RYA Yachtmaster™ of the Year Award winners – where are they now?

We catch up with previous winners of the RYA Yachtmaster of the Year Award

When RYA Yachtmaster™ of the Year winner Hannah Stodel held the trophy aloft at London Boat Show, it was clear that this was an emotional moment for her – even with so many other amazing accolades to her name.

The prestigious award recognises candidates for possessing outstanding skills and knowledge as a skipper which they will have successfully demonstrated during their certificate of competence exam.

Hannah undertook her training as part of her preparation for one of sailing’s greatest challenges – the 2020 Vendée Globe – an unassisted and non-stop circumnavigation of the world.

Her target? To become the first disabled athlete to take on the Vendée Globe. And this meant acquiring new skills to master handling a larger vessel.

Her examiner Philippe Falle described her as “a natural and an absolute inspiration.” 

Hannah was delighted to win the award saying “It’s incredible and a true honour.”  

Read more about Hannah's Yachtmaster of the Year presentation and watch the video here.

Zara Roberts, RYA Yachtmaster of the Year 2016

Last year’s winner Zara Roberts, is equally emotional about her recognition and posted this on her Instagram account one year on from receiving the award:

“365 days ago I received the RYA Yachtmaster™ of the Year from this very special lady Princess Anne.

“I think my family were the proudest they’ve ever been and for me I needed this award to give me the confidence to go on and successfully reach my goal of being a Captain of my first commercial vessel.

“I am now keeping my sailing and water sports as a hobby for myself and pursuing my career in nutrition and fitness instead of being splitting my life in half my focus is now on helping others.

“I am a water baby and naturally love being on the water, helping other people tell me how good I am at it is something I will always cherish! What an honour and congratulations to this year’s winner - may it bring you as much joy as it did me.”

Angus Watson – RYA Yachtmaster™ of the Year, 2015

Recreational sailor Angus Watson was awarded the RYA Yachtmaster™ of the Year 2015 by the first man to sail solo non-stop around the world, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.

No stranger to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Chairman of event organisers Clipper Ventures, amateur yachtsman Angus was also a bowman and deputy watch leader on Victoria Clipper – one of ten one-design 68ft racing yachts that raced around the world with amateur crew in 2005-6.

Angus discovered sailing by cruising with the family as a teenager on flotilla holidays, but his motivation for taking the Yachtmaster™ Certificate of Competence came much later when he became a father.

He explains: “It was about wanting to enjoy the microcosm of life on a boat which is challenging and fun but needing to upskill to be safe and to get us both (my wife and I) up to a standard where we were completely in control of managing and handling the boat.

“Coastal Skipper is a good level to be and helps prepare you, but Yachtmaster™ is where you want to be. It’s about knowing the capabilities of the boat and being able to anticipate a long way ahead. Otherwise how do you evaluate risk?”

Angus remembers the exam as a gruelling process. “It was November and lot of the exam was done in the Solent in the dark. The examiner seemed to instinctively find my level and then push me further out of my comfort zone.”

It was a second attempt for Angus, who was forced to abandon his first attempt after the headsail broke in 40 knots of wind. Undeterred, he tried again a few weeks later and careful preparation saw him not only pass, but pass at an exceptional level, recognised by his examiner who nominated him for the prestigious RYA Yachtmaster™ of the Year Award.

Angus describes winning the award as ‘a big surprise’ adding: “I was happy to have the hard work I put in validated – and to be presented with it by Sir Robin Knox-Johnson was fantastic - he is a legend!”

After winning the award, Angus spent some time as an instructor for Clipper but he returned to work in London after the latest addition to his young family was born – he now has three children aged 2, 4 and 7.

Sailing is still a huge part of his life though and Angus says his focus now is on “working towards a much larger adventure for all the family.”

George Gillingham – RYA Yachtmaster™ of the Year, 2014

At 18, George was the youngest person on record to win the RYA Yachtmaster™ of the Year award. Growing up in Poole, he began sailing at a young age, racing Toppers and Lasers with his local club. Then at 15, he was introduced to yacht racing and took part in the Commodores’ Challenge youth match racing event on a 33ft Elan and undertook regular evening cruiser racing and weekend regattas.

At just 16 years old, George completed his RYA Day Skipper, then progressed to RYA Coastal Skipper, but he had to wait until he was 18 to be eligible to sit his RYA Yachtmaster™ Offshore exam, which he passed a few weeks after his birthday.

Now a deckhand responsible for guest safety, watch duties and navigation on a superyacht based out of Cannes in the South of France, George took the RYA Yachtmaster™ Offshore exam to become a professional mariner.

He has spent the last three years furthering his career by studying for the MCA Officer of the Watch. He said: “Passing my Yachtmaster™ exam was one of the prerequisites for passing the MCA Certificate of Competence and now I am currently finishing my final modules towards my MCA Officer of the Watch 3000, with aims to progress to a Masters ticket.”

“Passing gave me the best start in my career and winning the award was a great experience that I’ll never forget.”

Could you be next year's winner?

An RYA Yachtmaster needs a wealth of knowledge, not only to cope with plain sailing or motor cruising but also to be able to cope in the most demanding of situations. Nominations for the highly-respected annual award are put forward by the RYA’s worldwide team of RYA Yachtmaster Examiners.

In recognition of the achievement, winners receive the RYA Yachtmaster Trophy – donated by the Royal Institute of Navigation. 

To start your journey or to learn more about RYA training courses and qualifications, visit www.rya.org.uk/go/training