Sailing has been a hugely popular pastime, as well as method of travelling, exploring and invading, for many centuries. Today it continues to thrive, with interest being sustained by the promise of escapism from the hurly burly of modern life.
But if you're just starting out and are looking to find your sea legs, what is the best course to take? Where should you start? Well the good news is, particularly for those living in coastal areas, that there is no shortage of sailing schools offering professionally run courses designed to take you from beginner to seasoned sailor.
RYA accreditation is the recognised standard for sailors of all levels. So when you're looking for a sailing school, you should always look for those that are able to offer a full range of RYA courses. There are five unique practical levels currently available, which are:
RYA Start Yachting
This is very much the introductory course for those who are new to yachting. It takes participants through the fundamentals of seafaring and the boat itself. This will include an insight into the various parts of a yacht, how to steer it and what you should be keeping a lookout for. This generally takes two days and will allow you to move on to the next level.
RYA Competent Crew
This five day course is a slightly more comprehensive version of the RYA Start Yachting induction. This is also a great place for novices to start, particularly if you have a little previous experience or are looking to learn as quickly as possible. There are a good deal more tasks involved in the completion of this practical segment. You'll learn the fundamentals of sailing, including dealing with ropes, maximising your sail usage and mooring techniques; teaching you everything you'll need to know to form part of a yacht's crew.
RYA Day Skipper
As the next level up, you will ordinarily have to complete the Competent Crew and theory tests before being able to start the Day Skipper course. Once again, it's a five day teaching process where you'll get some real hands on experience of piloting a yacht and dealing with the complete maintenance and safety of the vessel at sea.
RYA Coastal Skipper
Whilst the two previously mentioned courses can be completed over a couple of weekends if necessary, the RYA Coastal Skipper course must be done over the course of five consecutive days. It involves a far more intensive training, including the first introduction to sailing overnight. It refines the skills developed in the earlier courses for use in the more confined coastal waters.
The Coastal Skipper course can then be followed up by a RYA/MCA exam, which will result, pending successful completion, in a Certificate of Competence from the aforementioned governing bodies.
RYA Yachtmaster Offshore
Last but by no means least is the MCA/RYA Yachtmaster Offshore exam. This is the very pinnacle of seamanship and is only available to those with significant experience; including 50 days seatime, five spent as skipper, five journeys over 60 nautical miles including two overnight and the same number as skipper. As the highest attainable qualification there are a number of courses dedicated to helping you to develop the skills needed to succeed at this level.
So when you're plotting out which course you want to take, make sure you pick one that suits your standard and experience. RYA provides the most widely accepted definitive yachting standard for competence on the water. Their exams and training provide the starting point for anyone looking to get into and enjoy yachting.