The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is Britain’s internationally recognised sail training authority. It provides schemes for all sorts of sailing including dinghies and motor boats, but we’re concerned here with the Cruising scheme, which applies to sailing yachts.
The scheme includes both theory and practical courses, leading ultimately to the Yachtmaster qualifications. You can join the scheme at any level, subject to having necessary experience which has to be documented in an RYA logbook. Though some schools in the Med and Caribbean do offer theory courses, these run infrequently – who wants to spend an air fare to sit in a classroom. So we’ll focus here mainly on the practical courses.
RYA courses are offered by affiliated schools which may be offshoots of a yacht supplier or a UK based tour operator, or stand alone operations. Whatever their business footing, all have to comply with the RYA’s rigorous standards and pass annual inspections which cover not just the yachts but safety and administrative procedures. Instructors all have to be certified by the RYA though are employed by the schools, and it is the schools that issue the certificates, not instructors.
In the UK, the practical courses generally run over 5 days (Mon – Fri) or three weekends. In the Mediterranean and Caribbean, it is more usual for courses to be 6 days long (7 nights on board) which fits better with weekly charter flights and allows a bit of extra time to squeeze in some swim stops and general relaxation.
Most of the courses offered in the Mediterranean and Caribbean are the lower level practical courses which are assessed by the instructor. They are not hard and with the extra time available, not that intensive, but you do have to complete the syllabus. So if you want to pass, there’s no scope for just deciding you fancy a day off part way through.
Courses operate two ways:
- Most commonly, sold by the berth, with up to 5 students per yacht, plus the instructor. Breakfast and lunch are usually included, with dinner taken ashore, unless you particularly want to cook on board.
- By the boat, where you hire the yacht and instructor for yourself and up to 4 friends or family. This has the advantage that you have the instructor to yourself and will know everyone else on board. If there are more than five in your group you will need a second boat (the limit of 5 students is an RYA rule).
Yachts have to be equipped to a certain standard that exceeds most normal charter specs, but some schools have organised themselves so you can have a choice of yachts from their fleet. This can be useful if you want a second week without instructor on the same boat your learned on, or if you want a bigger (or smaller) yacht to better suit your party size. Remember in picking your yacht that the instructor will need his own cabin.
When booking by the boat you will be responsible for providing food, and for feeding the instructor, as on a skippered charter. You will usually be responsible for fuel and any mooring fees too.
Coverage is a bit patchy. For example, Spain and Greece have a number of RYA schools but there are very few in France where (not unreasonably) they prefer their own national body.
Follow the links on the right for more about the scheme and the different courses available.