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The RYA Competent Crew course. The essential first step for aspiring yacht crews

Head down to the sea on a sunny day, and you’ll likely see yachts out on the water, heading one way and turning and speeding up again and then holding course and sailing off into the distance. It is idyllic for the yacht crew but it can seem like an impossible dream. However, getting into yacht sailing, whether as a crew member or becoming a skipper yourself is actually far easier than you might expect. It all starts with the RYA competent crew course and before you know it you can be heading off on big adventures. You can take this as a dedicated 5 day course in the Solent, or you can take it while on one of our sailing adventures, the majority of which are suitable for beginners. We guide you through everything you need to know.

Your training as yacht crew starts with the RYA Competent Crew course

The competent crew course is the introductory sailing course for new yachties and aspiring yacht crew. Designed for beginners, no previous knowledge or experience is needed and the instructor will teach you everything you need to know. From the moment you step aboard the boat, you will have structured lessons in everything you need to be able act as a competent crew member on board a yacht. This will include quite literally learning the ropes, as you are taught what everything does and when to push, pull, tighten and loosen. You will learn all the terminology, not least that hardly any ropes on a yacht are actually called ropes. Instead, they have technical names such as pennant, halyard, sheet, guy and many more. Your knowledge of sea terms will have you speaking like a pirate by the end of the course!

What do you learn on competent crew?

Your training on your competent crew course will usually begin with a thorough briefing on the onboard emergency equipment and your personal safety equipment, including how to use your lifejacket, the liferaft and the Man Overboard equipment. As aspiring yacht crew you will also be talked through fire precautions and fighting techniques. Fire on a plastic boat is one of the greatest fears for a sailor. You will also be taught all the parts of a boat her rigging and sails. Although the competent crew course is a largely practical course, your head will soon be full of sea terms and parts of a boat. It’s all part of the fun, and you’ll come to see that the various names plays a key role in effective and safe sailing.

Other things yacht crew members will learn on the 5 day course include the basic rules of the road such as when and how to avoid other vessels under motor and sail, the accepted manners and customs at sea, how to trim sails, more rope work and general sail handling. The instructor will ensure crew know the general duties expected of a crew member and are able to steer under sail and power when required. You will also get a minimum of 4 hours of night sailing.

During your course, trainee yacht crew will also need to complete a short row in a dinghy to demonstrate basic coordination and competence. This is always a fun exercise, eliciting cheers and encouragement from your fellow students.

The full Competent Crew syllabus is given at the end of this article.

How long is the course

Usually, the course will be run on a standard cruising yacht such as a 40′ Beneteau or Jeanneau. The minimum duration for a competent crew course is 5 days. This can be run Monday to Friday or over two weekends. One of these will be Saturday and Sunday, the other a 3 day weekend, usually including the Friday. The recommended minimum age is 12. You will visit a different marina or anchorage every night. If you choose to the course while on one of our adventure sailing holidays, you will find the syllabus embedded into the structure of the trip. That means you could gain your qualification while exploring the beautiful west coast of Scotland, cruising down the coast of Morocco, exploring the Norwegian coast or out in the blissful Grenadine islands of the Caribbean

Where does the certificate fit in the RYA training scheme?

The very first certificate in the range of RYA courses is actually Start Yachting, which is an introductory weekend and not compulsory. In our experience, most people proceed straight to the competent crew course. After this, you can take the RYA Day Skipper theory course, followed by the Day Skipper practical course. With the all important International Certificate of Competence (ICC), the Day Skipper is the usual qualification you need to charter a yacht. If you wish to progress past Day Skipper, then you can go for your Coastal Skipper and finally your Yachtmaster.

Quick-fire Questions & Answers

Q. How long is a competent crew course?

A. The course must be a minimum of 5 days, which can be spread out over 1 week or 2-3 weekends

Q. What do you learn on the competent crew course?

A. All the basics of what is needed to be a crew member on a sailing yacht.

Q. How old do you have to be for competent crew?

A. The recommended minimum age is 12

Q. Do you need Competent Crew before Day Skipper?

A. No, but you will need sufficient experience to be able to undertake the Day Skipper practical course

Q. What can I do with RYA Competent crew?

A. With this 5 day course, you will be a more useful (& attractive) crew member for other yachts who wish to go sailing. You may be able to help in short deliveries, introductory races and you will also be set up to progress to the Day Skipper course.

The Competent crew course syllabus:

The Competent Crew course introduces the complete beginner to cruising and teaches personal safety, seamanship and helmsmanship to the level required to be a useful member of crew of a cruising yacht.

1. Knowledge of sea terms and parts of a boat, her rigging and sails 

  • Sufficient knowledge to understand orders given concerning the sailing and day to day running of the boat.

2. Sail Handling 

  • Bending on, setting, reefing and handling of sails
  • Use of sheets and halyards and their associated winches

3. Ropework 

  • Handling ropes, including coiling, stowing, securing to cleats and single and double bollards
  • Handling warps
  • Ability to tie the following knots and to know their correct use: figure-of-eight, clove hitch, rolling hitch, bowline, round turn and two half hitches, single and double sheet bend, reef knot

4. Fire precautions and fighting 

Awareness of the hazards of fire and the precautions necessary to prevent fireb. Knowledge of the action to be taken in the event of fire

5. Personal safety equipment 

  • Understands and complies with rules for the wearing of safety harnesses, lifejackets and personal buoyancy aids

6. Man overboard 

  • Understands the action to be taken to recover a man overboard

7. Emergency equipment 

  • Can operate distress flares and knows when they should be used
  • Understands how to launch and board a liferaft

8. Manners and customs 

  • Understands accepted practice with regard to: use of burgees and ensigns, prevention of unnecessary noise or disturbance in harbour including courtesies to other craft berthed
  • Aware of the responsibility of yacht skippers to protect the environment

9. Rules of the road 

  • Is able to keep and efficient lookout at sea

10. Dinghies 

  • Understands and complies with the loading rulesb.
  • Is able to handle a dinghy under oars

11. Meteorology 

  • Awareness of forecasting services and knowledge of the Beaufort scale

12. Seasickness 

  • Working efficiency is unaffected/partially affected/severely affected by seasickness

13. Helmsmanship and sailing 

  • Understands the basic principles of sailing and can steer and trim sails on all points of sailing
  • Can steer a compass course, under sail and power

14. General duties 

  • Has carried out general duties satisfactorily on deck and below decks in connection with the daily routine of the vessel
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