In most shorebased professions you find that people come out of university thinking they know everything and soon find they know nothing.


A journalist new to their job will write down a rigid interview and sometimes even argue with the interviewee to keep to their written questions. An experienced journalist will write down a framework for the conversation and lead the conversation, getting far more out of their interviewee than their younger colleague…

Sailing and all water sports is just the same. Every year hundreds of youngsters do commercial yachting qualifications such as the intensive RYA Yachtmaster in order to sail on super yachts.

Ultimately they come out knowing that red means port and green starboard (and perhaps how to draw some pretty trigonometric triangles on a chart) but ultimately not a great deal about seamanship.

While there are a lot of good crews on gin palaces it is a good idea to remember that the guy at the helm may have forgotten the Collision Regulations and hit you thinking that he was in the right.

Sailing qualifications in Europe

European sailing qualifications are hugely varied. In Luxembourg to get the Permis Mer (that qualifies you to sail a vessel of up to 24 metres long any distance offshore) you only need to do 28 hours of theoretical knowledge and a day’s sailing.

The UK’s RYA Yachtmaster courses are far more intensive and demand hundreds of hours at sea, but ultimately you only need to cross the Atlantic twice as skipper to get a Yachtmaster Ocean.

Some countries are extremely tough with it being legally required you have a minimum qualification to sail on their waters on a vessel of almost any size. Spain, France and Italy are notable in this regard.

As with the VHF license however, once you have them that’s it. You might not set foot on a boat again for a decade and still have that qualification that says you can load up a boat and sail to the Caribbean.

Experience vs learning

In the UK you can in theory have no sailing qualification whatsoever, buy a boat and head to sea. Given how busy UK waters are this isn’t very advisable, but many people instead take a middle ground.

The writer writing this blog only has a RYA Day Skipper but has enough sailing experience to do his Yachtmaster. He has yet to need to sail to the United States but does a fair bit of coastal sailing – that really is all he needs.

The writer got wet whenever he was near the water as a youngster and spent much of his formative years sailing dinghies, yachts, canoes… anything that floated. In his late 20’s he was on a day sail on a friend’s boat in Spanish waters when the Tramontana wind built up from the direction of the marina, so the owner went to start the engine. It turned out that the battery had been run flat cooling the beer so they couldn’t start the engine.

The writer took command and tacked the yacht down to the harbour entrance and having established that they weren’t able to beach it, used his dinghy sailing skills to short tack the boat into the harbour and alongside the pier. Short tacking involves tacking the boat until there is just enough way on it to get through the next tack, banging the helm over and repeating.

You will be making a Voyage Made Good (VMG) at less than half a knot and will irritate the hell out of motor vessels but getting to a place of safety is your prerogative. His skipper ran ashore, phoned the writer’s father for a tow and got towed back to the mooring.

The writer had a bit of a reputation locally for knowing how to sail a boat after that…

Ultimately there was nothing in a book that taught the writer how to resolve that problem. He combined his knowledge of sailing and used it for a creative solution. That’s why we should refer to our sailing experience as that of a career as opposed to just something we do once a summer.

Some questions for you the reader

OK, so you’re planning to come and charter a yacht with us at Kavas Yachting. You have the minimum qualifications to skipper the vessel and we have agreed for you to go sailing on the Saronic Gulf, Aegean or Ionian seas. You will have no problem with insurance, and all is good. Here are some questions you should be able to answer immediately:

    1. When you tack, what orders do you give and the crew have to do?
    2. Someone has been hit around the head with the boom in a gybe and is lying unconscious on the deck. What do you do?
    3. Someone was taking a pee over the side at sea and a rogue wave sent them into the water. What must you do to recover them?
    4. You’re on a monohull, the wind is building and the helm becomes too hard to hold course. In gusts you come close to broaching a few times. What will you the skipper do?
    5. You’re sailing with the wind over your right shoulder and are on a collision course with someone on a similar tack. You are bow to bow and not overtaking. Who maintains their course and who has to change?

No, no answers for you here. If you need to read them you’d do well to do a refresher course before taking charge of a yacht as things could get a little stressful otherwise.

We could ask you 100 more like that and while we would let you go sailing without asking you those questions, ultimately to skipper a boat you need to have enough knowledge to do the right things right and possibly do something creative should you get in a sticky situation.

Have you any stories?

You do see some strange things at sea. Perhaps you’ve seen someone who bragged how they got their Yachtmaster in only five months in the bar, only to make a complete tit of themselves when they left the dock the following morning? Comment below!

See also ↠ Sailing qualifications (Sailor's Guide)

Richard Shrubb