There are four recognised practical courses though a fifth is often advertised so is included here for completeness:
- Start Yachting (2 days). This is a taster course intended to give you a chance to see if you like sailing (or cynics might argue, to enable sailing schools to sell empty spaces on yachts at weekends). I don’t know of anyone actively promoting these courses overseas but if you wanted to see if sailing is for you before booking a holiday, why not do one in the UK. However, if you don’t like it, sailing overseas may still be to your liking – it doesn’t rain as much and it’s a lot warmer!!
- Competent Crew (5-6 days). Intended to take you to the point where you can crew for any competent skipper. Includes rope handling, knots, basic sail setting and helming (steering). No theory knowledge assumed so a good course for beginners. You are assessed by your instructor. There is no minimum age, though younger children are likely to struggle with the physicality of some tasks. Otherwise, it’s very straightforward and rarely needs the full time allowed.
- Day Skipper (5-6 days). This aims to equip you to skipper a small yacht in familiar waters in daylight but is also accepted in most places as the minimum requirement to charter a yacht you will be skippering yourself, be it a Bareboat or on Flotilla, (but read the section on Skills and Qualifications for more details). Many who have spent a few days afloat are tempted to start with this course but be aware that you need theory knowledge to the level covered by the Day Skipper theory course – there isn’t time for the instructor to cover this in the practical course. The suggested minimum pre course experience is 5 days at sea, 100 miles and 4 night hours, co-incidentally, the same as the school is required to cover during the course! You are assessed by your instructor. The minimum age for this course is 16.
- Coastal Skipper (5-6days). After this course you should be able to skipper coastal passages by day and night, and be prepared for the Yachtmaster Coastal exam. The exam is not included in the course but is usually tacked on the end in the UK. The suggested minimum experience for the course (the exam is different – see below) is 15 days including 2 as skipper, 300 miles, and 8 night hours. A course completion certificate is issued, whether or not you take the exam.
- Yachtmaster (5 days). This is not a recognised RYA course but many schools offer it as a preparation for the Yachtmaster Offshore exam.
The main courses offered in the holiday market are the Competent Crew and Day Skipper, with candidates often mixed on the same yacht. Coastal and Yachtmaster courses are less common overseas, because of issues associated with the exams (see bleow) which are the main reason most people take these courses.
Courses are often run over 6 days rather than the 5 days that is more common in the UK. This allows more time for relaxation. So although you do need to get through the whole syllabus, the courses are not intensive and in the wonderful climate, it’s a very pleasant way to learn.
Competent Crew and Day Skipper courses are assessed by the instructor – there is no separate exam. Assessments taken by RYA Examiners are:
- Yachtmaster Coastal. Pre-requisites are 30 days including 2 as skipper, 800 miles and 12 night hours. Also VHF and First Aid certificates.
- Yachtmaster Offshore. Pre-requisites are 50 days including 5 as skipper, 2500 miles, 5 passages over 60 miles including 2 as skipper and 2 overnight. Also VHF and First Aid certificates.
- Yachtmaster Ocean. Pre-requisite is an ocean passage as skipper.
The RYA levy a charge for the exam, in addition to charges that the school may make for the use of the yacht and for getting the examiner there.
In many areas outside the UK, there are no RYA Examiners close at hand. This deters many from taking these courses whilst on holiday as the cost of flying an examiner out from the UK can be prohibitive. They are also rather intensive courses for a holiday and in the case of the Coastal exam, some are also concerned about the usefulness of certificates that, if taken in non tidal areas will be endorsed as such. (Yachtmaster Offshore certificates do not have this endorsement).