by Pete Green
How to pass the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore practical sailing exam: Here are our top tips!
Why take the RYA Yachtmaster Exam?
Several organisations around the world offer professional sailing qualifications. One of the most renowned, and the oldest, is the Royal Yachting Association Yachtmaster Offshore qualification. This recognises that the holder is competent to skipper a sailing yacht on a passage 150 miles from a safe haven. There are plenty of excellent and accomplished sailors on the oceans who do not wish to acquire ‘tickets’, but many boaters do sign up for exams each year, so why bother? Courses can teach you the core skills that a modern sailor should have at their fingertips. Sailing with people from diverse backgrounds and with knowledge of different cruising areas helps you realise where the gaps in your own knowledge are and can inspire you to learn new ways of tackling fundamental skills. Most yachting establishments require their employees to have a recognised professional qualification. Without one, sailors will find it difficult to gain work as an instructor, yacht delivery skipper or find employment on a charter vessel.
RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Practical Exam and pre-course requirements.
The practical exam usually takes 8-12 hours for one candidate and 4-9 hours per candidate where more than one person is being examined. Sailors can be asked questions about any part of the RYA syllabus including areas such as: boat handling, navigation, man overboard, safety, meteorology, adverse weather conditions, long passages, and general boat husbandry. There are also pre-exam requirements. A candidate must hold a Radio Operators Certificate and a valid and acceptable First Aid qualification.
Potential Yachtmasters must have spent a minimum of 50 days at sea with 2,500 miles in their logbooks, including at least five passages over sixty miles. Two of these should have been as skipper and two completed with night passages. Half the sea time must be in tidal waters in a vessel less than 24m. Several sailing schools around the UK offer to arrange exams and assessors; often there is an option to spend a prep week beforehand on the vessel that will be used in the exam.
Halcyon Yachts Top Tips for a successful RYA Yachtmaster exam:
Some sailors breeze through the exam, enjoying the experience and remaining calm and confident throughout. Most people though find the whole thing nerve-wracking and uncomfortable. So, what can you do to make the experience a positive one, how best to prepare and how should you present yourself to the best advantage? We asked some leading Yachtmaster Instructors and Assessors for their top tips: here are our favourites.
- “Practise sailing onto moorings at every opportunity as this makes you more confident for MOB under sail and sailing onto the anchor. Remember, the examiner wants you to pass, it is an opportunity to show off.”
- “Remain calm and focused, things go wrong during exams, they are long, and something is bound to go less than perfectly. It is often one small mistake that that becomes a small incident that becomes a major error that a candidate cannot recover from that leads to a sailor having to retake their exam.”
- “Know your weather and collision regulations. A candidate’s knowledge of Colregs instantly tells an examiner if the candidate is serious or not. It is an element that can be learnt long before the exam, there is no excuse not to know them. I tell my students knowing them can be a big ‘get out of jail free’ card during the exam if things are not going well.”
- “Give your crew clear, concise instructions using sailing language, practise ‘command and control.’ Tell your crew members what you would like them to do, give them time and space to do it, and then respectfully check they have completed the task.” There is no point in rushing the crew and adding stress to the exam, there is nothing wrong with taking a little time and having some finesse to your manoeuvre.”
- “Teamwork: collaborating with your crew to make sure you are all in best form and working towards a common goal, if you help the other candidates, they will help you when it is your turn to be the skipper. An examiner will soon spot a candidate who is trying to make himself or herself look better to the detriment of other sailors.”
- “Show the examiner that you care about the boat, coil down properly, close locker lids gently, show good seamanship and boat husbandry skills. Set lines and fenders correctly and efficiently, move around the boat with quiet confidence and authority.”
- “Do not try and make excuses or blag your way out of bad situations, your examiner will see straight through you. Be honest, if you make a mistake, admit it, and ask for another opportunity to complete a task.”
- “Sailing for the exam is not a race, it is not looking at how fast you can go, how hard you can push the boat to its limits. It is a cruise, a slow gentle sail to show you can be safe and in control. Put a reef in a little bit before you would normally, keep the boat flat, comfortable, and stable.”
- “Take your time, The YM exam is a snapshot of what you can do. It is a small window into your sailing life. There is no rush to do anything, it is better to do it once and controlled than to do it several times hurried.”
- “A good skipper does not spend ages down below ‘over navigating.’ Have your passage plan prepared, know where you are and where you are going, and become familiar with the navigation equipment on board. You then have plenty of time to run the yacht proficiently and look after the crew. The only time you should be down below constantly navigating is during the ‘Blind Nav’ assessment. Prepare for and master this tricky task”!
- “Practise entering and leaving unfamiliar harbours using charts, pilot books and almanacs. Become familiar with interpreting 2D images on a page into the 3D reality on the water. Do this at night as well when there are lights flashing all around you and you must pick out marks against harbour lights.”
- “The sanity check, this is my favourite thing to do, it is the checking over your task to make sure you have covered every base and have not missed anything out. It is the equivalent of the pilot’s check list.”
- “Know your skills, make sure that you have had lots of practice before going into a prep week and get your theory up to scratch. It is not something that a candidate should take lightly, and you need to make sure you are comfortable in your own skin doing the skills. Do not think the prep week will give you the skills you need to do the exam. It is a polishing week, designed to just finesse your abilities and plug the little holes in your base knowledge.”
- “Paperwork! Make sure you have all the appropriate paperwork neatly packed up and ready to hand to your examiner. It is not the training centres job to make sure you have done the correct eligibility tasks; it is purely yours. Ensure you have all the necessary certificates with you and that your logbook is relevant and current.”
- “Remember that the examiner is also a very experienced instructor. They love to teach. The RYA Yachtmaster exam is another valuable opportunity to learn from a very knowledgeable skipper. If you embrace this opportunity with a positive attitude then they will likely turn what you perceive as a mistake into a learning opportunity. The best skippers never stop learning!”
Many thanks to those who helped with this article.
Phil Somerville, author of “The Practical Guide to Celestial Navigation” – buy your copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Practical-Guide-Celestial-Navigation-Step/dp/1472987586
Mark Treacher, Yacht Delivery Skipper and RYA Sailing Instructor.
Mike Sharland, RYA Yachtmaster Instructor at “Scot Sail”. https://www.scotsail.co.uk/
Tomos Price, Chief Instructor and co-owner of “Commodore Yachting”. https://www.commodore-yachting.com/
Pete Green, Yachtmaster Instructor and Managing Director at “Halcyon Yachts”. https://halcyonyachts.com/