It is a very exciting moment when you cast off the lines and take your yacht to sea for the first time. As well as feeling excited, it’s natural to feel a little apprehensive at a time like this, but if you are well prepared, have been through all your checks, know the limitations of your boat and its crew, then the experience should prove unforgettable for all the right reasons.
How to prepare your yacht
Handling a yacht requires a range of skills that must be learned to enable a sailor to sail, navigate and berth the yacht safely. Only you will know if you need to improve your sailing skills or brush up on your navigation before you venture out to sea. Don’t hesitate to sign up for a sailing course if you feel your skills are inadequate or a bit rusty. One of the great things about sailing is that you can take it step by step and still have fun as you build up your skills.
How to avoid potential yachting risks
The great thing about sailing is that like many pastimes you build up your skills and experience over time. If you are aware of your limitations then you can plan accordingly and avoid potential risks.
One of the best ways to reduce risk at sea is to be properly trained.
There are a range of Royal Yachting Association (RYA) training courses that will help get you started and enable you to build on your sailing experience all the way from dinghy sailing to Ocean Yachtmaster.
The RYA sail cruising courses
The RYA sail cruising courses prepare sailors for anything from getting started in sailing to living on board, cruising down the coast or venturing further offshore. It is recommended that if you are looking to buy a yacht you will have more than the basic skills. If not then it is advisable to sign up for a RYA Day Skipper course, and to complete both the practical and theory parts.
RYA Day Skipper
The Day Skipper courses consist of a shore based theory course followed by a practical course at sea with a minimum duration of 4 days.
The theory course is taught over 40 hours and covers coastal navigation, pilotage, chart work, weather forecasting, collision regulations, safety procedures and more. This course can be done either online or in a training school classroom. Either way, it requires students to put in a fair amount of homework and fitting this in to an already busy schedule can be quite challenging. There are two exams at the end of the course.
Once you have passed the theory course, then you will be ready to move on to the Day Skipper practical course out on the water. The aim of the practical course is to learn navigation, pilotage, seamanship and boat handling up to the level required to skipper a yacht by day safely and competently. This really is the minimum skill level you should be aiming for as a skipper of a small yacht.
RYA Coastal Skipper
The next step up is a more demanding practical course that you might consider doing once you can handle your boat with confidence in calm conditions close to the shore. The Coastal Skipper course will stretch your abilities and covers more advanced pilotage, boat handling and how to deal with emergency situations.
You will also learn how to prepare a detailed pilotage plan by day and night, advanced weather forecasting, how to handle a motor cruiser in heavy weather and strong winds.
VHF Radio Short Range Certificate (SRC)
Anyone who operates a VHF radio is required by law to have a Short Range Certificate. The RYA administer one day courses which includes a practical and written exam.
The course covers radio operation, use of frequencies and channels, emergency procedures, Digital Selective Calling (DSC), Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), Emergency Position indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) and Search and Rescue (SART).
Check lists for your yacht
Many skippers use check lists to help prepare for a trip to sea. Having several check lists aboard your boat is a good idea to ensure that nothing has been forgotten, both before departure and when you leave the boat after a trip.
Getting to know a sailing yacht takes time and there is a lot to learn. Be prepared to spend as much time as it takes to master berthing techniques in windy conditions and get used to manoeuvring in and out of crowded marinas. Practice man overboard drills and anchoring techniques with your crew.
The whole learning process is part of the enjoyment and if you can manage your expectations then there will be less chance of finding yourself in a potentially risky situation at sea. In summary:
If you have limited boating experience, personal skill advancement is critical
Research the RYA training scheme and book yourself onto a RYA course for your skill level
If you don’t hold a VHF licence, also book a RYA VHF radio course (SRC)
In the early stages, plan a number of short day trips rather than a major cruise
Use check lists to ensure that you are well prepared and avoid potential risks
Practice your boat handling skills
Make safety your top priority at sea
Check out the full range of RYA courses in detail at RYA.
Towergate Insurance have teamed up with Safe Skipper Apps to create a free to download boating app with invaluable tips and practical advice for on boat preparation, checklists, equipment, communications and emergency procedures. Check out the app at Safe Skipper.