Passing Your Yachtmaster Exam

 Yachtmaster Coastal and Yachtmaster Offshore – what’s the difference?

A Yachtmaster Offshore is a yachtsman or yachtswoman competent to skipper a cruising yacht on any passage that can be completed without the use of astro-navigation.  A Yachtmaster Offshore should be able to enter any well-charted harbour with sufficient depth, for the first time, by day or by 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 Yachtmaster 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. We have an excellent exam preparation course that has been recognised as invaluable by a number of very experienced skippers.

What Happens During the Exam

Your RYA examiner will meet you onboard and talk you through the plan for the day. He understands that you could be nervous and will do his best to allay your fears and make sure you are clear about what he wants you to do. He is there to find out what you can do, rather than pick holes.

You will be asked to undertake a short passage, but you will also 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 don’t over-navigate. This is a common mistake that is best avoided by making use of landmarks, transits and buoys wherever possible.

You will usually be given practical problems involving tidal streams and heights. Make life easy for yourself and study them 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 marina, to demonstrate your skills at berthing and leaving pontoons etc.  Sailing yachts will complete this section under power but make sure you practice maneuvering under sail too, for picking up mooring buoys and short tacking in an anchorage.  

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.

Previous experience in a variety of conditions will be your biggest help in all these situations.


Man Overboard

Exams almost always include a man overboard recovery exercise. The number 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.  

Safety

Make sure you understand and follow safety procedures, and give a safety brief. If you decide that harnesses or lifejackets should be worn at night, remember to take your own advice.  

Meteorology

Listen to the forecast before your exam and be prepared for questions about the current weather and how this might affect a passage plan. Understand how weather systems influence sea conditions and how to plan based on this knowledge.

The type of boat and strengths of your crew can have a bearing on decisions that are based on the weather, so your examiner may ask you to consider various possibilities. There is rarely a definitive answer, so it is your informed opinions that are required.  

Skippering Ability

This is where your experience and knowledge will really show. Being fully in command of the yacht is the most important assessment that your examiner will make.

A good skipper leads the crew and always communicates his intentions to them, making sure they understand what is going on and listening to them when they have something to say. He does not shout a stream of commands, leaving the crew in a quivering mess.

Quiet competence instils confidence, helping your crew to feel safe in the knowledge that the right decisions are being made.