How to Pass the Yachtmaster Exam


After many of our shorebased students leave us they progress onto a practical course and exam. You can take the Yachtmaster exam on a sailing yacht or motorboat, and you will become a Sail or Power Yachtmaster as appropriate. This article assumes you have selected the sail exam, although much of the advice is generic.

The RYA/MCA Yachtmaster qualification is the global standard for sailing. The definition of a Yachtmaster Coastal/Offshore is: ‘A yachtsman or woman competent to skipper a cruising yacht on any passage that can be completed without the use of astronavigation’.

The RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence remains the logical target of many a self-motivated sailor. It also represents the icing on the cake for those looking for the reassurance of an external assessment. Listed below are some top tips to help you prepare for your RYA/MCA Yachtmaster exam.



On the day, try to be ready in good time so that you aren’t involved in a last-minute faff. If you’re relaxing in the cockpit with a cup of tea when the examiner arrives, the examiner will be more impressed than if you’re in panic mode attempting to work out the day’s tidal heights or secondary ports!

When given a navigation task, prepare fully, make notes, prepare pillage sketches and plan well! Nip below every so often en route to keep an eye on what’s going on in the chart department and whizz back on deck pronto to carry on skippering the boat. Don’t panic and spend all your time sat behind the chart table, taking no notice of what’s going on around you, this is an obvious sign of someone who is ill prepared for the passage they are skippering.


The very first part of the exam will be paperwork orientated. Before the examiner can proceed he/she will;

    1. Ask for your completed exam application form, be sure it is completed in advance and details your qualifying sea time.
    2. Ask for payment, (the examiner can not proceed if you do not pay up front)
    3. Ask for sight of your Short Range Certificate, or a pass form if you have recently taken the course and exam and are awaiting the actual certificate.
    4. Request a passport photo of you
    5. Chat with you about your yachting background and qualifying sea time

If you are applying for a commercial endorsement at the same time you will also require as a minimum;


First impressions count! Make yourself presentable and ensure you’re looking professional. That’s you and the boat! Make sure the yacht is clean, tidy and seamanlike. Waterline crisp, sail covers looking ship shape, ropes coiled neatly and carefully stowed, fenders aligned. An experienced skipper once told me, you should know your boat so well that you should be able to find anything you need at any moment in time…including at night during power failure! A tidy boat is a sure sign of a safe boat.

Yachtmaster Exam Preparation Training


Repetition, repetition, repetition. There is no point in having sailed thousands and thousands of nautical miles if you can’t carry out day skipper tasks. If you can’t confidently demonstrate all boat handling or seamanship skills, such as picking up a mooring buoy or putting a reef, then you’re not ready yet for the exam yet!

There is nothing worse than entering or leaving a marina, wondering if you’re going to hit something. Brief your crew, make sure everyone know what they are doing, and proceed with confidence. If the boat slides smoothly out of her berth with crew briefed and knowing what’s expected of them and in a calm manner, and the boats speed is sensible and efficient, you will immediately put the examiners mind at ease and give no reason for concern. If Plan A fails, don’t panic. Take a breath, and start over. The examiner understands that mistakes can be made under exam conditions, he/she will be more impressed if you stop, recompose yourself and get the manoeuvre right, rather than continues to try and complete a bodged first attempt.

Without a doubt, you WILL be quizzed on COLREGS. There’s no reason for a candidate, not to have these regulations engrained into their brain. Your best chance of ensuring you have these nailed, is to purchase a copy of ‘A Seaman’s Guide to the Rule of the Road’.


Be ready, know your subject.

You can be quizzed on anything within the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Shorebased Course, you will also be expected tp put the navigation, IRPCS, passage planning and forecast skills form this course into practice. IF you dont have this knowledge then you are waisting your exam fee as you will fail. YOU wil also be tested on a basic understanding of Radar and Diesel engines.


One of the key things an examiner is looking for, is to see how good the candidates are at taking charge. This is not a sailing exam it is a skippering exam. Can you manage your boat? Can you manage your crew?

Good leadership and seamanship alike, do not involve barking orders, it is about being in control in a calm, effective and efficient manner and showing you can skipper (lead). Demonstrate your organisational and methodical thinking.

Play to your strengths. There is no definitive way to be a skipper, so don’t change your tried and tested methods to try and impress. Stick with what you know and carry them out smoothly and confidently. Don’t rush and panic. “Go slow like a pro.”


It is almost a given that each candidate will be asked to demonstrate a MOB drill at some point during the exam. This is typically down using a fender or similar attached to a small weight, (never a real person). There is a myth that Yachtmaster examiners expect the drill to be carried out by the “RYA method,” and this is true, what is not true however is the various myths of what constitutes the RYA method!

Your examiner will expect you to a take charge, not to loose sight of the MOB (fender), to get back to it safely without endangering other crew and to get the boat stopped alongside the casualty withe casualty somewhere near the leeward shroud, ready from pick up back on board. Along the way you should simulate/say everything relevant to the casualties survival (mention throwing the MOB gear overboard, appoint a spotter, press the MOB function on the GPS, tell the examiner you would assign a crew members to issue a distress alert and call) and of course use the engine. The exact drill of how you reach/tack, slow down speed up etc will vary from candidate to candidate and boat to boat. The important thing is that the method you opt to use works and is safe. I would advise against gybing in stronger winds. A candidate who opted to approach the casualty from upwind (where the mainsail will be filled as you sail or motor downwind) would be demonstrating a gross misunderstanding of how to control, slow down and stop a sailing yacht.


It is likely that you will be asked to either sail onto or sail off a swinging mooring (mooring bouy), an anchor or a pontoon. Make sure you are comfortable and competent at all before your exam. I will focus here on the mooring bouy. In non tidal waters the boat will lie on the mooring head to wind so the approach will be on a close reach under mainsail. In tidal waters certain combination of wind against tide may dictate an approach under headsail on a different point of sail.

The examiner will expect to see you;

  • Brief the crew on how the manoeuvre will be performed
  • Helm throughout the manoeuvre
  • Prepare the boat for the manoeuvre (using the crew)
  • Select the correct direction and angle of approach
  • Select the correct sail combination for this approach
  • Control the boat speed on the approach bringing the boat to a stop in a controlled manner
  • Picking up and secure to the mooring bouy safely

If at any point the manoeuvre is not working the examiner will expect you to make the decision to bail-out and to have an escape plan in mind. Remember of course it will be your call to bail out not his.


During the exam you will have to demonstrate some boat handling under power. This may be a natural part of a passage you are asked to skipper (ie at the start and end of the passage) or may be a specific boat handling session. Most candidates will demonstrate they can moor up, depart a mooring and turn the boat in a confined space. You may be asked to demonstrate more than one mooring so the examiner can see how you respond to different states of wind and tide. Some times an examiner will be specific (for example ask you to berth starboard side to stern first on pontoon XYZ), other times he will leave some of the decision making to you and simply say berth on pontoon ABC. In the second  example he will expect to see you make a sensible decision as to wether to moor bow or stern first and from where to approach. If you are asked to repeat a manoeuvre performed by another candidate do not make the mistake of blindly copying the last candidate, take a minute to consider f they did it well or if an alternatve approach would work better. Every boat manurers differently but there are some givens’

  • Approaching down forces i.e. down tide (or down wind if no tide) is poor seamanship if you have the option not to
  • Using excessive engine revs in confined space demonstrates a lack of experience
  • Turning against prop walk should be avoided if possible.
  • Using wind, tide, pivot points, momentum and prop walk to assist you will all make your manoeuvring easier and, “score you points” in the examiners mind.

If the manouver is not working, bailing out safely is far better than perceiving trying to a make the best of a bad job. I can assure you that if you are half way through a manoeuvre and suddenly realise you have selected the wrong approach the examiner has spotted this several minutes earlier. He/she will be quietly hoping you opt the rectify the error rather than compounding it by continuing. Don’t disappoint him by continuing an approach that is clearly too fast or not going to work.

Just like the sailing manoeuvres described above you need to helm the boat through these manoeuvres, brief the crew and perform the manoeuvre well. You should not rely on crew jumping ashore with lines to stop the boat, you as helm should stop the boat so that crew can step ashore safely. If a spring line is appropriate to depart a berth then use it, don’t over complicate things. It is always quite embarrassing when a candidate opts to “spring off” a “wind off” berth when they could have simply let the lines go. If manoeuvring in close quarters still phases you then you are not ready for the Yachtmaster exam and need some more boat handling practice first.


Yachtmaster Instructor

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