Yachtmaster Offshore (sail) – what is involved?

The MCA Certificates of Competence for Yachtmaster Offshore and Yachtmaster Coastal for Sail that are issued by the RYA are the most well known and credible and internationally recognised of all commercial yachting qualifications. The term Yachtmaster, and its variations Yachtmaster Coastal, Offshore and Ocean, are also trademarked by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA). Candidates come from all walks of life (including those working on super-yachts, wish to teach sailing or motor cruising, deliver yachts or just do the qualification for pleasure) and are come from world wide and are all nationalities (our sailors include those from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Venezuela, Argentina, China, Russia and all over Europe and Africa).

The CoC is issued to those skippers that are competent to skipper a cruising yacht up to 150nm offshore. The exam thoroughly tests your knowledge and ability in all maritime conditions - which can appear daunting if you are thinking of taking the examination yourself.

As with most things preparation is key - with the right experience, practice and preparation your skills will shine through any exam nerves.

The key points covered on this page will help you understand what level you are at so you will be able to, in conjunction with our support, book the right preparation to enable you to pass and gain the Yachtmaster Coastal or Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate of Competence.

Pre-exam Experience

As with any exam, the more practice you have beforehand, the more confident you will feel. Before your exam, be more adventurous than the usual weekend trip to your favourite anchorage. Enter some new harbours to refine your pilotage. Attempt the occasional night entry and be aware of the problems.

There is no requirement for you to attend an RYA course before your exam - but with the right preparation with Club Yachting you will not only improve your strengths but also address any weaknesses.

You do, however, need to have 2500 sea miles (half of which are in tidal waters) and also qualifying passages. For further details have a look at our article on RYA Yachtmaster qualifications.

What Happens During an Exam?

Your Instructor will bring the RYA Examiner down to the yacht you have been doing the preparation on and introduce you. The Examiner will start with a chat to try and put you at ease. He will have conducted a lot of exams so he understands you are nervous. He is there to find out what you can do - rather than what you can not!

After going through your paperwork (the exam application form, your summary of passages, and look at your VHF and First Aid certificates) he will then go through the plan for the next couple of days.

Prior to going to sea

This covers two areas: preparation of boat and crew, and passage planning:

  • Safety briefing - the first thing you will do after the paperwork is the safety briefing. You will be asked to talk about topics such as: lifejackets, liferafts, distress flares,rescue procedures including helicopters and mayday messages, man-over-board and cold water shock, fire prevention and fire fighting
  • Passage planning - Before the examiner arrives you will be given a passage plan to prepare. This will be across the English Channel for Yachtmaster Offshore (for example River Yealm to Alderney, Cowes to St Malo) or along the coast for Yachtmaster Coastal (Cowes to Weymouth, Poole to Plymouth are a couple of typical plans). You will be given details of a typical yacht, calculate the tides, see where the tidal gates are, methods of checking your position;
  • Passage planning during the exam - you will have to do a number of short passages during the exam, and maybe blind navigation

Entering and leaving the harbour:

This area includes pilotage and boat handling:

  • Pilotage - the art of navigation either into or out of a marina. As Janet often says up to the safe water mark (or where one would be if there was one).

Boat handling in a confined area including:

  • Leaving and coming into a berth stern to, or bows in;
  • Mooring alongside or springing off;
  • Using warps for shifting berths or winding;
  • Methods of turning around including prop-walk turns.

At sea

This is the biggest area and includes not only seamanship, but also boat handling, navigation and chart work.
Navigation and chartwork:

  • Plotting your position - You must know your position reasonably accurately throughout the exam, but don’t make the mistake of being so busy plotting fixes that you forget to look around you. Often, a quick glance on deck will confirm your position from a buoy or transit.
  • Electronics - both for passage planning and also navigation during your passage, take care to keep a good balance between the chart plotter and also the paper charts. Make sure you know how to use the GPS on board.
  • Tidal heights and tidal streams - You will usually be given practical problems involving tidal streams and heights. Make life easy for yourself and look them up beforehand – it’s not cheating. Practice a few tidal calculations so you are happy with the methods you are going to use.

Boat handling at sea includes:

  • Man-over-board - you will be asked to do one (or two) a man overboard recovery exercises, sometimes at night. There are lots of different methods so pick the one that works for you, the weather conditions and your boat. However it’s done, you must end up with the yacht stopped next to the man in the water. If you’re sailing, check with your Examiner whether you should handle the boat with the engine or without the engine (without is sometimes called a sailing exercise);
  • Sailing exercises - you may also be asked to do a tack and gybe exercise, figure of eight or other games;
  • Sail selection, helmsmanship and sail trim - throughout the exam make sure that you use the appropriate sail size for the weather conditions, and also make sure the sails are trimmed correctly. Don't over-trim as you are not racing, but don't leave them flapping either!;
  • Anchoring, mooring buoys - you will be expected to be able to demonstrate (or draw on the white board), under both power and sail, the method of coming to and weighing anchor, and also approaching and leaving a mooring buoy under all conditions of wind and tide;
  • Towing another boat - both in the open sera and confined areas;
  • Heavy weather sailing - including the equipment available to slow you down like drogues and sea anchors, use of storm jibs and tri-sails;

Background knowledge

International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea (IRPCS):

  • General rules (rules 1 to 3);
  • Steering and sailing rules (rules 4 to 19);
  • Lights and shapes (rules 20 to 31)
  • Sound and light signals (rules 32 to 37)
  • Signals for vessels in close proximity (Annex II)
  • Distress signals (Annex M)

Meteorology:

  • Definition of terms
  • Sources of weather forecasts;
  • Weather systems and local weather effects;
  • Interpretation of weather forecasts, synoptic charts, barometric trends and visible phenomena;
  • Using weather for passage planning including calculating apparent wind angles.

Other areas:
You will also need an understanding of:

  • RADAR
  • Stability

General Seamanship

  • Properties, use and care of various types of ropes;
  • Knots (including reef knots, clove hitch, bowline, running hitch, and O-X-O) ;
  • How to tie a yacht up correctly;
  • Engine operation and routine checks;
  • Improvisation of jury rigs following engine failure.

Yachtmaster Offshore and Yachtmaster Coastal – what is the difference?

The definition of a Yachtmaster Offshore is: ‘A yachtsman or woman competent to skipper a cruising yacht on any passage that can be completed without the use of astronavigation’.

A Yachtmaster Offshore is able to enter any well-charted harbour for the first time, with sufficient depth, by day or night. Essentially much more experienced than a Yachtmaster Coastal and can do things more smoothly, for longer periods and in more arduous conditions - or as Andy says "sail with flair!".

A Yachtmaster Coastal has ‘the knowledge needed to skipper a yacht on coastal cruises, but does not necessarily have the experience needed to undertake longer passages’. In other words, the theory is the same for both, but less practical experience and skill is required for the Yachtmaster Coastal exam.

Training options available

All options include:

Additional weeks are available - just self-assesed your strengths and weaknesses using the information listed above then select from the following exam preparation options:

  • Yachtmaster Theory and Passage Planning - 1 week
  • Boat handling and skills, pre-preparation week - 1 week
  • Mileage week - a minimum of four 60nm passages (including skippered passages), also useful if you need some extra tidal miles. A typical week covers 400nm to 500nm

If you are thinking of doing 4 weeks then we suggest signing up for our Fast Track Module 3 as the 5th week and a one day course (choose from First Aid, VHF and Diesel Engine) are included!

One day support courses are also available:

  • VHF (SRC) radio course
  • First Aid (both RYA or EFAAW are acceptable for Yachtmaster and are offered by Club Yachting, please note that emergency first response is not acceptable)

One day support courses that are really useful to have (but not compulsory for Yachtmaster CoC):

  • Diesel Engine - even on the Yachtmaster Sail exam you will be asked questions on the engine, so if your knowledge is rusty this is a great course to do
  • Sea Survival (needed for commercial endorsement)
  • RADAR (strongly suggested for Yachtmaster Motor)

One day support courses

One day support courses are also available:

  • VHF (SRC) radio course
  • First Aid (both RYA or EFAAW are acceptable for Yachtmaster and are offered by Club Yachting, please note that emergency first response is not acceptable)

One day support courses that are really useful to have (but not compulsory for Yachtmaster CoC):

  • Diesel Engine - even on the Yachtmaster Sail exam you will be asked questions on the engine, so if your knowledge is rusty this is a great course to do
  • Sea Survival (needed for commercial endorsement)
  • RADAR (strongly suggested for Yachtmaster Motor)