How to become a sailor (and navigate RYA qualifications)

Sailing qualifications issued by the Royal Yachting Association are highly regarded throughout the world. However, when you are first getting into sailing, navigating the world of RYA sailing courses can seem incredibly complicated. Between RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper courses, a variety of RYA Yachtmaster qualifications, and countless others – from Marine Radio to Sea Survival – it is easy to get lost in the endless list of different course offers.

Don’t worry – we are here to help navigate the world of RYA qualifications!


Day Skipper course or Fast-Track Yachtmaster?

Which RYA qualifications and courses are right for you depend on the kind of sailing voyages you want to do in the future. Are you planning on skippering your own or a charter boat, or will you only be crewing? Do you want to cross open water, or are you happy to bimble around your local coast? Are you sailing just for leisure, or are you thinking about making sailing your career?

Moreover, there are many ways to reach each RYA qualification.

As this RYA course guide is for sailing novices, we will mostly focus on the first qualifications within the RYA cruising scheme: RYA Start Yachting, RYA Competent Crew, and RYA Day Skipper. While it is possible to aim directly for an RYA Yachtmaster qualification through pre-experience or an an 18+ week Fast-Track Yachtmaster course, this only really makes sense if you are planning to do a specific voyage or are thinking about making sailing your career. For most leisure sailors, an RYA Day Skipper course or even just a Competent Crew qualification is a great place to start.


It all starts with Start Yachting

The first qualification in the RYA cruising scheme is called “RYA Start Yachting”. Holders of this certificate can show that, while they are still at the beginning of their journey to becoming a seadog, they have pulled their first ropes, mastered their first waves, and know their way around a yacht. They can also shorten their RYA Competent Crew course down to two weekends or a 3-day weekend.

Now, we believe the most important thing when you are first trying out sailing is having fun while doing it! (After all, what is the point of spending time, energy, and money on something you don’t enjoy?)

This is why we have designed Quaystage Training’s sailing summer camps to teach our participants the basics of sailing as part of a fun and exciting adventure on the water. Between sailing lessons, there is plenty of time for swimming and beach breaks with your crew, so you can get used to your new sailing lifestyle. All of our Pioneer Sail Camps and many of our Buccaneer Sail Camps count as RYA Start Yachting courses.

If you don’t want to go on a week-long residential sailing summer camp to get an RYA Start Yachting certificate, you can also book one of our RYA weekends*. However, we strongly recommend going on a Sail Camp – we promise, it is loads more fun!

*Please note that most RYA weekend courses booked through Quaystage Training have an age limit of 24 years.

RYA qulifications route to RYA Competent Crew

Next up: Become an RYA Competent Crew member!

The next step up the RYA ladder is the Competent Crew qualification. This one does exactly as the name promises: It turns you from a mere passenger into a competent member of your crew. If you’re not one of the lucky few who have their own boat, this certificate is a great argument to convince other boat owners to take you out sailing with them. It is also a great asset to your CV, demonstrating your commitment and perseverance, as well as excellent communication and teamwork skills.

If RYA Competent Crew is your goal, there are three different ways you can get there with Quaystage Training:

  • Book an RYA practical course. Usually lasting from Monday to Friday, those 5 days will cover everything you need to go from a total landlubber to a competent and valued member of the crew. Most of our practical weeks are for anyone over the age of 18. However, we also offer designated youth sailing courses during the school holidays RYA courses with all-female crews, and RYA courses for families.
  • If you are between the ages of 13 and 18, we recommend going on a fun adventure on one of our Sail Camps and combining this with one of our RYA Completion Weekends to finish off the competent crew course. You can book the weekend course directly before or after your Sail Camp or come back for it at a later date. If you book an RYA weekend together with another youth sailing adventure (Sail Camp or DofE Expedition), you will get a discounted rate.

If you are between 16 and 24 years old and working towards a Gold DofE Award (or planning to do so in the future), a great way to gain a sailing qualification is by doing your Expedition section on a yacht. Some of our expedition programs are designed specifically to include an RYA Competent Crew course, and at the end of your voyage, you go home with two highly regarded certificates in your pocket!


Set your own sail as an RYA Day Skipper

Are you ready to take charge of your yacht? At least on a short passage in familiar waters during daylight hours? Then you are ready to take the RYA Day Skipper course!

This qualification will allow you to go out on your own sailing adventures with friends and family, so it comes with a lot of responsibility. Not only do you need to understand your surroundings – weather, sea state, pilotage, and other vessels – but you also have to plan your passages, and you are responsible for the safety of your crew. This is why you you need some of the theory behind sailing which acquaints to knowledge of the tides, weather and basic navigation. We recommend  completing a Day Skipper Theory course beforehand, and you have to be 16 years old for the practical element of the qualification. You can complete your theory online with us at your own pace or in a classroom.

We are not going to lie – the RYA Day Skipper is a big step up from Competent Crew and requires a bit more work to achieve. On the other hand, an RYA Day Skipper course will push your problem-solving and leadership skills – and those are great skills to have in all areas of life!  If you are willing to tick a few extra boxes to get your certificate commercially endorsed, your RYA Day Skipper qualification will allow you to take your first steps in a professional sailing career and enable you to act as Mate on small commercial vessels.

If you are ready to take on the challenge and become an RYA Day Skipper, here are two ways to go about it:

  • Book an RYA practical week or – if you are between 16 and 24 years old – a designated youth RYA week with Quaystage Training. You will need to have covered a certain amount of sea time and miles at sea, so ideally, you have already completed an RYA Competent Crew course. Alternatively, some of our longer Sail Camps, e.g., our Explorer Sail Camps, will provide you with the required experience as well. Please call or send us a message before booking your Day Skipper course to ensure you qualify.
  • Some of our Gold DofE Expedition programs are designed to double as an RYA course. This means that at the end of your qualifying expedition, you are not only a big step closer to completing your Gold DofE Award but with just a little extra effort, you can get an RYA Day Skipper certificate on top!

In both cases, it is important to know that theoretical knowledge to the level of Day Skipper Theory is a prerequisite. For most, completing a Day Skipper Theory course is the easiest way to achieve this.




No matter how you choose to do it – learning to sail is always worth it!

The RYA cruising scheme will get you from complete beginner to confident sailor, with internationally recognized qualifications to make the oceans your home.
Whether you’re starting with the RYA Start Yachting or aiming for the prestigious RYA Day Skipper qualification, these certifications showcase your sailing competence, teamwork and leadership skills, and commitment. With Quaystage Training offering a range of courses, from practical weeks to adventurous Sail Camps, there are flexible options to suit every sailor. So embark on your sailing journey, have fun, and set sail towards an exciting future on the water with RYA qualifications in your arsenal.

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