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WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A YACHTMASTER


 

The question, "How long will it take me to be ready for the RYA Yachtmaster exam?" I hear very often, and my response is a straightforward, "It depends." Over the years, I've prepared hundreds of sailors for the RYA Yachtmaster exam, achieving an impressive pass rate of 95%. This experience has provided me with profound insights into the essential elements required to be adequately prepared and successful.

 

The RYA Yachtmaster exam assesses a skipper's fundamental competencies in safely navigating a boat and its crew from point A to point B. While this may seem routine for many sailors, the Yachtmaster sets itself apart by conducting passages in a structured and organized manner, with safety as the paramount consideration.

 

 

THE SKILL, COMPETENCES AND KNOWLEDGE

 

NAVIGATION AND PILOTAGE

Before you decide to cast off you need to answer the question made famous by one of my favorite bands: “Shall I stay of shall I go”. Are the vessel and the crew up to the intended passage, which mainly will be affected by weather, tides and the condition of your boat and crew.

When the answer is yes you start planning the passage:

·      built a route out of carefully placed waypoints,

·      produce a pilotage plan for getting in and out port,

·      identify possible dangers and hazards,

·      gather and interpret all relevant tidal and weather information, establish tidal gates

·      have a plan B (port of refuge) in case all pans out differently,

·      name a shore contact,

·      schedule a watch system,

·      victual (food & drink) boat, calculate fuel consumption, check on spare parts.

Competent theoretical knowledge up to the RYA Yachtmaster theory exam level is essential to execute these tasks proficiently.

 

BOAT CONTROL IN MARINA’S

You need to be able to leave your berth in all conditions of wind and tide, which can involve setting up lines to help you getting clear of the pontoon. This process of leaving your dock is based upon:

·      planning (wind, tide, environment)

·      brief crew

·      preparing lines and fenders

·      executing plan while monitoring crew

In the marina you should be able to control the boat in close quarters, again in all conditions of tide.

When arriving in the destination port the same will apply.

 

EXECUTE PILOTAGE PLAN

Once out the marina you follow the prepared pilotage plan by using bearings to the charted marks identified in the plan, quite often accompanied by depth.

 

GO SAILING

As a RYA Yachtmaster you are expected to be a competent sailor, which involves a little more than only being able to tack and gybe. You should be able to:

·      instruct and monitor the crew during all maneuvers

·      work out a downwind or upwind strategy, working on optimizing vmg as you take into account changes of the wind direction, sea state, tidal streams and hazards.

·      set up the boat for downwind sailing (use of gybe preventers, pole out head sails)

 

EXECUTING AND MONITORING THE PASSAGE

During the passage we will check as often as needed if everything is still working out well, what is the “now” related against the original plan, by monitoring:

·      position (clear from hazards – progress towards destination)

·      weather and sea state (actual and predicted related to the pre-departure forecast)

·      condition of the vessel and the crew

A constant awareness of all that is relevant to all that is relevant to the passage could and sometimes should lead to the decision to change the plan.

 

INSTRUMENTS

You want to be able to use onboard electronic equipment as VHF Radio, Chartplotters, Ais and Radar competently with a full awareness of its limitations. When all screens go black your traditional navigation skills enable you to safely conduct the passage.

 

RULES OF THE ROAD AND BOUYAGE

Being out at sea, by day and by night, you need to know in depth what rules apply and how to identify buoys and other aids to navigation. Based on this knowledge you should make the right call for action at the right moment.

 

EMERGENCIES

Out at sea things can go wrong with help usually being far away. Therefore, you need to be able to deal with mechanical problems and emergencies.

·      Man Overboard under power and sail

·      Fire, flooding

·      Abandon ship, helicopter evacuation and use of distress signals

·      Engine trouble shooting

·      First Aid

·      Dismasting, towing and dealing with heavy weather

 

 

OTHER SKILLS

·      Anchoring and picking up a mooring buoy under power and sail

 

 

CREW MANAGEMENT

The safety and wellbeing of the crew is any skippers first priority, and too often neglected.  It comes down to

·      Organizing, briefing and monitoring

·      Clear communication

·      Eye for well being

 

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THE INDIVIDUAL AND PERSONAL BACKGROUND

 

Now, let's return to the initial question: "How long will it take me to reach the Yachtmaster level?" The answer is far from one-size-fits-all. I've witnessed students with no prior sailing experience excel in the Yachtmaster Coastal exam after just six weeks of training, while others faced challenges despite persistent efforts. The journey's duration hinges on various competencies, each playing a vital role.

 

SAILING

It helps when you have been sailing or windsurfing in your youth. Feeling the wind, and making decisions as when to tack / gybe easy, leaves more room to focus on the running of the ship. Whereas few have the talent and commitment to become a successful racing sailor, in my experience everyone will make it eventually to a competent sailor.

 

NUMBERS AND MATHS

Navigation theory heavily relies on calculations and goniometry. Proficiency in numbers and attention during math classes can ease this aspect. Conversely, if math was not your forte in school and your work revolves around non-numerical tasks, the theory might pose a challenge.

 

MEMORY AND UNDERSTANDING

Success in understanding and recalling the rules of the road, buoyage, and navigation demands a robust memory. Memorization paired with a fundamental comprehension of the concepts facilitates skill execution. Engineers often find navigation concepts more accessible than those with a social science background.

 

SPATIAL AND SPEED AWARENESS

Most maneuvers, as parking, anchoring, picking up a man overboard, require a careful judgement of space and speed. How far away is the pontoon, what is my speed now and what should I do to bring the boat at a full stop in time. Now this kind of awareness is for many people a given, part of their genes and personality make-up. Those with an exceptional development of spatial and speed awareness become successful Formula 1 racers, others keep struggling to park their car in a tight spot.

In general, I would say that when you are a lousy driver you will need time to learn handling a boat with confidence. If you enjoy high speed downhill mountain biking or off piste skiing boat handling will come easier.

 

MANAGEMENT

Dealing with groups at work or home can make briefing, instructing, and monitoring a crew more intuitive. However, the foundational requirement is confidence and ease in executing necessary skills. This creates mental space to focus on what truly matters: the people aboard who rely on your leadership.

 

DECISION MAKING

Skippers must be decisive, from the pre-departure decision to embark on a journey to choices made throughout the passage. Decision-making is a skill that can be honed with coaching and practice. Those accustomed to taking risks may find the safety-first approach challenging, as safety at sea demands unequivocal decisions.

 

 

THE NEXT STEP

 

In essence, the timeline to Yachtmaster certification is influenced by a blend of innate abilities, prior experiences, and the commitment to learning. Each individual's journey is unique, shaped by a dynamic interplay of these factors. For personalized guidance and training tailored to your specific needs, feel free to reach out. Your Yachtmaster adventure awaits!

 

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