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Training for a career at sea?

The rapid expansion of commercial yachting has seen a consequently increasing demand for suitably qualified skippers and crew.  What do you need to get aboard?

The starting point for most people approaching a career in the sailing industry is the range of training courses and qualifications run by the Royal Yachting Association. The RYA has the world’s most recognised and comprehensive training and certification system for leisure and small commercial craft users, offering courses at over 2,000 RYA recognised training centre’s worldwide.

Their professional qualifications - from Day Skipper to Yachtmaster stand out as a badge of excellence, and the RYA Yachtmaster is seen as the gold standard in yachting. These will become prerequisites as your career progresses, and for anyone just starting out an RYA qualification will ensure that you stand out from the crowd as someone with an assessed range of skills that is taking their career seriously. For anyone using Crewsekers to progress their career - getting sea miles and building up a network of contacts, an RYA Qualification is the accepted proof of competence and will make any crewing application more likely to succeed.

A commercially endorsed RYA Yachtmaster certificate fulfils the legal requirements on British flagged vessels operating in the UK, and in many non-UK ports, The marine administrations of some countries also require STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers) qualifications – see our article on STCW for more information.

RYA training for professional crew

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is the UK’s National Governing Body for boating and works with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to provide safety guidance and training to small craft users. 

Their professional qualifications stand out as a badge of quality wherever you want work in the world, and are recognised by most national authorities and commercial operators.  The RYA Yachtmaster is the ultimate aim of many skippers – both professional and amateur.  It is regarded as the gold standard by many in yachting, and with a commercial endorsement, it enables you to professionally skipper a yacht up to 150miles offshore.  Of course, different sailing jobs within different operating limits will require differing levels of expertise and RYA training has qualifications to suit every level.

The training system is very flexible and allows you to dip in and out and pick the correct course for your level of experience whether you are a complete beginner or seasoned seafarer. There are shorebased and online theory courses covering navigation, meteorology, tides and collision regulations and practical courses that put the theory into practice - working on practical crewing, skippering and boat handling. Courses are offered for sailing yachts, motor cruisers and small powerboats.   Each course has its own level of assumed knowledge or pre-course experience. Yachtmaster Offshore requires 50 days at sea, 2,500 miles including at least 5 passages over 60 miles, acting as skipper for at least two of these passages.

You are unlikely to progress far in the industry without the relevant qualifications. Shorebased courses are standard and cover all types of boats. These courses can be done online or in a classroom.  Practical courses are more specific to the type of boat. 

Introductory level

These courses are ideal for anyone new to the sailing who would like to crew or for getting some experience before looking for crewing work in the industry.

Essential Navigation and Seamanship
A two-day introduction to chartwork, vessel systems, safety and maritime terms.  Great for all newcomers and crew.

Powerboat Level 1 & 2
One or two-day course for anyone driving a small powerboat and useful for anyone driving a tender. 

Competent Crew
Five-day residential sailing course getting to grips with sailing, safety and living onboard.  

Start Motorcruising/Helmsman 
One or two-day courses covering steering, deck work and helming a motorboat. 

Start skippering
These courses are ideal for those with boating experience who are looking to skipper a boat on short passages.

Intermediate Powerboat 
Two-day course covering pilotage and boat handling.

Day Skipper for Motor or Sail
Five-day courses covering the practical application of navigation, skippering and boat handling onboard a boat. 

Advanced Skippering
These courses are for experienced skippers many of which will be looking at working in the industry.

Coastal Skipper Yachtmaster 
In-depth training using advanced navigational techniques and often required for commercial work as a skipper - 5-day course.

Advanced Powerboat
A two-day course covering day and night navigation and pilotage and rough weather techniques. 

Coastal Skipper motor/sail
Four or five-day course covering night pilotage, advanced boat handling and coastal passage making.

Yachtmaster Coastal or Offshore and Powerboat Advanced
These are certificates of competence that are assessed by an RYA/MCA examiner, often at the end of a short preparation course at a training centre. These are required for most offshore skippering jobs and some provide entry into the bigger boat qualifications.

Yachtmaster Ocean 
Celestial navigation and ocean weather - 5-day course. Often required for long distance skippering jobs. 

RYA short courses
The RYA offers a host of short courses, some which are good to have and others that are required for commercial use. Courses include VHF Radio, First Aid, Sea Survival, Radar, Diesel Engine Maintenance and Professional Practices and Responsibilities. 

Commercial Endorsements
A commercial endorsement is required for work on board British flagged vessels subject to the MCA's codes of practice for small commercial vessels.

A number of additional training courses and medical fitness certificates are required to be eligible for a commercial endorsement. The MCA's codes of practice categorise British flagged commercial yachts according to the type of yacht and the waters in which they operate. It is this categorisation that determines which certificates you will need. 

For a standard commercial endorsement, you will need the following:

  • A commercially endorsable RYA qualification 
  • Professional Practices and Responsibilities certificate 
  • An ML5 or ENG1 medical fitness certificate
  • RYA Basic Sea Survival certificate or STCW Personal Survival Techniques
  • RYA First Aid Certificate or other acceptable first aid certificate 
  • RYA SRC Certificate 

Qualifications, experience, endorsements and other aspects of this information can change on a regular basis - for the very latest information consult:

Get 20% off RYA Day Skipper and Yachtmaster online theory courses – see our page here.


Crewing on commercial yachts  Skippering on commercial YACHTS

Delivery Skippers and Crew  Flotilla STAFf

working on sail training vessels  Teaching RYA training courses

Simon Jinks is a Yachtmaster Instructor Examiner, a fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation, and a partner in Searegs. His specialisation is in the MCA commercial codes of practice, RYA training and accreditation, and he formally managed the Royal Yachting Association's Yachtmaster programme.

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