticket holders should be fully skilled captains able to take charge of a vessel in all weather conditions, day or night, on long passages out of sight of land. The training program is tough and supposes the candidate has wide-ranging experience of life aboard.

The syllabus comprises seven modules, which can be taken together or separately. They are:

• A six-day shore-based theory module with written examinations on an extensive range of subjects, including navigation, tides, collision regulations, pilotage, meteorology, anchoring, berthing, buoyage, safety, first aid, passage planning and seamanship.

• A four-day practical course covering seamanship skills, boat handling, passage planning and navigation in preparation for the final Yachtmaster exam.

• A half-day radio communications module.

• A 1 1/2-day personal survival course, including theory on lifesaving appliances, vessel evacuation, survival craft and helicopter assistance, then practical exercises in a swimming pool with a life raft and other safety equipment.

• A two-day fire-prevention module taught by qualified firefighting personnel.

• A one-day first-aid and CPR course, with a written exam.

• A half-day personal safety and social responsibility course, followed by a written exam.

Contenders for the certificate must have already logged 50 days at sea as crew and 3,000 miles, including five passages with rhumb lines of over 60 miles, as well as having at least 30 hours on night watch — all of which must be verified by the vessel’s skipper. A recent medical and eyesight test is also mandatory.

Candidates may, however, take the shore-based courses without the above qualifications. The final exam is conducted by a qualified Yachtmaster examiner and is a full test of each candidate’s practical abilities at sea. The examiner will interrogate candidates on any subject in the course, as well as studying the student’s ability to make seamanlike decisions on the move.

IYT Yachtmaster Ocean

Similarly to the RYA Ocean ticket, this certificate indicates that the holder is able to navigate globally using celestial navigation with a sextant. There is a 40-hour theory course to be completed, and candidates must already hold a Yachtmaster Offshore certificate and have verified evidence of a 600-mile continuous offshore passage showing sights and workings.

Both the RYA and IYT demand very high standards of seamanship before candidates are issued the Yachtmaster qualifications, and both are regulated by the professional standards laid down by the MCA. The RYA is a voluntary body that approves training schools after stringent examination, and it provides rigid guidelines on syllabi and how the courses should be taught so that these standards remain consistent throughout all its approved training sites. IYT is a corporate body that earns its keep by providing training for mariners, but is equally scrutinized by the MCA with regard to syllabus content and quality.

Although their principles are almost identical, the RYA tends more toward the recreational sailor, with the more commercial requirements of the MCA being fulfilled by additional courses. In order to qualify for entrance into the MCA’s Class 4 scheme, an RYA Yachtmaster Offshore must obtain a commercial endorsement on his/her certificate by completing an additional sea-survival course and taking a medical exam. The IYT Yachtmaster Offshore course already includes these, as well as comprehensive fire-prevention instruction to Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW ’95) Code A. IYT can also provide specific MCA training modules for the attainment of the STCW ’95 Deck Officer Class 4 CE (yachts) for those who wish to go on to become professional yacht captains or skipper a private yacht greater than 24 meters (79 feet).

IYT plans to have its Yachtmaster qualifications recognized worldwide, so the company is researching existing schemes and entering negotiations with marine authorities throughout the nautical world. n

Duncan Kent is a freelance yachting journalist living in Southampton in southern England.

By Ocean Navigator