How to Pass the Yachtmaster

28 October 2009 By Mike French

The Master of Yachts 200 ton certificate of competency is the starting point for most aspiring deck crew to become captains. It has become the standard watch keeping certificate in the yachting industry despite the fact that it was never designed for that purpose and is a master’s certificate of competency.

How do you get one?

It’s simple really: preparation. There is no shortcut, no way around it, you simply have to meet the standard required to be the master of a small yacht. The majority of those who fail are not stupid or incompetent, many are simply ill-prepared.

How do you prepare?

First, remember that to hold a certificate of competency, responsibility is the key. So, come to school with that in mind. Stay focused and be prepared to fully apply yourself.

Know the syllabus
The one-week theory course does not give you the chance to learn concepts like meteorology or navigation from scratch. The course is designed to formalize what you have experienced and combine it with what you have read. So if the first time you hear about Tropical Revolving Storms or Tidal Set and Drift is on day two of the course, you are probably going to struggle.

Many people undertaking the course have very little experience in some of the important skills like boat handling. Now obviously you cannot simply practice handling a boat at will but you can start thinking about how they handle or if you are crew on a larger boat take an interest and ask the captain how it works. The same goes for navigation. Don’t wait until the week before the course to learn to use a compass.

Don’t expect to be trained
Several students are quite surprised to find out that the regime that exists on board the yacht they work on is not strictly speaking, a correct method. For example, the fact that the captain uses the tide function on the GPS to find the height of tide does not mean that you are not expected to use the tide tables and interpolation to demonstrate that you know the theory works.

Be honest about what you don’t know
The course is designed to help you learn or expand on your learning. It's not a showcase for your talents. If you are good at one particular element try and ensure you engage with the parts you are less skilled at and use the course to develop weak areas. Be honest about your weaknesses and work on them.

Learn the collision regulations
A common mistake that people make is to try and remember the "colregs" without understanding them. The "colregs" are the examiners easiest indication of your knowledge and awareness of your responsibilities when things get close with another vessel. If you do not have a perfect knowledge of the regulations, exhibiting a basic understanding will serve you well. They can take years to learn properly so start soon.

Finally it is worth keeping in mind that what often separates a good yacht captain from a bad one is not having the skill to overcome risk but exercising the judgment to avoid risk altogether. This comes with experience as well as training, you simply never stop learning. So, if you pass the exam and become a ‘Master of Yachts’ or ‘Yachtmaster,’ remember the real learning has just begun.