So you want to be a Skipper with Commercial Rib Charter?

We get asked many times each year – Can I skipper for you? What qualifications do I need? How long will it take to qualify? Whilst we’re always happy to do our best to answer these questions we asked our training provider – Powerboat Training UK/Aquasafe – to answer the question for us as that’s what they do every day. Hopefully this will help you to understand the route to being a commercial Skipper with CRC.

Paul Glatzel is a Director of Powerboat Training UK and is an RYA/MCA Advanced Powerboat and Yachtmaster Examiner so is well placed to delve into this sometimes confusing world.

Paul explains “All of the CRC boats are under 24m so the qualifications you need fall under the Royal Yachting Association (‘RYA’) schemes. For vessels over 24m its different and we’ll not cover that here.

With the CRC boats we’ll break them down into two categories. Firstly, there are the ‘Crew Transfer Vessels’ (or ‘CTVs’) – these are the larger vessels in the fleet and are 10m or longer. The rest of the smaller vessels that CRC use for a variety of services – these we’ll refer to as ‘the RIBs’.

There are two RYA schemes that are relevant to becoming a skipper of these vessels.

The RYA Powerboat Scheme leads ultimately towards achieving the RYA/MCA Advanced Powerboat Certificate of Competence (‘affectionately’ known as the ‘Advanced Exam’). Whilst technically this qualification is valid for up to 24m craft in reality it’s to Skipper vessels up to 10/12m as the owner has a responsibility to ensure the Skipper has the competence to helm whatever craft they are given and this is potentially difficult to justify if the qualification doesn’t match the size of craft. There is an operational limitation too with the Advanced though, in that you are only allowed to operate up to ’20 miles from a safe haven day and night’. A safe haven is simply a place that you can head to for safety and could be a bay or cove and is not necessarily a harbour. Clearly this places restrictions on the area of operation for the Skipper which places like the Solent is never an issue but could be in more remote locations.

Above 10/12m is where the RYA Yachtmaster Scheme comes into play. There are two relevant qualifications in the scheme for CRC craft. The RYA Yachtmaster Coastal Certificate of Competence and the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate of Competence. The difference between them is how much experience you need to attend the Certificate of Competence exam for each and how far from a ‘Safe Haven’ you can operate when holding the qualification.

So let’s look in a bit more detail at the Yachtmaster scheme and what you need to achieve these qualifications.

The top level is the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate of Competence. The Offshore allows you to operate up to 60 or 150 miles from a ‘Safe Haven’ depending on which medical you hold and the level the vessel is ‘coded’ to (Note: ‘coded’ is the word used reference the vessels licence determining how far offshore it can operate).

To be eligible to attend this exam you need at least 2500 miles in vessels that satisfy the RYA/MCA requirements. These craft would typically be enclosed (i.e. not open RIBs), have accommodation/a galley and be suitable for long distance passages. You will need five passages of at least 60 miles two of which you were skipper for and two of which occurred at night. You will also need to hold (or be at the level of) the RYA Yachtmaster Theory qualification. You will also need a variety of other qualifications – more of which later.

For many the challenge of getting to the level of YM Offshore is getting the miles on larger craft and specifically the 60 mile passages. Bear in mind too it’s not about just being crew you have to be a Skipper on these craft so you are faced with the conundrum of who is going to give you one of these boats to Skipper if you haven’t the evidence to show you are capable as a Skipper. We’ll cover this again later.

The Yachtmaster Coastal is 100% the same level as the Advanced Exam in that it qualifies you to Skipper a craft up to 24m up to 20 miles from a safe haven day and night. The qualification though is achieved via larger vessels so therefore for those seeking the first step on the Skipper ladder focussing on larger vessels it can be the entry point route. The mileage requirements for entry to the exam are far less than for Yachtmaster Offshore too.

With any of these roles you can’t just pitch up to the exam pass and voila you will be helming a CRC craft. What you need as a firm foundation is experience afloat on a variety of craft, in various locations and in a wide range of conditions. The reality is that its far easier (and cheaper) to get this experience on smaller craft so the vast majority of those we see becoming Skippers start out on the sub 10/12m craft and so progress to the advanced exam.

With all of these qualifications, to enter the exam the RYA website states that you need to be at the level of ‘RYA Yachtmaster Theory’. Each year we have chats with loads of potential skippers that tell us 1) A friend or family member says you don’t need this level of theory and Dayskipper level will do and 2) Another school says Dayskipper is fine etc etc. Bottom line is that they are wrong, out of date and things have moved on. It’s fair to say that up to about 2010 the theory level for the advanced exam was Dayskipper but this was updated by the RYA and RYA Examiners need to examine the theory to the level of Yachtmaster Theory. For Yachtmaster Coastal and Offshore its always been so.

In terms of reaching the level of Yachtmaster Theory then in reality you will need to do the Dayskipper Theory course as a pre-cursor to doing the Yachtmaster to ensure that you are at the right level to enter the Yachtmaster theory course. Whilst at first glance the courses look similar they are pitched at very different levels and the entry level for Yachtmaster is the Dayskipper theory level. We get lots of people each year telling us that they are at the levels of Dayskipper or Yachtmaster and don’t need to do these as they have ‘equivalent knowledge’. In our experience over many many years invariably they aren’t at the right level and what they should be doing is following the Dayskipper and Yachtmaster path.

But why’s it important to do this? Surely you can blag it and get on the exam and you should be okay? To do this is to misunderstand the responsibility that you have as a Skipper. As a Skipper you and your employer can be prosecuted for errors that you make when afloat. This could range from injuries to passengers, navigation failures, a failure to apply the collision regulations and so on. Ensuring that you have the right skills, experience and theoretical knowledge to enter the exam reduces the possibility of such instances ever arising. Those who are serious about their career path and performing the job of Skipper really safely and competently invest the time and effort they need to and don’t seek to cut corners as to do so is a false economy.

In addition to taking the exam and the Dayskipper and Yachtmaster theory courses there are a fair few other courses you will need to take. In reality though you will tend to achive a fair few of these as you progress as a boater before ever getting towards being a ‘Commercially endorsed’ Skipper.

The qualifications are: RYA First Aid, Sea Survival, VHF Radio, Professional Practices and Responsibilities and you will also need either a ML5 or ENG1 medical.

The ML5 medical lasts 5 years, is obtained from your GP and limits your distance offshore to 60 miles. The ENG1 lasts 2 years and can only be achieved via an MCA approved practitioner. Which you go for will in part depend on the requirements of the job. Its best to liaise with CRC at the time.

With regards to the first aid and sea survival you have a choice to make. You can either undertake the two individual RYA one day courses or alternatively you can take the five day STCW Basic Skills Course which includes these courses. Our general advice is that if you are seeking to pursue the advanced powerboat route take the RYA courses but as you rise up the Yachtmaster scheme the STCW route may be required for some jobs.

Re-reading this post I realise there is loads to get your mind around as you consider the route to becoming a commercially endorsed Skipper. Rest assured once you get to grips with it its far simpler than it seems.

In terms of advice, if you are starting out on your route to becoming a Skipper then we’d generally advise starting out with boats in the sub 10m category. Start with courses like Powerboat Level 2, get the VHF and Dayskipper Theory squared away and then build on these qualifications by adding real hands on experience. Get afloat ideally with far more experienced skippers and build your experience by putting the skills you learn on the Dayskipper theory course into practice by planning passages and preparing pilotage plans. Then when you have enough experience, do the Yachtmaster theory, the advanced powerboat course and then the advanced exam. Sorted! Now you can get afloat as a Skipper and start to build bigger boat experience to transition into that area.

If you have bigger boat experience then you could progress up the Yachtmaster Coastal route. In the same way get experience, add in the theory qualifications and then progress through the exam prep courses and then exams.

In summary, it all seems hard work to get to become a Skipper and it is. It’s far harder today than it was 20 years ago but that’s actually a good thing. The level is far more professional and demands more of you but be reassured that it’s just the same for those following behind you. When you look at the CRC website you can see that its certainly worth the effort as you get to be Skipper of great boats working in interesting locations doing challenging tasks.”