Many people learn to sail by going sailing with their friends or parents. But how do you get started if you do not know anybody with a boat? Or perhaps you want to undertake formal training to acquire a recognised qualification. Many yacht charter companies will require potential customers to hold a recognised qualification prior to them chartering a yacht. Sailing in many countries is looked after by national associations or federations. The RYA (Royal Yachting Association) in the United Kingdom and in the United States the ASA (American Sailing Association) to name but two.
These governing bodies have designed a series of courses that enable people to obtain internationally recognised qualifications. The courses are rarely run by the national body itself. Private companies can apply to run the courses to national associations/federations and if approved they can then offer recognised courses to people wanting to learn to sail.
Courses are available both on the water (practical) and shore based (theory) for sailboats, power and motor boats, dinghies as well as supplementary courses such as sea survival and diesel engine maintenance. This article will look only at courses for sailing boats and the structure of courses within the United Kingdom.
The the number of people carried on board for the practical courses will vary but normally will not exceed an instructor and 5 students. I completed my own Day Skipper Practical with just one fellow student and the instructor. The higher the student/instructor ratio, the less one to one time everybody gets with the instructor but the cost per person is reduced. It is also preferable, I think, to have a mix of people taking different courses. 5 people taking the Coastal Skipper Practical Course aboard the same boat will have a reduced amount of time in their role as skipper.
Getting started – The first course we’ll look at is called Start Yachting, no previous experience is required and over two days participants will be shown how to steer a yacht, how to handle the sails, a little ropework and an insight into safety on board. The Competant Crew course is again aimed at complete beginners, no previous experience is required. This course last five days and in addition to steering and sail handling participants will be shown how to keep a lookout and row a dinghy.Check it out on:Coastal Skipper Course.
The first shorebased course is called Day Skipper Theory. A little on the water experience is desirable. The course requires 40 hours and two written exams are taken at the conclusion. Primarily about the basics of navigation, seamanship and the weather, when completed you should be able to navigate a boat in familiar waters in daylight.
The Day Skipper Practical follows and can be completed in 5 days or over 3 weekends. This can be undertaken in either tidal or non-tidal waters and the certificate issued at completion recognizes the distinction. Experience is required, participants should have spent five days at sea with 4 hours night sailing and have logged 100 miles. The course covers boat handling, seamanship and navigation and pilotage. When finished you should be able to skipper a yacht in familiar waters in daylight.
The Watchleader Practical course, as the name suggests, teaches the responsibilitiesof a watchleader, navigation seamanship, safety and collision avoidance. Experience is required, participants should have have logged 100 miles and spent five days at sea with 4 hours night sailing. After the 5 day course you should be able to take the watch on a sail traing vessel.