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Home > Crew Matters > Shine … For 48 Hours

Shine … For 48 Hours

It’s Yachtmaster season and many readers will have either been through Yachtmaster, be planning for Yachtmaster or know that Yachtmaster will play a part in their future career. The Aigua team has been putting together some top tips for you, based on advice we have received directly from examiners.

We have met many over the 12 years of running Yachtmaster exams. This year alone we have used 24 individual examiners, and met at least ten new ones. As we were researching for this article, we reached out to them all asking for their top tips for you, their potential Yachtmaster candidates.

Apparently it is the most simple and straightforward of all the tasks that is the biggest bug bear to them all … paperwork. Why is it that, regardless of being advised in advance of the training, and during the training, many rush around at the very last moment printing first aid certificates, or photocopying vhf marine radio licences? The panic we have witnessed in candidates, an hour before the examiner is due to board, when they realise they haven’t as yet provided a photograph for their application? If you study your navigation theory with Aigua, you walk past our desks, the photocopying machine and the passport sized photograph machine, eight times a day! There really is no excuse.

We remind you in advance, ask at the start, start to plead by mid-week and practically beg you towards the end to provide us with your supporting documents. An examiner expects to be presented with fully completed application forms, in pen and legible, with good quality copies of the supporting certificates attached including a photograph, name written clearly on the back.

Your application must be supported by proof of your experience. Whilst the sea miles, days at sea and night hours is a self declaration on the application form, you do need to provide proof of this in either log books, testimonials, or mariners handbooks.

During a Yachtmaster exam you are expected to show signs of leadership and management. Failure to provide a well presented and complete exam application form? Well, you can imagine the first impression this makes. One examiner made it very clear in that it puts “unnecessary doubts” in his mind and concluded with “let’s face it, the paperwork is the easiest part of the exam. If the candidate can’t get that right then you are off to a bad start”.

Many examiners reiterated that the practical prep week is designed to assist you in preparing for the exam; it is not, never has been and never will be, a ‘zero to hero’ crash course to be a Master of Yachts. It’s important to be honest with your training provider, and your examiner, about your experience. If you lie, there’s a pretty high probability that we’ll find out. If you cannot prove your eligibility, you will be denied an exam.

Reputable sea schools will interview each candidate to ensure the recommended pre-exam experience is in place. If you don’t have tidal miles, don’t make it up. If you’ve never taken command as the skipper it will show. If all your experience is on Superyachts, your lack of small Yacht experience will become apparent. Do it right and know that the pre requisite experience has been established for a reason.

The examiner is looking for you to demonstrate the skill levels required for the certificate of competence. This will include an assessment of your skippering skills, crew command, boat handling, general seamanship, navigation and safety awareness and knowledge of the IRPCS (prevention of collusion), meteorology and signals (sounds, lights).

One of the  reasons I started running free-of-charge Yachtmaster prep classes, back in 2008, was because I was becoming increasingly frustrated that candidates were showing up on a Monday morning, to start their Yachtmaster theory course, without being able to identify the basics of navigation, for example an isolated danger mark! Know the basics of buoyage, vessel lights, vessel day shapes, sound signals for manoeuvring and sound signals for restricted visibility. These are “the basics”. Knowing these, fluently in advance, will help your mind absorb all the rest of the syllabus.

The candidate should demonstrate the preparation of the yacht ready for passage; pilotage of the Yacht by day and night, and show your examiner that you are competent to not only manage the routine needs of the yacht, and crew, but have sufficient capacity to handle an unexpected challenge. During a very recent Yachtmaster Motor exam the crew were involved in a real life emergency, and were able to assist in bringing a stricken sailing vessel back into the safety of the harbour. The examiner was able to observe the crew in their handling of such a situation. They all passed.

It’s important to know that a simple mistake may not result in failure. There are some big no no’s though: an accidental gybe is rarely forgiven as it demonstrates lack of wind awareness and, if the examiner has to step in and take control of the Yacht for safety reasons then, well, it’s pretty hard to come back from that.

It has to be understood that the examiner can only assess what they see on the day.

Adhering to the guidelines set by the RYA and MCA, each candidate within the crew should be assessed for between five to nine hours each. This sets an exam session of approximately 48 hours for a crew of four. It’s up to you to show your competence within that time frame.

Please don’t plan your onward travel until you’ve spoken with your training provider. We are the team that arranges the examiners flights so we can tell you from when you’ll be able to depart. We had one candidate recently who had researched the exam time and read the ‘5 to 9’ hours section so, understanding the exam was due to start at 1800hrs on the Friday evening, had booked a flight home from lunchtime on the Saturday. It’s not just you being assessed, it’s your crew.

With that in mind, work as a crew. You’re in this together. A captain needs a crew, a crew needs a captain. Failure to communicate between yourselves will have an adverse effect on all your performance. You have five full days to get this together, under the guidance of your Yachtmaster instructor. Don’t blame your crew if a manoeuvre during your turn as skipper turns sour. If no one was standing at the bow with a prepared line, who’s responsibility is that? Did you brief anyone? Think ahead. Be clear in your commands as skipper, and respond efficiently to commands when you are crew.

Ensure the yacht is provisioned well for the exam. In winter it’s nice to enjoy warming soups during the night navigation exercises, or have a pan of pre prepared chilli, or a stew, simmering on the stove. Summertime is ideal for hydrating plates of fruit to be brought up on deck and an interesting salad with meat or fish and some fresh bread. As a crew think together on the meals that will be required during your exam: at least one breakfast, two lunches and an evening meal as minimum. Welcome your examiner onboard as a guest. One examiner did respond to my request for top tips with stating that the kettle should always be on as soon as the examiner steps onboard!

Don’t stop the banter when the exam starts. If you’ve got good crew camaraderie then let it show during your exam too. The examiner will enjoy the exam session a lot more if the crew is enjoying their time, regardless of some inevitable nerves.

With thorough preparation, of both practical and theory elements of the Yachtmaster syllabus, the candidates confidence should increase and ensure a successful result following a fair examination.

I finish this article with a direct quote from a regular examiner with Aigua Sea School “Preparation is key. Be the skipper, be in command, be in control.” This is from me … “act like a Yachtmaster” remember, first impressions count.


Aigua Sea School