The RYA programme of courses

When you look at the courses offered by RYA recognised training centres it is not obvious what extra experience is required between courses. In addition to this, anyone who has some yachting experience does not always fit in neatly to the sequence of courses. This is especially true for the many sailors who come from abroad to take courses, if you have not sailed in the English Channel, it is not always obvious how demanding some of the courses may be.

I hope the following may make it easier to decide where you should aim to enter the scheme.

Students should note that the Coastal Skipper qualification and courses are now called: Yachtmaster Coastal.

The courses administered by the RYA are as follows:

Course Minimum pre courses experience Assumed knowledge Course content Ability at the end of course Minimum duration
Competent Crew Practical None None Basic seamanship and helming Useful member of the crew 5 days
Day Skipper Shorebased Some practical experience None Basic seamanship and introduction to navigation and meteorology
Day Skipper Practical 5 days, 100 miles, 4 night hours Basic navigation and sailing ability Basic pilotage, boat handling, seamanship and navigation. Skipper a small yacht in familiar waters by day 5 days
Yachtmaster Coastal /Yachtmaster Offshore Shorebased Navigation to Day Skipper standard Offshore and coastal navigation, pilotage and meteorology
Yachtmaster Coastal Practical 15 days (2 days as skipper) 300 miles, 8 night hours Navigation to Yachtmaster Coastal Shorebased standard. Sailing to Day Skipper practical standard Skippering techniques for coastal and offshore navigation Skipper a yacht on coastal passages by night or day 5 days
Yachtmaster Ocean Shorebased Coastal and offshore sailing Navigation to Yachtmaster Coastal/Yachtmaster offshore standard Astro-navigation, ocean meteorology and passage planning Understand the theory of astro-navigation and passage planning

Each of the courses above have an RYA course completion certificate when all the required elements have been successfully completed. These certificates should be kept in the Yachtmaster Scheme Syllabus & Logbook along with a record of your practical experience.

Course options:

Shorebased courses: These are usually taken as evening classes, 5 or 7 day intensive courses, over 3 weekends or by distance learning

The best choice depends upon the individual.

Evening classes

Probably the cheapest option You need to commit to be there every week, for up to 26 weeks.
Close to home You will probably be tired after a day at work
Ideal for people who prefer to absorb information slowly By the time you reach the end of the course, you may have forgotten what you covered 5 months earlier
There can be a good social side to the class, some of the class may own boats and be looking for crew The instructor may not be a professional sailor. That is, someone with a great deal of current experience.
You do not need to use your holiday time to take the course Life gets in the way of completing the course and doing the required homework
Intensive courses
You can complete the course quickly You may need to use up holiday time
The instructor is more likely to be a professional who runs the course frequently and is very familiar with the material Information absorbed quickly, is frequently forgotten, unless you put it to practical use immediately (book a practical course to follow the theory)
If taken over several weekends, there is time to absorb the information and complete the homework If taken over a week, you need to be a quick learner and able to handle basic maths easily (older people or those with jobs that do not require handling figures, frequently struggle on these courses)
You are less likely to forget material from early on in the course You may need to travel to the school, and stay locally
  You must plan to leave the evenings free to do your homework!
Distance learning
You can work at your own pace You must make the commitment to complete the course work
If you have a busy or variable time table, this may be the only way to complete the course Many people who start distance learning course, fail to see them through to the end

For the Yachtmaster Coastal/Yachtmaster Shorebased course it is essential that students prepare by having a level of knowledge equivalent to the Day Skipper theory course when they arrive at the beginning of the course. This means you must prepare by revising previous work.

In addition to this, if you are taking an intensive course, you must prepare by learning the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea thoroughly. This level of knowledge includes, The basic manoeuvring rules, lights, shapes and sound signals. A guide to the minimum pass level for Yachtmaster Coastal on the I.R.P.C.S. is to pass the tests on this website with an 80% pass mark. There is not enough time in an intensive course to cover this subject to sufficient depth.

If you are serious about your training, you must turn up prepared!

Practical courses: These are usually taken over 5 days or 3 weekends. If possible, it is better to take the course over 5 days, as this allows the instructor to run a course in which the content is more planned.

If the 3 weekends option is taken, it may be quite difficult to ensure the syllabus is covered sufficiently, remember that there is no reason why you will be sailing with the same crew each weekend or even the same instructor. The advantage of taking a course over 3 weekends is that you can be fairly certain to experience a variety of conditions.

The Yachtmaster Coastal Practical course is very difficult to run over 3 weekends. To ensure that the syllabus is fully covered, a 5 day course is preferable.

If you are not sure where you fit in to the scheme, you may be able to arrange a assessment weekend with a school, at the end of the weekend the instructor should be able to advise on the best course to take.

Competent Crew:

This course is suitable for those with no or little boating experience. It is also the best place for a dinghy sailor or someone with only motorboat experience.

After a Competent Crew course, you should aim to have at least another 5 days sailing on yachts before taking any more training course. This sailing could be on friends boats, on cruises or as crew on a flotilla holiday.

Day Skipper:

This course involves you in running the boat. This means that you must understand enough about yachts and be confident enough in your knowledge, that you are prepared to learn to direct other crew members. Anyone with only dinghy sailing experience would find this course difficult.

Although it is not a requirement that you have completed the Day Skipper Shorebased course prior to taking the practical, it is essential that you have a level of knowledge equivalent to it. In practice, those people who have not completed the theory course are rarely well enough prepared to make the most of the training offered on the practical course. As a result they may not have all the sections of the course signed off as satisfactorily completed in their logbook.

Yachtmaster Coastal:

A considerable amount of experience must be accumulated between Day Skipper and Yachtmaster Coastal. How much, depends upon the individual. If you have lots of dinghy sailing experience or have been motor boating you may progress quickly through to this level. The minimum level given in the table above is very much that, I would recommend not progressing to this level until you have crossed the English Channel, are fairly happy with handling a yacht under power in confined spaces and can sail efficiently on all points of sailing.

As a minimum requirement to take this course, you should have skippered a yacht for at least 2 days. By this I mean, fully in charge of a yacht, not skippering it when the instructor is below, or a more experienced friend is aboard.

When students have really skippered a yacht, making the required decisions and dealing with situations, it is usually very obvious to an instructor. These students are more prepared to take command of the vessel and to think further ahead than those students who turn up without this experience.

This skippering may be on a flotilla holiday or preferably a charter in British waters.

You should also be familiar with all the navigational processes from the theory course. This includes working up an E.P. a course to steer, fixing position and tidal height calculations, including secondary ports and non spring or neap tides. Carrying out these tasks without struggling is essential background knowledge, during the course you will be doing them whilst dealing with changing weather, shipping movements and handling the crew!

You will also be expected to sail in confined waters, including sailing on to and away from buoys and anchorages. This requires a good understanding of the different principles and relevance of wind and tidal conditions.

Yachtmaster Practical:

The RYA do not run a Yachtmaster practical course. However, most schools run training at this level. This training tends to be based around the Yachtmaster Coastal syllabus but is tailored to the requirements of the student and a higher level of performance is expected.

You must have a good and current level of knowledge of the I.R.P.C.S, navigation, seamanship and boat handling under power in tidal conditions before attempting this course.

RYA/DoT Certificates of Competence

Many people take the Certificate of Competence exams as a measure of their own ability, this is not a requirement in Britain, but is something many people work towards for their own satisfaction.

These exams are often added on to the end of a training course. If this is the case, the training should be for 5 days and the exam should take place after this. The exam is run by an examiner appointed by the RYA and lasts for about 6 to 8 hours per candidate.

Minimum seatime (half to be in tidal waters)
Form of exam
Other certificates required
Yachtmaster Coastal

30 days

2 days as skipper

800 miles

12 night hours


Radio operators certificate

Current first aid certificate

Yachtmaster Offshore

50 days

5 days as skipper

2500 miles

5 passages over 60 miles including 2 overnight and 2 as skipper


Radio operators certificate

Current first aid certificate

Yachtmaster Ocean Ocean passage as skipper or mate of watch

Oral and assessment of sights taken at sea

(written exam if Ocean shorebased course has not been taken)

RYA/DoT Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate of Competence

Yachtmaster Ocean shorebased course completion certificate

For both the Yachtmaster Coastal and Yachtmaster exams the student is expected to run the boat in daylight and at night in tidal conditions. Some of this will be in restricted waters and requires a good level of experience to be successfully completed

The difference between Yachtmaster Coastal and Yachtmaster is a matter of degree. A Yachtmaster will be expected to cope in more difficult situations and to demonstrate a greater degree of competence is handling the crew and situations that arise.

It may be that a candidate who fails at Yachtmaster level is awarded a Yachtmaster Coastal certificate instead, however, this is not guaranteed and is at the discretion of the examiner.

Preparation: I am frequently amazed at the number of students who present themselves for training courses that end in an exam and have obviously done no preparation in the way of revision of navigation or especially learning the I.R.P.C.S.

If you are serious about taking the training and the final Certificate of Competence, I strongly recommend arriving thoroughly prepared with the basics, you will then learn far more from the instructor running the course, and have a more enjoyable week!

If you do not already have an RYA Cruising Logbook, one can be purchased Here.

Other training courses:

There are many other courses run by training establishments.

VHF radio: Anyone who skippers a yacht must have a VHF license, the radio is essential for contacting harbours, other vessels and the Coastguard, if you get in to trouble.

Boat handling: Many schools offer intensive boat handling weekends. This is the best way to improve your confidence when confronted with an unfamiliar mooring situation.

First aid: Anyone going to sea should take regular refreshers of first aid courses, if you have to deal with an accident, you will be glad if your last update was fairly recent.

Engine maintenance: Everyone running a boat with an engine must know the basics of engine maintenance, a one day course may be all you need to get out of trouble someday.

Sea survival: A one day sea-survival course may make all the difference if you do need to abandon ship. This course should be attended by everyone on board at least once and for regular sailors, occasional refreshers may be worth while.

Cruises: The best way to improve your skills and understanding of what is required to be an effective skipper is to go cruising to an area you are unfamiliar with. The best cruises are those where the school's skipper is prepared to let the customers take as much of an active part in the running of the vessel as possible, it is worth checking the school's policy on this first and who is skippering the trip! is free to use, but if you feel you would like to contribute to the running and development costs you can donate via Paypal:

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