What you need to become a Commercial Charter Skipper (as well as having the boat).

As a paying customer did you know that the skipper/owner MUST display a current license? This is often a prominently displayed in date sticker. I suggest if the skipper does not understand that then you are already chancing your arm and forcing the reliable and legitimate skippers out of business.
A Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence

First, you will need one of these, an MCA/RYA Certificate that must be gained to prove Skipper competence to that level. The Coastal Skipper/Yachtmaster certificate is in the shape of a small hard backed  blue book. This must include a commercial endorsement, this stamp proves a successful medical, sea safety and first aid course has been completed.

The Skippers certificate is re-applied for every five years and this includes an ML5 medical.

MCA/RYA Code of Practice for commercial vessels

Then secondly, the vessel must meet the Code of Practice regulations as inspected by a qualified surveyor. The Licensing Authority MECAL or the RYA will normally recommend a local Surveyor that will do this.

The boat is self checked on anniversary 1 and 2, surveyed at year 3, self checked ay year 4 and re-surveyed at year 5!

Obtaining a Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence

So to start up and get into the charter boat business legally you must obtain one of these certificates first. These certificates are issued by the RYA/MCA and generally examined by the RYA. Once the certificate is received, then a medical must be passed (ML5 similar to HGV) and a Basic Sea Survival (1 day Course) certificate obtained. Only then can the Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster  Certificate of Competence be commercially endorsed. This certificate and yourself then become part of a COP license AND insurance that is integral to your boat.

Sounds easy? Surely you have heard and read the stories in the angling press from disgruntled skippers, it is justified I can tell you, as obtaining your Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster is no trivial matter. There are many prerequisites required before attempting Coastal Skipper and even more before going for the Yachtmaster. These include an ‘in-date’ First Aid Certificate, VHF Operators License, Diesel Engine Maintenance knowledge, theory required up to either the Coastal Skipper level or Yachtmaster level, normally learned through a shore based course, 1250 logged sea miles in tidal waters for Coastal Skipper or 2500 logged sea miles, including a minimum of five, 60 mile passages with two skippered and one at night for Yachtmaster, plus some days ‘live aboard’ and some hours at night.

The Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster Certificate is a 10 to 12 hour practical test to a standard that is measured by an RYA examiner. The test includes boat handling, knowledge and practical seamanship at either a Coastal Skipper standard or at a higher Yachtmaster standard. The examination is exactly the same for Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster. A Yachtmaster must pass at a higher standard than Coastal Skipper, where less errors can be made. The tolerance for error widened for Coastal Skipper and requiring less sea miles. To attempt the Yachtmaster Certificate you must have at least five skippered passages logged, including one at night, all greater than sixty miles. That is not thirty miles there and back!!! During the practical test you are also tested for an understanding of your required theory. In particular you will be tested on the Collision Regulations (IRPCS), IALA Buoyage System, Knots, Crewing, Weather, Safety at Sea, the boat, the equipment and engine including servicing and boat navigation.

In theory you can invite an RYA Examiner along to your own boat. It must be fully equipped and longer than 7.0 meters and have crew available on the day of the test. You need to prove you can brief and command your crew. You will test out from your own port but potentially you could go to any other port in that period of time. Some of the time will be spent proving your Pilotage skills at night into a port you are not so familiar with.

The other option is the one I chose where you can get yourself on a Coastal Skipper Practical Course that has the examination on the last day. The problem with this is that you actually use 3 days of the course learning how to steer another boat and learning the layout, engine and safety equipment. In my case this was a Fairline Phantom 38 with two 370 Volvos giving it a top speed of 31 knots drinking around 65 litres of diesel an hour! The advantage of this is that you are proving that you can transfer your skills to a strange boat and it is all good practice to revise what you actually need to know. Twin screws are great until they expect you to berth on one engine. They don’t steer too well against the prop walk on an engine offset opposite to the turn. Add some wind and it makes it a challenge.

Regarding my own training course, the instructors and examiners were fantastic but there is a huge difference between living aboard a new Fairline Phantom 38 and staying in a room with just a mattress and duvet. The sales team weer poor. Anyway I do not wish to dwell on the negatives. But I must say, if you are not a Yachtmaster Offshore Sail qualified skipper already, the Motor Conversion is not suitable for you, whatever the sales people say! Personally this was one of the hardest tests that I have had to endure but mainly because the course content did not cover everything we were examined on. It was our previous experience that got us through!

Details of the 12 hour practical examination

The Exam starts with a walkthrough of the boat which is a Safety Brief by a nominated Skipper. You may be the nominated skipper so you need to know it all. This will include:

bulletEngine Checks.
bulletWeather for the day and weather information source. Interpretation.
bulletSafety Brief – this may include checks on Flares and how you use them, life raft stowage and how to use them, Life Jackets how to don them etc….
bulletGas Policy.
bulletShips Log update.
bulletUnderstanding of Fuel and Range, ‘wash’ at certain speeds.
bulletAt the same time be prepared for small checks on your overall understanding and performance. As well as the instructor checking the answers to direct questions, adhoc questioning ensues throughout the day. For example when leaving the berth, allowing for any wind or tide buying time in any situation. If you take any short cuts you must explain why and why it is safe, otherwise he may assume you don’t know.
Boat Handling
bulletP turn to MOB, going back down the wake.
bulletPicking up a mooring.
bulletBerthing port or starboard side to.
bulletBerthing port or starboard side to, on one engine.
bulletBerthing ‘In the box’.
bulletAdherence to the IRPCS at all times, includes speed, position and awareness.
bulletCrewing - know your knots, as you do all this for the others when they are tested.
bulletBlind navigation this generally takes into tidal calculations.
bulletNight Pilotage.
bulletChart work and understanding of symbols Chart 5011.
bulletThat is all of them!! Including their colours, shapes, sounds and lights.
bulletAll collision regulations, plus ALL vessels and ALL rules at sea including lights, day shapes and sounds for all vessels in ALL situations. This is the hardest part if you have lots of practical knowledge already. You are only excused Annex 2 and 4.

They  will test you on your knowledge on how, warm and cold fronts, high and low pressures and how these may affect wind and weather. How fast depressions track, what are the definitions of descriptions of visibility, wave height, wind speeds etc, etc. You need to know all this and it is no use just knowing one source for your weather updates. You need to know what to expect if things change and the forecast is wrong. This was difficult for me as it seems unnecessary when weather forecasting is pretty accurate nowadays within 18 hours of a trip and very easily sourced.

Back to Fishing Articles