Yachtmaster – How to Prepare.

How to Prepare for the RYA/YA Yachtmaster Exam

The RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Offshore Qualification is widely acknowledged as the highest yachting qualification worldwide and allows the holder (with MCA Commercial endorsement) to skipper yachts commercially to 24 meters LOA. To maintain this standard the examination process must be thorough and give the candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their ability in all areas. The exam is designed as a practical assessment of the candidate’s ability as well as some searching of underpinning knowledge of theoretical subjects. Candidates may be required to demonstrate their ability in any of the subjects listed in the RYA/YA Coastal Skipper/Yachtmaster Shore based course and the Coastal Skipper practical course (Listed in the Sail Cruising Scheme Logbook and the Yachtmaster course notes book). It is advised that candidates take a preparation course with an RYA Training Centre before the Exam.

How is the Exam Structured?
The exam is a practical assessment of the candidate’s ability to skipper a yacht/motor vessel at sea. Each candidate is examined for 8-12 hours.
Typically candidates will be required to complete a short passage, as skipper, by day and by night, as well as complete specific tasks to demonstrate particular skills (such as boat handling, pilotage, man overboard recovery etc). Wherever possible, the night passage will include entry into a port or anchorage that the candidate has not done before. The candidate will also be required to plan a longer passage on a specific given date. This will be done using the RYA Practice Charts RYA Charts and the Practice Navigation Tables. The candidate should have this plan prepared BEFORE the exam and the Examiner will go through the passage plan with the candidate during the exam. Examples of passage plans are listed at the end of this document.

The Main Areas to be examined are (please take note of the relevant sections depending on whether you are planning to sit a Yachtmaster power or sail.)

1/ Navigation and Pilotage. The Skipper must know the position of the vessel throughout the exam. Good skippers plan well then spend time on deck executing their plan – not rushing back and forward to the chart. You are skipper – not just the navigator. Remember you are navigating a yacht not a chart table! A typical mistake is to over navigate the yacht – spending too much time below plotting fixes when a transit or clearing bearing would confirm the yachts position.

The examiner will be assessing your ability to navigate both by traditional methods (3 point fix, soundings , lights dipping and rising etc) and a safe and common sense use of GPS. Confirm with the examiner, before each nav exercise, if GPS is to be used.
The examiner may set tasks to assess specific elements of navigation, such as ‘Blind Nav’ for DR and EP and restricted visibility, finding an unlit buoy or a specific spot on the chart to demonstrate pilotage. Knowledge of tidal heights and streams will be assessed, and if suitable tides are not available, these may be in the form of theoretical questions or exercises. A knowledge of UK tidal methodology (particularly secondary ports) is essential. The Examiner will discuss appropriate methods with you before hand. If you are unsure what the examiner is looking for then ask for clarification.

2 /Boat handling and Seamanship A Yachtmaster must be proficient in boat handling, both under sail and power(Yachtmaster Sail). To assess this, the candidate may be set tasks such us mooring the yacht in a variety of situations under power (marina berth, pile mooring, anchoring etc) and under sail (such as sailing to/off anchor, mooring buoy, dock etc). The examiner will not just be looking at the candidates helming ability, but all aspects of the manoeuvre – engine control, speed, sail selection, preparation and correct use of warps and fenders, crew briefing, tide and wind effects etc).
The candidate will be expected to complete these manoeuvres in a reasonable time period, with the yacht and the crew under control at all times. Remember we all get it wrong sometimes, and the best boat handlers realise when a plan is not working, back off and review the plan.

3/ IRPCS A Yachtmaster must have a complete working knowledge of the Col Regs – not just the steering and sailing rules but Lights, Shapes and Sounds. For instance a Yachtmaster should be able to explain terms such as “Shall not impede or Constrained by draft”. This is one area that candidates should study before the exam – insufficient understanding of the Col Regs is one of the most common areas that result in failure.
Hit the books and if possible have someone assess you BEFORE the exam. The Rules will be assessed as you encounter situations during a passage and as a test of your theoretical knowledge.

4/ Meteorology You will be expected to obtain and have studied the weather report BEFORE the exam and take this into account in planing your passages. A Yachtmaster must be able to read a weather map, understand standard Meteorological terminology and use a Barometer on passage. As the RYA Yachtmaster certificate is a global qualification, Candidates should have a basic understanding of weather in both the northern and southern hemispheres. A Yachtmaster should have sufficient knowledge to be able to skipper a yacht across the English Channel or Bass Strait! Find out the sources of weather information, as you will be expected to update the forecast during the exam.

5/ Safety and emergency situations. A complete knowledge of the safety equipment carried on board is required. Candidates must be able to brief the crew, and cope with a variety of situations including MOB, loss of engine, dismasting, abandonment and grounding to name a few. You need to have an action plan for all situations that may befall a yacht at sea. You will also need a working knowledge of search and rescue procedures, helicopter rescue, life raft deployment and heavy weather strategies. Your ability to recover a man overboard WILL BE assessed and you must have a plan prepared. You will be assessed not just on getting the yacht safely back along side the person, but how to recover them from the water and the immediate care they may require.

6/ Ability as Skipper The most important assessment of all is the ability to take command of the Vessel. This is not about standing behind the helm barking a series of commands at the crew, nor is it about rushing around doing everything yourself, whilst the crew look on.
It is about leading the crew, communicating with them, making sure they understand what is happening and what is expected of them, and listening to their input. Shouting at the crew, lack of briefing or blaming the crew when things go wrong will result in failure. Even the best Skippers make mistakes but the overall impression good skippers leave is one of quiet confidence. Good skippering techniques don’t come in books, they can only be developed by experience and time in charge, and hence the requirement for skippered passages before taking the exam. Remember skippering has nothing to do with steering the yacht; so don’t get stuck behind the helm. A good skipper gives himself a roving commission to move around the yacht to assist and advise the crew when needed.
On the day ,skipper the yacht in your own way, and if that means putting the kettle on every ½ hour then do it!

Overall remember there is rarely a RYA method of doing things, examiners are looking for common sense approach when taking charge of the yacht. Skipper the boat in your own way, try to forget the examiner is there, and don’t try to do things just to impress the examiner. Just get on with it in your own way. Examiners realise that this is a nerve-wracking experience and take this into account when making their decisions about each candidate. Examiners take a holistic view of the candidate’s ability so if something goes wrong during the exam, put it behind you and get on with it! Rarely does a candidate fail because of one indiscretion (unless of course it places the yacht in an unsafe situation.) If you are unsure what the examiner wants at any time, then ask for clarification. Remember the examiner is looking to see you sail the yacht in an efficient manner at all times and it is a sailing yacht so motoring for excessive periods or sailing with 2 reefs in 15 knots will not result in passing.

Be you, enjoy the sail and plan well. Good Luck!

Michael Job
RYA Yachtmaster Instructor Examiner.

Can you please pass onto the candidates, and remind them that they can be asked to answer questions from any part of the syllabus, from Competent Crew to Yachtmaster.

I expect to not see blank faces when I ask about the following.
a. coll regs rule 5, 6, 12. and annexe 4, narrow channels with respect to a 12m sailing vessel
b. light and sound signals for a 12m sailing vessel, including angles, designed distances etc
c. The same for those large ships over 50m that we expect to encounter off Mooloolaba and in Moreton Bay.
d. man overboard
e. how to check the compass of the vessel
f. course to steer to counteract current.
g. I expect to see some current weather information provided
h. I expect to see some current navigational information provided with respect to the port from which we intend to navigate
i. safety equipment onboard, how it works, how to use it, when to use it, ranges of visibility
j. epirbs….current information about the system and how they work, and frequencies of operation.
k. DSC vhf, how it works, how to use it.
l. prop wash/prop effect
m. springing off, running a slip
n. a passage plan will be asked to be presented at some time on the trip.
o. calculating tidal heights at a secondary port.
p. prepare the vessel for an extended coastal passage.

Geoff Folliott
RYA Yachtmaster Examiner

Examples of Passage Plan exercises

Use RYA training Charts 5 & 6 and the information from the RYA Training Almanac (southern hemisphere).

The yacht for the voyage is a well-found 11 meter sloop capable of 7 knots upwind and 8 knots on a reach. Draft 2.3 metres. You may plan to leave any time after midnight on 18/2/07.

Example 1

Victoria Marina to Dawson Harbour. Weather SW 15 – 20 knots

Example 2

Chidham Marina in Namley Harbour to Jackson Bay Weather SE 15 – 20 knots

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