Start Yachting courses

The misconception about yachts is that there isn’t much to do. The captain steers the ship, and everyone else... sort of sits about? For many people, it’s hard to visualise what sailors are doing when they’re not at the helm – surely, the wind’s doing it all? But sailors make work for themselves. There’s always some adjustment you could make to the sails to go a little faster. Then there are lines to coil, decks to tidy, knots to learn and new events always unfolding on the horizon.
Your lessons might come to an abrupt halt when dolphins appear. Rush to the front of the boat to see them playing under the bow wave – learning the points of sail can wait five minutes.
Whilst you don’t need any qualifications at all to board a boat, it’s great to have something to show for a week’s sailing. That’s where the RYA Start Yachting qualification comes in. You can get this simple certificate to show that you’ve learnt the basics of being on board a liveaboard yacht, and use it as a springboard for more adventures on the high seas.

About the RYA

The RYA (Royal Yachting Association) is a national body for all kinds of sailing in the UK. Despite its grand name, its primary purpose is to make sailing accessible to all. The RYA offers the most widely recognised qualifications in the world for boating. RYA courses are taught across 58 countries. You can also ‘translate’ your RYA credentials, such as your Day Skipper qualification into an ICC, an International Certificate of Competence, if you’re taking your qualifications on a world tour. You can get the RYA Start Yachting Course fairly easily on vacation.

What does a Start Yachting
course entail?

Start Yachting teaches you how to sail large boats as part of a crew under a qualified captain. You need absolutely no assumed knowledge to join. You don’t even need to know port from Portsmouth. But at the end of the course, you should have gained a basic knowledge of yachting. The minimum time that a course can take is two days, but usually you’ll spend a week learning the ropes, enough time to really enjoy the boat and the surrounding area. Lots of courses include a few hours of night sailing, too, which is really useful experience.

You’ll normally live on board a modern boat for the course – either a monohull or a catamaran. Conditions below deck aren’t all that spacious. There are shared bathrooms and small shared cabins. Most of the time you’ll want to be outside, enjoying the breeze, watching out for dolphins, and keeping a beady eye out for wind shifts. There’s a small galley (kitchen) on board where you can cook. Cold breakfasts and lunches are the easiest and quickest way to dine. If you’re in the Med it will be far too hot to have hotpot cravings.
You can share your training yacht with a small group of around five other keen learners, or you can get the qualification whilst enjoying a flotilla vacation as a family or a group of friends. This means that you’ll have the boat to yourself and there may well be other people on your flotilla who already know how to sail. You’ll be able to socialise with them in the evenings.

On your course you’ll learn about the sails, lines and how to tie a couple of really useful knots. You’ll learn about the principles of sailing and you’ll also get to steer both under motor and under sail, on different courses. You’ll learn some crucial safety stuff, emergency procedures, and the all-important steps for man overboard recovery. There will be plenty of time for swimming, relaxing and having fun.

Our top Sailing course Vacation

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Where do Start Yachting courses run?

The best place to learn to sail is around southern Europe. There are plenty of qualified instructors, and it’s very safe and popular, with fantastic weather. The blue water around Croatia or Greece isn’t going to put anyone off the art of cruising in a hurry. The calm harbours around Lefkas and Meganissi in the Ionian Islands are particularly popular, as is the Croatian coastline between Split and Zadar.

What do I need to bring?

Hold off all the oilskins: first-timers shouldn’t have to shell out on full waterproofs to decide whether sailing’s for them. Most introductory courses take place where there’s reliable weather. Instead of going full-on Gore-Tex, pick up a light waterproof and a warm fleece for the evenings. You can’t go barefoot, so get some non-marking deck shoes. Top it off with non polluting sun cream, a hat with a brim, some swimming gear, and a few pairs of shorts and T-shirts. Polarised sunglasses are good as they get rid of reflections on the water, but they’re expensive and not necessary for your first trip. Fingerless sailing gloves protect your palms from rope burn, but they’re not essential. Most boats have heavy-duty waterproofs on board, in the unlikely event that your jaunt in the Med hits inclement weather. Lastly, a reusable drinking bottle will help your cruise cut down single-use plastics.

What can I do with this qualification?

You can normally pass your Start Yachting qualification with no previous experience. You need to be a minimum of 12 years old. The Start Yachting qualification is the first qualification you can get for yachting. The next course up is Competent Crew, which you can complete in just three days if you’ve already got the Start Yachting qualification, rather than the usual five.

Best time to go on a
start yachting course

Sailing courses in Europe run from spring through until late October, when the weather is pleasant and warm. Beginner courses will only run when there is steady, safe weather. As autumn progresses, the chance of high winds increases – in Croatia, the Bora, a cold, dry wind, comes crashing down onto the sea from the land to the north east, so courses stop before the weather turns. High summer is often the most expensive (and hottest) time to go, so consider the shoulder seasons if you’re looking for a better deal.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Michael Henry] [Intro: Atte Grönlund] [What does a Start Yachting course entail?: Alin Meceanu] [Best time to go on a start yachting course: pxhere]