RYA Yachtmaster Theory Course: An Overview

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Coastal Skipper Yachtmaster Offshore theory course is a cornerstone for anyone looking to advance their nautical knowledge and learn more advanced navigation techniques. Designed for serious leisure sailors as well as future maritime professionals, the course covers much essential theoretical knowledge required for safe and proficient sailing.

Who is the RYA Yachtmaster Theory Course For?

The RYA Yachtmaster Theory course is ideal for:

  • Sailors wanting to learn to navigate safely on coastal and offshore passages.
  • Sailors who plan to progress to the practical RYA Yachtmaster qualification.
  • All individuals planning to pursue a sea-going career in the maritime industry.

Where Does RYA Yachtmaster Theory Fit in the RYA Training Ladder?

The Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster Theory course should be taken after finishing the Day Skipper course. The course takes your theory knowledge to the standard required for the RYA Coastal Skipper, Yachtmaster Coastal and Yachtmaster Offshore practical exams. The final theory exam on the ladder is Yachtmaster Ocean, but this is only required after you have passed your Yachtmaster Offshore.

tidal tables

Full Syllabus of the RYA Yachtmaster Theory Course

This is an advanced course in navigation and meteorology for candidates for the Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate. The syllabus makes some provision for the revision of subjects in the Day Skipper course but those who have not acquired the knowledge set out in the Day Skipper course are unlikely to be able to assimilate all the subjects covered in this advanced course in the time available.

1. Position

  • Dead reckoning and estimated position
  • Satellite-derived position, using the various types of electronic position finding equipment
  • Use of waypoints to fix position
  • Radar fixes
  • Techniques of visual fixing
  • Fixes using a mixture of position lines
  • Relative accuracy of different methods of position fixing
  • Area of uncertainty

2. The magnetic compass

  • Allowance for variation
  • Change of variation with time and position
  • Causes of deviation
  • Swing for deviation (but not correction)
  • Allowance for deviation
  • Different types of compass

3. Tides

  • Causes of tide – Springs and Neaps
  • Tide tables – sources
  • Tidal levels and datum
  • Standard and secondary ports
  • Tide anomalies (Solent, etc.)

4. Tidal Streams

  • Sources of tidal information
  • Tidal stream information in sailing directions and Yachtsmen’s Almanacs
  • Allowance for tidal streams in computing a course to steer
  • Tide rips, overfalls and races
  • Tidal observation buoys, beacons etc.

5. Buoyage

  • IALA system buoyage in Region A
  • Limitations of buoys as navigational aids

6. Lights

  • Characteristics
  • Ranges – visual, luminous and nominal
  • Rising and dipping distances
  • Light lists

7. Pilotage

  • Harbour regulations and control signals
  • Methods of pre-planning
  • Clearing lines
  • Use of soundings
  • Transits and leading lines

8. GPS and chart plotters

  • Principles of operation and limitations of use
  • Raster and vector charts
  • Datum
  • Importance of confirmation of position by an independent source and keeping a separate record of position
  • Importance of paper charts

9. Echo sounders

  • Principles of operation and limitations of use

10. Logs (speed and distance measuring)

  • Principles of operation limitations of use

11. Deck log

  • Importance of log as yacht’s official document
  • Layout of log, hourly and occasional entries

12. Meteorology

  • Basic terms, the Beaufort scale b. Air masses c. Cloud types d. Weather patterns associated with pressure and frontal systems e. Sources of weather forecasts f. Ability to interpret a shipping forecast, weatherfax and weather satellite information g. Land and sea breezes h. Sea fog i. Use of barometer as a forecasting aid

13. Rules of the Road

14. Safety at Sea

  • Personal safety, use of lifejackets, safety harnesses and lifelines
  • Fire prevention and fire fighting
  • Distress signals
  • Coastguard and Boat Safety Scheme
  • Preparation for heavy weather
  • Liferafts and helicopter rescue
  • Understanding of capabilities of vessel and basic knowledge of stability

15. Navigation in restricted visibility

  • Precautions to be taken in fog
  • Limitations to safe navigation imposed by fog
  • Navigation in poor visibility

16. Passage planning

  • Preparation of charts and notebook for route planning and making, and use at sea
  • Customs regulations as they apply to yachts
  • Routine for navigating in coastal waters
  • Strategy for course laying
  • Use of waypoints and routes
  • Use of weather forecast information for passage planning strategy
  • Sources of local and national regulations

collision at sea

How to Study For the RYA Yachtmaster Theory Course

It is important to recognise that you have to attend the course – you cannot just sit the exam. Therefore no matter your current skill level, prepare yourself for a minimum of 40 hours attendance. You can attend a course in person or study using an online course. The quality of teaching can vary hugely so really check reviews and ratings for whichever course you choose.

You also need to recognize that there is a big difference between having the ‘ticket’ and being able to navigate. Think of the course as the absolute minimum, upon which you need to build very substantial further skills and experience. The ‘green’ nature of navigators who have passed RYA Coastal Skipper Yachtmaster theory was one of the central motivations for the launch of our Passage Making Masterclasses, which help build those real world abilities for anyone with RYA Day Skipper, ASA 104 or above.

There is a list of useful publications below, but as much as theoretical study you need to be out on the water actually passage planning and navigating. It is only by being on a yacht, and preferably learning from super experienced and skillful skippers, that you will really make the progress you are hoping for. There are no short cuts.

cardinal marks

Recommended Study Books and Resources for RYA Yachtmaster Theory

The Complete Yachtmaster

A great overall study guide for Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster candidates and a great reference guide and instruction book for skippers at any level. The book is highly regarded in the industry and is a treasure trove of hard won knowledge.

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Heavy Weather Sailing

A superb book and absolutely essential for anyone looking to venture offshore or head out in anything other than moderate conditions. I regard this as one of the most important books in the industry and studying it will do more to keep you safe than almost any other publications

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Yachtmaster Sail & Power

Authored Alison Noice, many Yachtmaster candidates have found this a helpful and useful study guide. It is clearly written, well illustrated and with a few exercises to make you think the issues or challenges.

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Yachting Monthly 200 Skippers Tips

Another book written by Tom Cunliffe, this is a great book to while away a spare hour or two on passage. It makes you realise how much sailing he has done and how much he knows. A fascinating list of useful tips. View on Amazon

A Seaman’s Guide to the Rule of the Road

A classic, straightforward guide to what can be a complex topic. Perfect for reading during your commute or bringing along on a boat trip.

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Reeds Skippers Handbook

Essential reading for any aspiring skipper, whether you’re working towards your Day Skipper certification or not. This great little book is pocket-sized, making it convenient to carry anywhere.

View on Amazon

emergency flare

In summary …

The RYA Yachtmaster Theory course is challenging but extremely rewarding, providing a robust foundation for any serious sailor’s education. It is essential to pass before taking the RYA Coastal Skipper practical course or advancing to any Yachtmaster level. With dedication, practical application, and the right study materials, anyone can master the skills necessary to navigate safely and confidently. Whether for leisure or a professional career, the knowledge gained from this course is indispensable and well respected in the maritime community. Ready to do the course? Find out more here.

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