The RYA Sailing Cruising scheme provides a series of courses and qualifications through which you can progress from a complete novice, to captaining a vessel of up to 200 gross tonnes (though if any newly qualified Yachtmasters have plans to take out a 200gt vesssel please let me know so I can make sure I’m nowhere in the vicinity)! At the top end, the scheme feeds in to the Marine Coastguard Authority (MCA) courses for professional seamen.
You can join the scheme at any point, though if you join mid way, it will be assumed that you have the knowledge and skills imparted in the lower courses. For the higher courses there are also minimum experience requirements.
The scheme courses are of two types, theory courses taken ashore, either in the classroom or on line, and practical courses taken afloat. There are also a number of short courses covering topics such as VHF usage, First Aid, Diesel Maintenance and Sea Survival.
Most people take the theory courses in their home country – who wants to fly somewhere sunny to sit at a desk? Courses are available at sailing schools and online, the latter including some free as well as paid for versions.
Of the four RYA practical courses, for most, the choice will come down to the Competent Crew or Day Skipper courses. The advantage with these is that students can be mixed on the same yacht so if members of the party are at different stages, some can take Competent Crew, others Day Skipper, whilst still sailing together.
There are some contraints to bear in mind:
- The Competent Crew course can be taken by people of any age, though some schools may point out that the very young will struggle with the sheer weight of ropes etc. Schools may also have a minimum age as they deem that young children can be hazardous and detrimental to the learning of others.
- The Day Skipper is limited to those over 16 years of age.
- The Day Skipper assumes knowledge of the material covered in the associated theory course (though you don’t actually have to have taken the course). If you arrive without these skills your chances of passing are severely reduced as there simply isn’t time to cover the theory and the practical aspects in the same week.
- Numbers are limited to 5 people per yacht plus the instructor. This is an RYA limit and is not negotiable.
Most schools offer the choice of booking by the berth or booking the whole yacht, the latter being particularly attractive for families, or if you are taking the yacht on Flotilla the following week.
Coastal courses are available, though less in demand as many prefer to take these in tidal waters. If you are sailing in a generally tideless area such as the Mediterranean, both Day Skipper and Coastal certificates are endorsed as Non-Tidal, the skills needed for tidal waters being deemed greater.
Don’t let this put you off. UK sailing schools offer Conversion courses, providing the missing tidal experience leading to a non endorsed certificate. This courses usually only take 2 days, though of course if you are only going to sail in the Med, you won’t need to do this!
For more details on the above courses and other practical course options including higher exams, see RYA Practical Courses.