Oliver Mills-Nanyn: How to Pass Your Yachtmaster Exam

Oliver Mills-Nanyn is an experienced and well-travelled seafarer who has spent extended periods sailing around the Seychelles, the south of France, northern Italy, Corsica and Sardinia. This article will look at the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore qualification, outlining exam pre-requisites and providing pointers to help the exam go smoothly.

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Yachtmaster Offshore qualification certifies that the seafarer is competent to skipper a yacht on a 150-mile passage from a safe haven. Courses such as this one teach seafarers key competencies and core skills that modern sailors should have at their fingertips.

Sailing with others from a diverse range of backgrounds with experience of different cruising areas helps seafarers to recognise gaps in their own knowledge, inspiring them to learn new ways of tackling fundamental skills. In addition, most yachting establishments require employees to possess recognised professional qualifications, and without them sailors will struggle to gain employment.

The practical element of the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore exam can be taken on sail or power boat, with the candidate’s certificate endorsed accordingly. There is no formal training course for the Yachtmaster exam. However, for those who have not previously taken an RYA course, it may be useful to undertake some informal training at an RYA centre in advance of the exam. Training programming may be adapted to the specific needs of the candidate, helping to fill in any gaps in their knowledge that may become apparent.

The RYA Yachtmaster exam is essentially an assessment of the candidate’s skippering skills, covering a variety of aspects of general seamanship, including boat handling, safety awareness, navigation, meteorology, signals and knowledge of the IRPCS.

In order to sit the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore exam, the seafarer must fulfil several pre-requisites. There is a minimum age limit of 18 years. Sailors must have recorded at least 2,500 miles in their logbooks and spent a minimum of 50 days at sea. They must also have logged at least five passages over 60 miles, including two night passages and two as skipper. In addition, half of their sea time must have been in tidal waters in a vessel less than 24 metres long.

The duration of the RYA Yactmaster Offshore exam is between 8 and 12 hours for one candidate and 10 and 18 hours for two candidates. The exam may be conducted on the candidate’s own boat or one that they have chartered or borrowed.

The candidate is responsible for ensuring that their vessel is seaworthy and appropriate for the area where the exam takes place. The boat must be between 7 and 18 metres in length, in sound and seaworthy condition, and equipped to the standard stipulated in the Royal Yachting Association Boat Safety Handbook 2nd Edition. The boat must be equipped with a full up-to-date set of navigational publications and charts along with working instruments and either a GPS or plotter. There must also be two additional crew members onboard, as the examiner will play no part in the management of the vessel throughout the course of the examination.

Many sailors breeze through the exam, remaining calm and confident throughout and enjoying the experience. However, for others, it can be an uncomfortable and nerve-wracking process. The key to success is careful preparation, enabling the candidate to present themselves to their best advantage.

Experts recommend practicing sailing onto moorings at every opportunity in advance of the examination in order to build confidence. It is also important for sailors to know the weather and collision regulations, since a candidate’s knowledge of Colregs can be a powerful indicator of their aptitude. This element is one that can be learned long before the examination, and there is little excuse for not knowing them. Indeed, many instructors view this knowledge as a ‘get out of jail free card’ during an exam that is not going as well as the candidate might have hoped.

With such a long examination, it is important to remain calm and focused. Things can and do go wrong. A small mistake can snowball into a major error that the candidate may struggle to recover from, so concentration is key.

During the examination, it is important for the candidate to give concise instructions to crew, practising ‘command and control’ and using appropriate sailing terminology. Sailors need to give clear instructions, giving crew members time and space before respectfully checking that they have completed the assigned task.

One crucial element that candidates must keep in mind is that the examiner is also an experienced instructor. They love to teach, they are on the candidate’s side and it is in their best interests that the candidate passes. Not only does the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore exam give the sailor an opportunity to showcase their skills, it also provides more than just a qualification, presenting a valuable chance for sailors to learn from an experienced skipper.