Understand the RYA Day Skipper Course

Thinking about getting some sailing qualifications and being able to charter a yacht? The RYA Day Skipper course is the qualification you need. Within a short span of five days, it equips you with basic skills in navigation, pilotage, leadership, and how to manage your vessel effectively. Our guide outlines what the course entails, what’s expected from participants, where you can use the certificate and how to prepare to take it.

Key Takeaways

This article details the path to obtaining the RYA Day Skipper qualification, highlighting its two-part structure of theory and practical courses. Key points include:

  1. Pre-Course Requirements: Essential sailing experience, including basic skills, navigation knowledge, and a minimum of 5 days at sea, is required before enrollment. The minimum age for the practical course is 16.
  2. Course Content: The theory course covers seamanship, navigation, and meteorology over 40 hours. The practical course focuses on hands-on sailing skills, such as yacht handling and pilotage, on training yachts typically ranging from 22 to 49 feet.
  3. Progression and ICC: Completing the Day Skipper course enables candidates to apply for the International Certificate of Competence (ICC), necessary for chartering yachts in many locations. The Day Skipper certificate needs to be commercially endorsed before it can be used for commercial use.
  4. Validity and Relevance: The Day Skipper certificate does not expire, but ongoing skill development and additional endorsements are important, especially for chartering and international sailing.

Navigating the Basics: The Theory & Practical course

The RYA Day Skipper qualification consists of two distinct courses: the theory and the practical. As a foundational step, students must complete the theory course before advancing to the practical training. This structure ensures that students acquire a comprehensive understanding of navigational principles, safety procedures, and maritime regulations. The theoretical knowledge gained is also crucial for the practical application of sailing skills, enabling students to safely and confidently command a vessel in daylight hours and familiar waters.

Essential Pre-Course Experience

For individuals looking to enrol in the RYA Day Skipper course, certain pre-course experience is essential to ensure an effective learning journey. This experience serves as the foundation upon which the course builds. Here are our strong recommendations:

  1. Basic Sailing Skills: Come with a fundamental understanding of sailing principles and some hands-on experience on a yacht. This allows you to understand the course material more effectively. There is far too much to learn in five short days if you have not sailed before and no sailing school worth its salt should let you on without prior experience. The RYA Competent Crew course is a useful – and all but mandatory – first step. If you have other experience, then it’s not necessary to go through Competent Crew.
  2. Navigation and Seamanship Knowledge: While the Day Skipper course will cover these topics in-depth, you need to have studied the theory beforehand. This should include familiarity with reading charts, passage planning, understanding basic tidal systems and calculations, basic safety procedures on board and some essential knots.
  3. Mileage: The RYA requires you to have a minimum of 5 days at sea, 100 miles and 4 night hours onboard a sailing yacht before starting a Day Skipper course. This experience helps in understanding the practical aspects of sailing and seamanship discussed during the course. It should be regarded as the absolute minimum and should be completed within a year of the course.
  4. Crewing Experience: Experience as a crew on a sailing vessel helps in understanding the dynamics of boat handling and the importance of teamwork on board. This experience is invaluable during the practical segments of the Day Skipper course, where efficient crew coordination is essential. Any and every bit of crew experience you can get before joining your course will stand you in good stead.

Is there a minimum age?

Yes – you have to be at least 16 years old for the practical course. There is no minimum age for a theory course.

What will I learn in the theory course?

Rya day skipper theory covers Seamanship; coastal navigation and pilotage; chartwork; electronic charts; position fixing; plotting a course to steer; weather forecasting and meteorology; tides; collision regulations; seamanship; coastal navigation and pilotage; chartwork; electronic charts; position fixing; plotting a course to steer; weather forecasting and meteorology; tides; and collision regulations. As with the practical course, this is an enormous amount to cover in the 40 hours most courses run for. Manage your expectations as to how skilled you will be and get ready to study, before, during and after.

What will I learn in the practical course?

On the practical sailing course, you will learn a broad range of skills that will give you the basic sailing ability needed to charter a boat. The skills cover Preparation for sea; deck work; navigation; pilotage; meteorology; rules of the road; maintenance and repair work; engines; victualling; emergencies; yacht handling under power; yacht handling under sail; passage making; and night cruising. Now, let’s be honest. Most of those topics would need to be a 4-6 week course by itself to give you a meaningful level of skill so don’t expect too much from yourself or the course. This is an introductory course only.

What type of boat will I be on?

For the RYA Day Skipper practical course, participants are typically trained on sailing yachts that are both suitable for the instructional content of the course and capable of coastal cruising. These boats are chosen for their ability to provide a comprehensive learning environment, where students can practice navigation, pilotage, boat handling, and seamanship skills under the guidance of an instructor.

The specific type of yacht can vary depending on the training centre or the location of the course but generally includes the following characteristics:

  • Size: The yachts used for Day Skipper courses usually range from about 22 feet (about 7 meters) to 49 feet (about 15 meters) in length. This size range is ideal for teaching, as it offers enough complexity for learning advanced skills while still being manageable for beginners.
  • Configuration: Most training yachts are sloop-rigged, featuring a mainsail and a headsail (jib or genoa), which is the most common configuration around the world. This setup provides a good balance of simplicity and performance, allowing students to learn standard sailing and handling techniques that apply to a wide range of sailing vessels.
  • Accommodation: The yachts are equipped with sleeping berths, a galley (kitchen), and a head (bathroom), making them suitable for overnight stays. This is important for the Day Skipper course, as part of the training may involve passages that require spending nights aboard, offering students the opportunity to experience and learn about living on a yacht.
  • Safety and Navigation Equipment: Training yachts are well-equipped with safety gear, including life jackets, liferafts, and flares, as well as navigation aids like charts, GPS, and VHF radios. This equipment is essential for teaching safety procedures and navigation techniques.
  • For RYA Day Skipper courses, several popular makes and models of cruising yachts are frequently used due to their suitability for teaching, reliability, and performance. Here are three common ones:
    1. Beneteau Oceanis Series: The Beneteau Oceanis range is renowned for its comfort, ease of handling, and stability at sea. Models like the Oceanis 37 or Oceanis 40 are often chosen for training purposes. These yachts are well-designed for both beginners and experienced sailors, offering a balanced blend of performance and living space. Their widespread availability in charter fleets around the world also makes them a practical choice for sailing schools.
    2. Jeanneau Sun Odyssey Range: Similar to the Beneteau series, the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey line (for example, the Sun Odyssey 349 or Sun Odyssey 409) is another favorite among sailing schools. These yachts are known for their user-friendly design, safety features, and comfortable living quarters. The Sun Odyssey series offers a good platform for learning sailing fundamentals, navigation, and crew management, making them ideal for the Day Skipper practical course.
  1. Bavaria Cruiser Series: Bavaria yachts, particularly models like the Cruiser 36 or Cruiser 41, are often used in sailing education due to their robust construction, spacious interiors, and ease of handling. These vessels are engineered with safety in mind, featuring responsive handling characteristics that are conducive to learning various sailing techniques. The Bavaria Cruiser series provides a stable platform for students to practice and hone their skills in a range of sailing conditions.
    1. Whichever boat you’re on, you’ll likely be sharing a cabin with another student. Some schools offer the chance to book a single cabin, but there are not many options. Coming with a family member or friend can make the sleeping arrangements a little easier!

The Relationship between the Day Skipper Certificate and the International Certificate of Competence

The RYA Day Skipper certificate and the International Certificate of Competence (ICC) are related but distinct qualifications within the realm of recreational boating.

RYA Day Skipper Certificate

The RYA Day Skipper certificate demonstrates that the holder has the knowledge and skills to skipper a small yacht in familiar waters by day. It is a widely recognized qualification worldwide and is often a prerequisite for chartering a yacht in many locations. However, it is not automatically an ICC.

International Certificate of Competence (ICC)

The ICC, on the other hand, is often described as the “driving license” for boats. It is an internationally recognized certificate, issued under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Resolution 40, that provides proof of competence to operate a pleasure craft in countries where formal qualifications are required for visiting yachtsmen and women.

Obtaining an ICC from an RYA Day Skipper Certificate

In most cases, holders of an RYA Day Skipper practical course certificate can apply directly to the RYA for an ICC, provided they meet the nationality and residency requirements. The ICC can cover vessels up to 24 meters in length, operating in coastal waters (up to 12 miles offshore) and inland waterways, depending on the endorsements obtained. You can apply for it here.

Where You Can Use These Certificates Abroad

The ICC is widely accepted across Europe and in many other parts of the world as evidence of a skipper’s competence. Specifically, countries that have adopted Resolution 40 are more likely to require and recognize the ICC for chartering purposes. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • European Countries: Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, and France are among the countries where an ICC is often required for yacht charter. Regulations can vary, so it’s essential to check the specific requirements of the country you plan to visit.
  • Outside Europe: While the ICC is primarily recognized in European waters, it is also accepted in some other parts of the world as a valid proof of boating competence. However, acceptance can vary significantly, so it’s advisable to research the requirements of your destination country.

For those planning to charter abroad, obtaining an ICC in addition to the RYA Day Skipper certificate is essential. Always check the latest requirements for your destination though, as regulations regarding yacht charter and skipper qualifications can change.


Gaining the practical course completion certificate serves as an important step for those looking to get into sailing. You need to get some experience before you take the practical course and you need to take the theory course before the practical. However it may be marketed, the Day Skipper is in no way an advanced course and your skills will be basic when you complete it. Think of it as the very start of your training, not the end.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a Day Skipper course take?

A Day Skipper theory course takes a minimum of 40 hours plus exam time to complete and can be split over several weeks or days. The practical course must run over a minimum of five days and run on consecutive days or over two weekends.

What is the pass rate for the RYA Day Skipper course?

Approximately 95% of individuals complete the RYA Day Skipper courses.

Can I work with a Day Skipper Certificate?

The RYA Day Skipper certificate itself cannot be used to work. However, it can be commercially endorsed. Here’s a brief overview of how one might progress and what is needed for a commercial endorsement:

Steps to Obtain a Commercial Endorsement

  1. Complete Additional Training: For a commercial endorsement, you will need to complete additional training courses, which include:
    • Sea Survival Course: A one-day course providing essential knowledge and practical skills to survive at sea in the event of an emergency.
    • First Aid Certificate: A recognized first-aid course, suitable for maritime environments.
    • Professional Practices and Responsibilities (PPR) Course: An online course covering the legal and professional requirements of commercial boating.
    • Medical Fitness Certificate: A medical examination to ensure you meet the health standards for professional mariners. In the UK, this is often the ENG1 medical certificate or an equivalent.
  1. Apply for the Commercial Endorsement: With the extra qualifications in hand, you can apply to the RYA or the relevant maritime authority for your commercial endorsement. Send the following items to RYA Certification, RYA House, Ensign Way, Hamble, Hampshire SO31 4YA:
    • Your original certificate – see list above
    • Your Professional Practices and Responsibilities certificate
    • A commercial endorsement application form 
  • Your original, completed ML5 Medical Report Form or ENG1 medical fitness form a photocopy of your ML5 if version MSF 4112 REV 02/23 or ENG1 Medical will be accepted
    • Note: the RYA can only accept the latest version of the ML5 form (currently MSF 4112 / Rev 02/23). Skippers working in category 1 or 0 waters will need the ENG1 medical. A list of approved doctors can be found on the MCA website. See the note below on medical referrals.
    • A copy of your RYA Basic Sea Survival certificate or STCW Personal Survival Techniques
    • A copy of your RYA Marine Radio SRC Certificate or other acceptable GMDSS Marine Radio Operator’s Certificate.
    • A passport-sized photo with your name on the back
    • The application fee

Uses of a Commercial Endorsement

A commercial endorsement enables you to work on commercial vessels, including workboats, charter yachts, and passenger vessels, subject to the size and distance from shore limitations of your qualification. The specific roles and types of vessels you can work on will depend on the level of your qualification and the nature of the endorsement.

Does a Day Skipper certificate expire?

The RYA Day Skipper certificate does not have an expiration date; once obtained, it remains valid indefinitely. This means that the skills and qualifications it represents are recognized for the lifetime of the holder. However, it’s important to note a few key considerations regarding its ongoing relevance and acceptance:

  1. Skill Currency: While the certificate itself does not expire, the practical skills and knowledge it represents can become outdated if not regularly practised and updated. Certificate holders must keep their sailing skills sharp and stay informed about new regulations, safety procedures, and navigational techniques.
  2. Continuing Education: Engaging in further training and achieving higher qualifications, such as the RYA Coastal Skipper or RYA Yachtmaster, not only enhances your skills and safety on the water but also demonstrates to charter companies and authorities that you have maintained and improved your proficiency.
  3. Charter Companies and Insurance Requirements: Some charter companies and insurance providers may require evidence of recent sailing experience or additional qualifications, especially if a significant amount of time has passed since the Day Skipper certificate was issued. They may also require a sailing resume that outlines your recent sailing experiences, areas navigated, and vessels commanded.
  4. International Regulations and Acceptance: If you plan to sail in international waters or charter a yacht abroad, you should be aware that regulations and acceptance of qualifications can vary by country. Some jurisdictions may have specific requirements for visiting skippers, including the need for an International Certificate of Competence (ICC), which, as mentioned, can be applied for by holders of the RYA Day Skipper practical certificate.


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