Fast track Yachtmaster™ exam
From time to time the RYA's Yachtmaster™ qualification comes under the spotlight in the yachting press, in particular the fast track courses aimed at potential professional skippers.
James Stevens, former RYA Training Manager and Chief Examiner, clarifies the skills, knowledge and experience required of a Yachtmaster™ whether they have years, or months of experience afloat.
Responsibility for administering and testing for the Yachtmaster™ qualification was given to the RYA in 1972. Prior to that, oral tests for Yachtmasters were examined by the Board of Trade, a predecessor of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). Until 1994 the Yachtmaster™ was a recreational qualification but following the introduction of Codes of practice for Small Commercial Vessels a commercial endorsement was added which the RYA runs on behalf of the MCA. Commercial skippers, in addition to passing the practical test, must attend a sea survival course and have a medical fitness examination.
Pre Entry Requirements
The pre entry requirement for the Yachtmaster™ Offshore exam has been the subject of intense debate. Too rigorous and the qualification is inaccessible, too easy and it loses its credibility. The most essential quality for a skipper is the ability to take charge. It is that ability the crew recognise when they are kept informed and feel safe and confident.
Yachtmaster™ candidates need experience as a skipper to become proficient. The RYA has the job of defining how much and in what circumstances. The current requirement is 2500 miles including five passages over 60 miles and two overnight and two as skipper. The Yachtmaster™ is an unusual maritime qualification in that candidates are expected to have taken charge before they qualify. The RYA reviews this requirement regularly to ensure that candidates are quite sure of the expectations of the Examiner.
The exam is carried out on a sailing yacht or motor vessel under 24m and is a one-day practical test which usually includes some night pilotage.
RYA Yachtmaster™ Examiners have all been assessed and trained afloat and are required to revalidate by demonstrating their skills every five years. They know what it feels like to have an examiner at their shoulder.
At the start of a Yachtmaster™ exam, the Examiner will establish that the candidate has completed the required mileage and the necessary paperwork. A tour of the boat normally follows with the candidate giving a safety brief and answering questions on the emergency equipment.
Each candidate (there can be two in a day) is asked to skipper a short passage. During this trip there will be assessments in boat handling, pilotage, navigation and collision avoidance, as well as questions on meteorology, passage planning and a whole range of other subjects in the syllabus. The only deliberate surprise is the man overboard recovery when a fender and bucket slip over the side and the skipper has to retrieve it. A discussion on the problems of having a real person in the water usually follows.
The exam is not intended to be a test of emergency yachting although this subject is raised. The Examiner is looking for competence and can obtain a result by observing how the candidate goes about managing the yacht. The sea and weather usually provide sufficient challenges without the Examiner having to provide scenarios, although the use of simulated poor visibility (RYA fog) is sometimes used to test blind navigation.
The Examiner is required to provide a report to the RYA showing that all sections of the exam have been completed. The time scale for the exam is 8-12 hours for one candidate alone and 1018 hours for two.
At the end the candidate is debriefed and given the Examiners recommendation to the RYA. Unsuccessful candidates receive the Examiners report. Successful ones receive an RYA certificate.
There has been a rapid expansion of commercial yachting in the last ten years with a consequently increasing demand for RYA qualified skippers and crew. Additionally potential superyacht captains must hold RYA qualifications before taking the new MCA megayacht examinations. This has resulted in training centres running fast track courses taking would-be skippers through the RYA courses and mileage in about 16 weeks.
Some people feel uneasy about this so the RYA has monitored these courses very closely. Examiners who have experience of assessing such candidates have found that they are no different from other yachtsmen. They can either deliver on the day or they cant. If they have learned how to take charge and can answer the questions, they pass. If not, they fail. The standard is certainly much higher than thirty years ago when the pre-exam requirement was only 500 miles and the test was an oral exam.
Those embarking on a career in professional yachting, start their first job well trained and knowledgeable but, in common with all professionals, on their first day at work, with much to learn about the industry. Newly qualified skippers generally work within their limitations while they build up experience in the first months.
The demand for RYA skippers is worldwide. The New Zealand Coastguard has adopted RYA Training, and the schemes are popular in South Africa and Australia, where the RYA has recently opened an office. The RYA Yachtmaster is seen as the gold standard in yachting and has brought the RYA recognition throughout the world.
Note: Yachtmaster™ is an EU Trademark of the RYA
Article Published: May 19, 2009 13:33
Article Updated: August 14, 2013 10:57