Zero to Hero in Two Weeks: How to find success in RYA’s crash courses

Jan 24, 2023 by Jeff Werner

Crash courses for newbies have created a dilemma for the RYA Yachtmaster program.

When the International Maritime Organization implemented STCW 95, it was focused on conventional merchant shipping vessels. Concurrently, the yachting industry was experiencing rapid growth, particularly in the overall length of vessels and the number of crew needed to operate those vessels safely. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency of the United Kingdom, responsible for implementing British and international maritime law and safety policy, saw yachts as a market that was not being addressed. 

The IMO was more than happy to allow the MCA to follow STCW 95 guidelines and develop standards for the growing number of large yachts. In 1997, the MCA published the Code of Practice for Safety of Large Commercial Sailing & Motor Vessels — “large” meaning 24 meters (78.7 feet) and over in load line length. This Large Yacht Code was applied to yachts that were in commercial use for sport or pleasure, did not carry cargo, and did not have more than 12 passengers on board. 

To satisfy the “T” in STCW (training), the MCA looked to the venerable Royal Yachting Association, founded in 1875, for both guidance and implementation. The RYA is the United Kingdom’s national governing body for sailing and powerboating. Over the years, the RYA developed training curricula, or “schemes,” as they are known in the U.K. These schemes, work on a laddered approach that slowly develops the theory and practical skills of recreational boaters over a multi-year period, giving them the confidence and experience to operate vessels up to 24 meters.

Today, the greatest number of superyachts are power-driven vessels, and the RYA Yachtmaster Power scheme offers an excellent means for aspiring crew to work their way up from deckhand to captain. The program allows them, over the years, to gain experience in both situational awareness and command presence on smaller motor yachts. That training scheme includes Competent Crew, Motor Cruising, Helmsman, Day Skipper, Advanced Pilotage, Coastal Skipper, and Yachtmaster Coastal/Offshore preparation courses. 

After completion of these courses, students undergo both theory and practical examinations, and successful candidates receive their Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence, either Coastal or Offshore. That is the training concept as designed; however, in the superyacht industry the position of deckhand is usually filled by newbie crew with little or no boating experience — and that creates a dilemma.

Over the past 10 years, RYA training centers worldwide have sustained an increase in the number of superyacht crew taking Yachtmaster theory and practical courses. Driving this increase in students are insurance companies offering discounts on premiums paid by the yacht owner if entry-level deck crew obtain their RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate of Competence. 

Typically, deckhands don’t have the breadth of experience or the sea time necessary to be adequately prepared for the rigorous Yachtmaster program. This has necessitated RYA training centers to offer two-week “zero to hero” Yachtmaster preparation classes — with failure rates as high as 50% — that have compromised the RYA’s well-established building-block approach. 

RYA Yachtmaster instructors and examiners have the obligation to pass or fail students in order to keep the RYA training “brand” the worldwide gold standard that the organization has worked very diligently to achieve. The yacht crew who are taking these courses must keep in mind that no instructor can teach experience.

A deckhand who is aspiring to become an RYA Yachtmaster should peruse the RYA website (rya.org.uk) to have a complete grasp of the qualifications needed. In addition, Navathome.com offers an online Day Skipper theory course which will give them a leg up during the Yachtmaster theory preparation course. 

And to avoid disappointment, superyacht captains should advise their crew that the experience they need does not come overnight and the RYA courses can only be successfully completed with hard work. 

Jeff Werner has been a yacht captain for more than 30 years. He is a certified instructor for the RYA, MCA, USCG, and U.S. Sailing, as well as an RYA Yachtmaster power instructor and examiner. 

Click here for more information on mastering your CV and here to learn about negotiating your pay. Read how Chief Officer Wesley Walton broke into the industry here and learn about creating relationships with crew agents here.

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