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RYA Certificates of Competence are some of the most useful and credible of all yachting qualifications. They thoroughly test the skipper’s ability, and can therefore appear daunting

to potential candidates. But well-prepared skippers with the right experience needn’t worry. With practice and preparation, you should be able to relax sufficiently to let your skills shine through any exam nerves. This guide will help prepare you, whether you are taking the Yachtmaster® Coastal or Yachtmaster® Offshore exam.

YACHTMASTER® COASTAL AND YACHTMASTER® OFFSHORE – WHAT’S 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’. Yachtmasters® should be able to enter any well-charted harbour for the first time, with sufficient depth, by day or night. 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 Coastal exam.

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. However, it is often worth receiving some tuition, if only to find out your strengths and weaknesses. Many centres offer an exam preparation service. The grid opposite shows the pre-exam mileage requirements. These exist to help ensure you are ready for your exam.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING AN EXAM? Your RYA examiner will meet you onboard and talk you through the plan for the day. They understand that you could be nervous and will do their best to allay your fears and make sure you are clear about what they want you to do. They are there to find out what you can do, rather than pick holes. You will be asked to undertake a short passage, but you may

have to plan a longer one. In general, you should skipper the yacht in your normal style. If this means putting the kettle on every half hour, then do it!

NAVIGATION 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. Make sure you know how to use a GPS, but there is no need to

over-navigate. 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 You need to know how your boat will react, its turning circle and any predictable quirks to its handling. There will be some close quarters manoeuvring, usually in a harbour, to demonstrate your skills at berthing and leaving pontoons, piles or moorings. Sailing yachts will complete this section under power, but make sure you practice manoeuvring under sail too, picking up mooring buoys and short tacking. Your examiner isn’t looking for first-time-every-time success, but

you will need to demonstrate competence and a good understanding of how the boat reacts at slow speed. Don’t hesitate to change sails or reef, if you think it is necessary for the task. Experience in a variety of conditions will be your biggest help in

these situations. MAN OVERBOARD

Exams almost always include a man overboard recovery exercise. The multitude of methods for this can be confusing, but pick one that works for you 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 or without the engine.

8 Sail & Motor Cruising Courses 2011

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