How to Pass the Yachtmaster Exam

YACHTMASTER CERTIFICATE OF COMPETENCE EXAM TOP TIPS

WHICH YACHTMASTER?

First we need to be clear which Yachtmaster exam we are talking about. Leaving things like the Yachtmaster Instructor and Examiner Qualifications aside there are no less than 8 separate RYA certificates that are called “Yachtmaster”. This includes the 3 independently examined levels of Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence, (coastal, offshore and ocean).

RYA MCA Coastal Skipper & Yachtmaster Offshore Shorebased Course

(Yachtmaster Offshore Shorebased for short). This is a 6 day course which results in three written papers. It is assumed knowledge for all of the certificates that follow, so we will assume for the purposes of this article that you have already completed this course.

Yachtmaster Coastal Certificate of Competence (power or sail)

This certificate follows the successful completion of a practical exam which is discussed in this article. The exam can be taken on board a sailing yacht or motor boat, (and the qualification is endorsed for the relative type of craft). The Yachtmaster Coastal CoC certifies skippers to operate up-to 20 miles from a safe haven on board commercial vessels, carrying up to 12 passengers. It can also be used as an entry requirement for super yacht officer training

Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate of Competence (power or sail)

A higher level practical exam, also discussed in this article. This certifies skippers to operate up-to 150 miles from a safe haven on board commercial vessels, (agin with upto 12 passengers). It can also be used as an entry requirement for super yacht officer training and is a requirement to progress onto Yachtmaster Ocean CoC (below) and/or MCA Master 200.

RYA MCA Yachtmaster Ocean Shorebased Certificate

aka Ocean Shorebased. This is a 5 day (or 40 hour online) course which results in one written paper. It is assumed knowledge for the oral exam that follows and beyond the scope of this article. You can read all about the Ocean Yachtmaster Course and Exam here.

Yachtmaster Ocean Certificate of Competence (power or sail)

An even higher level certificate that qualifies the holder to skipper beyond the 150 mile from a safe haven limit of the Yachtmaster Offshore CoC. The Yachtmaster Ocean exam is an oral exam and one of its pre requisites is the Yachtmaster Offshore CoC (above).The Yachtmaster Ocean Exam is beyond the scope of this article, but on request we have written a separate article about it,  MCA Yachtmaster Ocean Certificate of Competence.

RYA MCA Yachtmaster Coastal and Offshore Certificate of Competence Practical Exam

Getting back on topic this article specifically relates to the two practical exams (Coastal and Offshore), each can be taken on a sail yacht or motor boat.

The exam for the Yachtmaster Coastal CoC and the Yachtmaster Offshore CoC is very similar and in fact different candidates can be examined together even if they are not taking the same level.

Exams are conducted with 1-4 candidates on board the vessel

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 covers both as much of the advice is generic.

The RYA/MCA Yachtmaster qualification is the global standard for sailing and motor boating. 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.

How long is the Yachtmaster Exam?

There can be up to 4 candidates on the boat with the examiner. A examiner will not conduct more than 4 exams at once and will not plan to examine more than 2 candidates in a 24 hour period. He/she will need to see each candidate skipper the boat underway by night.

Yachtmaster Coastal Exam Duration

  • 1 Candidate – 6 to 10 hours
  • More than one candidate  – 4 to 8 hours each

Yachtmaster Offshore Exam Duration

  • 1 Candidate – 8 to 12 hours
  • More than one candidate  – 5 to 9 hours each

Yachtmaster Conversion Exam Duration

  • Sail to Power – 3 hours per candidate
  • Power to Sail – As required but usually longer than 3 hours per candidate

For many candidates this means there will be a pause mid-exam while they and the examiner get some sleep before restarting in the morning. It is not unknown for exams to span two nights if there are 4 candidates (for examples Friday evening 1800- Sunday morning 1100)

Listed below are some top tips to help you prepare for your RYA/MCA Yachtmaster exam.

PREPARE EARLY FOR YOUR YACHTMASTER EXAM

Most candidates spend some time with an Instructor, whether this is a 5-day preparation course with a sea school or some bespoke tuition on board their own boat. A half decent Yachtmaster Instructor will take you through many of the exercises that an Examiner will expect you to demonstrate and will put you in the mind-set of being an exam candidate.

On the day  of the exam make sure you are 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’ve put yourself under stress attempting to work out the day’s tidal heights or secondary ports last minute!

When given a navigation task, prepare fully, make notes, prepare pilotage 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 don’t 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.

HAVE YOUR YACHTMASTER EXAM PAPERWORK READY (and the kettle boiling)

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). Higher level GMDSS certificate are acceptable.
    4. Request a passport photo of you (write your enamel the back).
    5. Chat with you about your yachting background and qualifying sea time
    6. Outline what he expect from you over the coming day(s).

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

You will need to hold an in date First Aid Certificate.

BE TIDY AND ORGANISED THROUGHOUT YOUR YACHTMASTER EXAM

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. The waterline crisp, sail covers looking ship shape, ropes coiled neatly and carefully stowed and 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
Yachtmaster Exam Preparation Training

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT PREPARATION, FOR YOUR YACHTMASTER EXAM

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 not 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, while the boats speed is sensible and efficient, you will immediately put the examiner’s mind at ease and give no reason for concern. If Plan A fails, 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. There is no such things as a perfect exam, every candidate will make small mistakes, the stronger candidates will spot them, themselves and do something about them).

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’.

YACHTMASTER EXAM IRPCS

There is no need to learn the collision regulation parrot fashion but you should have a working knowledge of every rule and you should be able to;

  • Identify any vessel at night by lights
  • Describe the day shape for any vessel
  • Describe the fog signal for any vessel
  • Explain any rule
  • Apply the collision regulations practically through the exam

Candidates who forget a particular rule such as “what does a vessel constrained by night display at night?” MAY still pass if they know the rest of the rules and are otherwise strong, however a candidate who fails to apply the rules correctly when he/she is skippering is unlikely to pass. If a large vessel sounds 5 horns at you during your exam you are going to have to work very hard to recover! Do not put yourself in a position where this might occur.

YACHTMASTER OFFSHORE SHOREBASED KNOWLEDGE

Be ready, know your subject.

You can be quizzed on anything within the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Shorebased Course, you will also be expected to put the navigation, IRPCS, passage planning and forecast skills from this course into practice. Ii you don’t have this knowledge then you are waisting your exam fee as you will fail. You will also be tested on a basic understanding of Radar and Diesel engines. I am a strong believer that all Yachtmaster candidates as well as having passed the Yachtmaster Offshore Shorebased course should also have attended the following courses before taking their practical exam as you can be tested on any and all of these areas.

  • RYA Short Range Certificate, (it is likely you are each quizzed on VHF procedures, distress alerting, the mayday call or similar during the exam. You may also need to make a routine call to a marina or similar during the exam
  • RYA Sea Survival (the safety brief that you deliver will include lots of content from this course, (i.e flares, EPIRB, life raft and life jackets), you can expect to be questioned on more detail on these and other areas.
  • RYA Diesel (typically candidate will be examined on engine checks and they will each also be given a part of the engine to talk about or a common problem to solve for example, “Can you talk me through how you would bleed the full system on this engine,” or “Show me the components of the cooling system and explain which part of it may need servicing at sea if the system has run dry for a brief period’
  • RYA Radar, (if the vessel is fitted with a radar you will be tested on its basic set up and use. You should be able to fix position by radar, find a spot on the chart by radar and identify when a risk of collision exists by radar. If there is not a radar set on board, any of this can be tested theoretically. All candidates can be tested n radar and motor candidate tend to be pushed a little further on this area, (while they escape then sailing part of the assessment).
  • RYA First Aid (Yachtmaster examiners will not test First Aid beyond the treatment for hypothermia, calling for medical assistance and discussing evacuation by helicopter).

TAKE CHARGE DURING YOUR YACHTMASTER EXAM

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 (or motoring) exam it is a skippering exam. Can you manage your boat? Can you manage your crew? Clear decisive and safe briefings and on going instructions to the crew are required by successful candidates.

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.”

YACHMASTER EXAM MAN OVERBOARD

It is almost a, “dead cert,” that each candidate will be asked to demonstrate a MOB drill at some point during the exam. This is typically done 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!

Yachtmaster Exam – Man Overboard 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 safer (i.e near the leeward shroud, ready for pick up back on board).

Man Overboard Exam Tips

If you are training with other candidates agree a method that works for all of you. When you are the skipper under assessment you want your crew to react and know what is expected of them. If each candidate on the same boat opts for a different MOB method it can lead to confusion.

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).

Man Overboard Exam Tips (for sail candidates)

In addition to the tick list in the above paragraph, 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 sail 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.

Man Overboard Exam Tips (for power candidates)

In addition to the tick list two paragraphs above be mindful of the rest of the crew. If at high speed, don’t react suddenly, instead slow the boat down and ensure crew know if you intend to make a sharp turn. We don’t want  a crew ember (or the examiner) to fall over or worse overboard! On many boats in light and moderate conditions you can turn the boat and follow your wake to return to the MOB, in rougher sea states this might not work. There are basically three steps.

  1. Done loose the MOB’s position
  2. Get back to the MOB
  3. Get alongside the Mob for pick up without running him over

On many motor boats having go the boat back to the vanity of the MOB, it pays to orientate yourself beam onto the wind and upwind of the MOB and allow the vessel to be blown sideways towards the MOB, this protects him/her from the risk of the bow and engine and is often referred to as the drift down method. As with sailing there are lost of variations on this method and what is important is the method that you use is safe and works.

YACHMASTER EXAM SAILING MANOUVERS

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. BY way of example I will focus here on the mooring buoy. 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.

YACHTMASTER EXAM, BOAT HANDLING UNDER POWER

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 if they did it well or if an alternative approach would work better. Every boat manouvers 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 and control
  • 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 examiner’s mind.

If the manoeuvre 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 to 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, but 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 EXAM SUMMARY

There are many more components to the exam (pilotage, blind pilotage, voyage planning etc.) and the above is just a taster. If I have not scared you of yet, you have your own boat and require bespoke training (power or sail) I can be contacted through this site.

DOUG INNES

Yachtmaster Instructor

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