Tips & tricks to pass your Yachtmaster exam

The pinnacle of sailing qualifications for many sailors is the RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Offshore ticket. Generally speaking, this is the qualification – known as a “ticket” in the sailing world – you need if you want to work on a sailing yacht as skipper or mate.

Taking the Yachtmaster exam is a big deal, and it’s not cheap either. So, we’re going to give you some fresh tips about how to pass.

We talk to Alex Carpenter, who has been working on traditional sail training boats in the UK for the past eight years. The boats she has worked on are all owned by charities, and they take groups of young people on residential voyages for up to a week at a time – known as ‘sail training’. Alex was first employed as Bosun, responsible for looking after sails and rigging onboard, and helping the young people sail the boat. Despite the fact she didn’t have any qualifications, but because of her extensive experience, she was recently promoted to the position of Mate – second in command, and a big step up in responsibility onboard.

The next step for Alex was to get her Yachtmaster. Whilst she has managed to build a sailing career without it, gaining her ticket would mean her experience is formally recognised, and there would be the possibility of working as Skipper, and Mate on bigger boats which require Yachtmaster.

Alex was lucky enough to receive a bursary from Trinity House to do her Yachtmaster, which she applied for through the ASTO sail training bursary scheme. She took her exam three days ago, and we were all extremely happy for her that she passed it. So, we’ve spoken to Alex and got the insider’s lowdown on how to pass. Here are some of her tips:

Prepare pilotage plans
During your exam, you’ll be asked to undertake pilotage exercises into local harbours. Your examiner will probably pick some tricky spots, and expect you to be able to navigate safely into these – probably under sail, and perhaps even under simulated fog conditions. Alex prepared for this by creating pilotage plans for all of the possible harbours within the area surrounding her exam. She had these at hand during her exam, so it gave her more time to focus on the sailing and less time stuck at the chart table scribbling pilotage plans.

Don’t stress
Making sure the day is enjoyable for everybody onboard is a key component of success during a Yachtmaster exam. Most importantly, don’t stress if you make a mistake – be self-deprecating and show that you can handle a variety of situations under pressure. Having to resort to Plan B is not a fail – not having a Plan B in place, or beating yourself up over a mistake, is less likely to impress your examiner. Whilst a Yachtmaster exam is a serious undertaking, Alex nevertheless suggests keeping your sense of humour, and staying patient and calm.

Choose the right school
Do your research when it comes to picking a sailing school to train with. Taking your Yachtmaster generally involves doing a five-day preparation course, followed by the exam. If you know people who’ve already got their Yachtmaster, ask them who they did it with, and how they found it. Because the demand for Yachtmaster courses is a lot less than Competent Crew and Day Skipper, some less reputable schools will put Comp Crew & Yachtmaster candidates on the same five-day course. This isn’t ideal, as you won’t get the intense level of practice that you need. So, make sure that the course you book is what you actually get.

Line up crew for your exam
It’s up to the candidates to ensure that their Yachtmaster exam is properly crewed. If you’ve been doing a prep week with another candidates, then you can crew for each other during the exam. But if you’re planning on taking your exam alone, make sure that you’ve got a crew or two lined up – your examiner won’t get involved with crewing/sailing the boat for you. And of course, once you’ve got your crew, treat them well! Get them on your side and they’ll become a help rather than a hindrance throughout your exam.

Think safety
A key component of the Yachtmaster exam is safety. You want to demonstrate to your examiner that you can safely skipper a boat. So, know your safety brief backwards – practice it plenty of times throughout your prep week. Even if you’ve been sailing with them all week, don’t assume that your crew are already familiar with the boat and its safety procedures – show your examiner that you can keep your crew safe.

Take your exam in the winter
Alex has just taken her exam in January, and would thoroughly recommend this over a summer Yachtmaster. Whilst sailing in the winter means you’re more likely to encounter bad weather, and you’ll have to wear millions of layers, the massive benefit is that the days are short and it’s dark by 1700. This means that when it comes to doing some night sailing, you don’t have to wait until 2100. Shorter days are much less tiring!

What to bring
Take lots of spare paper and pencils (2B for easy erasing on charts). Hand bearing compass. Head torch. Watch with an alarm, stopwatch and illuminating screen so you don’t have to rely on your phone battery. Any favourite snacks/drinks/thermos flask!

Final words…
If you don’t know the answer, be honest. Don’t try to hide anything. Try your best. Be human. Not like a robot. Don’t try to put on a show. Enjoy the sailing and enjoy having crew!

Don’t forget to rig your anchor ball and motoring cone.

Have you passed your Yachtmaster exam? What tips stick in your mind?

Your comments: join the conversation

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