Dingy racing is a good entry point into the sport and is relatively easy to pick up with good instruction. Boats designed for one or two people, and even high performance dingys that require a slightly larger crew, can be raced without any official qualification or certificate of competence. To step from this to yacht racing, however, you will need to complete an RYA accredited course. A short explanation of the different levels of qualification is set out below:
Competent Crew This is the most basic course offered by the RYA and should be well within the capabilities of anyone who has done a decent amount of dingy sailing. The fundamental elements of crewing are covered, ensuring that they are done correctly with the aim of removing any bad habits that may have been picked up during earlier sailing experiences. As the focus is on sailing as part of a larger crew each person has a responsibility to that crew and so the importance of carrying out tasks is perhaps greater than sailing in a smaller boat.
Most courses will include an introduction to the nautical terms involved in yachting, advanced knotting, the handling of the sails and helming the boat. Courses in dingy sailing be quite heavily based on the theory rather than the practical sailing, which is necessary but can be frustrating.
Thankfully, all the learning on theses courses is carried out on board and will normally consist of 5 or 6 days actually aboard ship. Your budget will dictate the conditions, both in terms of the actual equipment, and the weather. Whether you are sailing in the unpredictable Solent or through the more idyllic reefs of Antigua, the courses are intended to be enjoyable rather than purely teaching skills and safety. The other people on the course may play a large part in your experience and you will no doubt endure the pressures of living in close-quarters, which is very important in yacht racing as it will dictate the level cooperation while sailing.
Day Skipper If you are an experienced crew person, the step up to skipper should not be very significant. The theory aspect is larger than in the competent crew and is therefore separated into theory and practical sections. The theory elements are divided again into safety equipment and procedures and navigation – these are examined separately. This part of the course usually takes 5 days and will provide you with the RYA Day Skipper Shore Based Certificate and the relevant background to undertake the practical course.
The practical course is very much based on helping people to take charge of a yacht safely. Being the skipper of a yacht is a great responsibility that is intensified greatly during racing. The basic tasks include maintaining the boat, planning a passage, predicting the weather and rigging and sailing the boat accordingly.
Once you have completed at least 15 days sailing and over 300 sea miles, you should have the required experience to move on to the Coastal Skipper Qualification. This is the second highest qualification offered by the RYA and is again divided into practical and theory.
The focus is on the more advanced aspects of yachting, with the practical course including sailing in extreme conditions, navigation, emergency procedures and advanced navigation. The theory side, often called the ‘shorebased’ part of the qualification, is intended to teach the high end details of navigation and, in particular, passage planning. The theory can be done onboard during a combined course that will also include the practical element, where you do both parts alongside each other. It can also be studied online through the RYA, with the exam taken at an accredited centre.
This is the most prestigious qualification in sailing and allows you to engage in commercial gain through yachting. This can be through running chartered trips, teaching or even delivering boats. The level of prior experience for any yachtmaster course is 2500 sea miles, at least half of which must be tidal sea miles and including at least 6 passages of more than 60 miles (2 overnight and 2 as skipper), all within the last ten years.
The actual content of courses and books on the qualification will vary but the core content is more or less the same, forming the basis of information that all skippers should have at their disposal. The more condensed courses, such as those which offer a full training from novice to yachtmaster, will omit parts of the RYA content, in particular the racing elements. There are separate courses specifically for the skills and techniques of yachting that are important when racing, some of which are accredited or recommended by the RYA.