So you want to be a charter skipper?

Working in the commercial sailing industry just got a lot simpler with the announcement by the government regulator AMSA (the Australian Maritime Safety Authority) that the RYA Yachtmaster certificate is now recognised as a Masters qualification on commercial sailing vessels in Australian waters.

This announcement was made to a stunned audience at this year’s RYA national instructors conference. It takes a lot to silence a roomful of sailing instructors, but when the gentleman from AMSA made that announcement, you could have heard a pin drop. For you see dear reader the commercial sailing industry has been working on this for over a decade and this news came completely out of left field. This now brings Australia into line with the rest of the world, where the RYA Yachtmaster has been the accepted certificate for skippering commercial sailing vessels for over 20 years.

Back in 2003 when the RYA first began accrediting sailing schools in Oz, the then Chief Instructor for the RYA Penny Haire and myself embarked on a series of meetings with the state maritime authorities to try and get the RYA qualifications the same recognition they enjoyed in most other places in the world. At first we met with some scepticism. Most of the people at the meetings we were trying to convince were either ship’s captains or government policy writers, neither of whom took a couple of sailors seriously. I think they thought sailors were either children in dinghies or scruffy, bearded types who got around in crocs with pot plants and a rusty bike on the deck of their 4 knot s#*tboxs. I also think they were a little perplexed by Penny’s position. I mean how could a woman be the head of a global maritime training organisation?

I recall one meeting where they asked us what training materials we used (bear in mind that these people thought we taught people how to sail lasers). Penny opened up a box and started laying out many of the over 100 books published by the RYA, the practice navigation charts, almanacs, chart plotting software and eBooks. They all stared in amazement at the growing pile and one minion asked how the RYA could afford to produce all this for just a few sailing schools. More stunned silence as Penny told them about the 3000 recognised training centres around the world that issued over 100 000 certificates each year.

Even more amusing was when they asked us what our assessment tools were.

We told them it was a practical exam on board a yacht with the candidates being assessed for around 8 hours each. This blew them away. A practical exam? This had never occurred to them. You see since Hornblower was a lad, ship’s captains had gone to sea to gain experience, studied in classrooms and after a suitable amount of time were subjected to ‘orals’ – a process where the candidate sits at a desk and is given a ‘beasting’, being asked trick questions by some old salt who has rounded the horn 15 times. But no one ever put you on a boat to see if you could actually do it! It kind of always seemed logical to us!

This acceptance of the RYA Yachtmaster has come to fruition thanks to Kevin Rudd! Yes Rudd’s government actually did some good by bringing many industries under a national administrator rather than having each state write their own rules. This was a particular issue in the maritime world where many qualifications and boats could not be used outside of the state, effectively making Australia 7 separate countries! It was a nightmare of government bureaucracy just to take one of our sailing school boats to Sydney.

Kevies government began a process where by all qualifications and operational certificates are issued nationally by AMSA and we can now freely ply our trade right around this vast brown land that is after all (as pointed out by Peter Dodds McCormick in his hit song ‘Advance Australia Fair’) ‘girt by sea’!

AMSA have been wonderful to deal with as most of the people in charge are ex mariners themselves and so generally come with a large wedge of common sense. Commercial sailing qualifications have always been a difficult one to fit into the box for authorities as the skill set required is quite different to someone driving a whale watching boat or a water taxi. So AMSA have simply used a ready-made solution that is accepted globally as the world’s best practice.

Effectively this means that all the difficult (and irrelevant) hoops that people had to jump through to work commercially have been removed and the pathway is much easier. We can now recognise the experience people have gained from recreational boating and ‘fill in the gaps’ to get to the level required.

At Southern Cross Yachting we have launched our Yachtmaster Professional programme for those wanting to work in the yachting industry. If this interests you or you already hold a Yachtmaster certificate, give us a call or email and we can explain the process to start working in this fantastic industry. The prerequisites are explained on the Yachtmaster Professional page on our website. This is great news for us at Southern Cross and for the whole industry as we have always found it difficult to find enough staff. Soon we hope to be ‘girt by skippers’!

That’s all for this edition, give us a call to talk about your new career, quit that dead end job and get out working on the water!

Cheers Mike Job.

(Press release on YA website)

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