August 02, 2016 by James Kell

Sailing Qualifications Compared

Sailing Qualifications You Need To Get

Thinking of making a career out of sailing?  Or just want to charter a boat with your friends for a week?  If so, there are certain qualifications you need to have. This post gives a summary of the various levels across each of the three major certification organisations (ASA, IYT and RYA, with a comparison between those organisations in another post) and relative newcomer NauticEd. It also discusses which certification you need and when you need it.  It also tells you how you can leapfrog certain courses if you want to. We have split them up into three groups; beginner, intermediate and advanced.

sailing qualifications compared asa iyt rya

Beginner Courses

Also called Competent Crew (RYA), Learn the Ropes (IYT), Introduction to Boating (IYT) and ASA101-103, beginner courses range from two days to a week in duration.  They typically involve a mixture of classroom-based theory with a practical live-aboard component. Some (such as the ASA) recommend you begin on a smaller yacht.  There you will be able to get a better feel for the various forces at work.  Furthermore, your mistakes will have “less leverage” (ie. do less damage!) than on heavier boats.

Like any beginner course, these first steps are about establishing a platform.  This solid platform will have you using effective methods from the start. As such they are invaluable for those new to sailing. They also provide time with an instructor who will be able to help answer your more general questions.  Questions like which courses suit you, how you can build your miles, even great places to build your sailing experience. Competent Crew is an excellent name for these courses as they will provide you with the necessary skills to be able to assist your skipper.

Intermediate Courses

With names like Day Skipper (RYA), International Bareboat Skipper (IYT), Bareboat Charter Master (NauticEd) and 104 (ASA).  Intermediate courses range from three days to one week of practical, on-board learning. Alternatively can do a separate, purely classroom-based theory program. These courses aim to provide their candidates with the skills to safely navigate a yacht within sight of land during the day.

The chief aim of many candidates sitting such a course is to be able to bareboat charter a yacht with one of the recognised charter companies. Many charter companies require such a certification as a minimum. In addition, some, particularly in Europe, require an International Certificate of Competency (ICC) and VHF radio operator’s course, which you can usually add for a small additional fee to the intermediate course being offered by the sailing school you select.

Advanced Courses

The commonly-used term for any of the advanced sailing courses is Yachtmaster. IYT and RYA split them up into three sub-groups; Coastal, Offshore and Ocean. In the ASA system the certification levels are 106, 107 and 108. The two systems are more or less equivalent (ie. the ASA106 is more or less equivalent to the RYA/IYT Yachtmaster Coastal and so on). Yachtmaster courses require a candidate to have logged a minimum of 800 miles at sea and are designed to build the skills of candidates such that they have a broader skill set in bad weather, night sailing, blind navigation and so on.

The Yachtmaster Offshore/ASA107 has a higher sea-mile requirement (ie. a candidate requires at least 2,500 sea-miles) and furthers capabilities to sail up to 150 miles from land. Yachtmaster Ocean/108 brings celestial navigation and world-passages into play. Yachtmaster Offshore/107 and a long passage are prerequisites for the Yachtmaster Ocean/108.  These qualifications are application rather than coursework-based.

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Other Professional Courses and Endorsements


Short for Standards for Training, Certification and Watchkeeping, the STCW is a week-long series of sub-courses that is a requirement for anyone wishing to work in any capacity on a boat. You must renew this every five years.

ENG1 Medical

This is a separate seafarer’s medical examination. Find a doctor approved by the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA, a UK agency).  Here is a list of doctors in the UK, and here is a list of doctors in the rest of the world. The ML5 is another type of medical but restricts the holder to remain 60 miles from a safe haven.  Get the ENG1.

Master of Yachts Limited/Unlimited

Issued by the IYT, the Master of Yachts is a professional qualification designed for the superyacht industry, where holders wish to work their way through the ranks with the ultimate aim being to Captain a superyacht.

Instructor Qualifications

The prerequisite for most entry-level instructor qualifications is the Yachtmaster Offshore. The ASA requires level 106 or higher. The RYA’s entry-level keelboat instructor qualification is called the Cruising Instructor. Their senior instructor program is the excellent and notoriously difficult "YMI" - Yachtmaster Instructor. The ASA maintains its numerical approach, adding a 2 in the beginning such that a 204 is an instructor up to 104 standards for instance.


No matter how much sailing experience you have, if you choose an appropriate course with a good instructor you will always pick up valuable tips & tricks. Make sure you "empty your glass" at the start of the course; leave your bravado and pride on the dock and bring on board a liberal dose of humility and an open mind. You'll have a blast.

Click the button below to download a free e-book titled How To Become A Professional Skipper.


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