RYA Competent Crew:  Practical Sailing Course Overview

Understanding the RYA Competent Crew Course: A Superb Introduction to Sailing

The RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Competent Crew course is an essential entry point for anyone looking to get started in the world of sailing. This course is designed to provide beginners with the foundational skills and knowledge required to become active crew members rather than just passengers on a sailing yacht. It’s the first practical step in the RYA’s training ladder for aspiring sailors.The good news is you can take a standard RYA Competent Crew course with us, or you can gain it by being crew on one of our adventures: we’ve built the syllabus in to the training so you can gain your certification in Iceland, Norway the Caribbean or more!

Where It Fits in the Training Ladder

The RYA training ladder is structured to facilitate progression in sailing and seamanship skills. The Competent Crew course sits at the beginning of this ladder, making it the perfect starting point for novices. After completing this course, participants often progress to the RYA Day Skipper course, which is the next level up and focuses on introductory navigation and skippering techniques.

yacht sailing

Who It’s For

The RYA Competent Crew sailing course is tailored for individuals with little to no sailing experience. It is ideal for those who wish to become competent and confident crew members. Whether you’re interested in occasional sailing or aiming to pursue more advanced sailing certifications, this course serves as a critical foundational step.

Competent Crew 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 the crew of a cruising yacht.

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. 

Sail Handling 

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


  • 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 

Fire precautions and fighting 

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

Personal safety equipment 

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

Man overboard 

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

Emergency equipment 

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

Manners and customs 

  • Understand accepted practices about the use of burgees and ensigns, prevention of unnecessary noise or disturbance in the harbour including courtesies to other craft berthed 
  • Aware of the responsibility of yacht skippers to protect the environment 
Using a hand bearing compass

Rules of the road 

  • Can keep an efficient lookout at sea 


  • Understands and complies with the loading rules. 
  • Can handle a dinghy under oars 
synoptic chart


  • Awareness of forecasting services and knowledge of the Beaufort scale


  • Working efficiency as a crew member is unaffected/partially affected/severely affected by seasickness 
Crew smiling at sea

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 

General Duties 

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

pilotage on deck

What to Expect

The Competent Crew course is highly practical, aiming to maximize time spent on the water. Typically conducted over five days, the course can be residential or non-residential, depending on the training centre. Students can expect to live aboard the yacht, sharing responsibilities, participating in night sailing, and getting accustomed to the yacht’s daily routines. This immersive experience is not only educational but also designed to instil a real sense of life at sea.

woman sailing

What Comes After

Upon successful completion of the Competent Crew course, sailors are equipped to confidently crew on yachts and are encouraged to further their training with the RYA Day Skipper course. The Day Skipper course introduces participants to navigation, pilotage, and the basics of skippering a yacht on short passages. There is a Day Skipper theory course and a Day Skipper practical course. Completing the Day Skipper course opens the door to more advanced qualifications, such as the Coastal Skipper and eventually the Yachtmaster.

Drinking tea at sea

Additional Considerations

While the Competent Crew course is an introductory course, it is comprehensive in the breadth of skills and knowledge it covers. It provides a robust foundation that not only enhances safety and enjoyment on board but also prepares individuals for more advanced challenges in sailing.

In conclusion, the RYA Competent Crew course is an indispensable start for anyone eager to explore the world of yacht sailing. It is structured to ensure that even complete beginners can finish the course feeling capable and enthusiastic about their future sailing adventures. Whether for leisure or as a pathway to professional sailing, the skills learned in this course are invaluable.

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