How to choose a yacht school

Instructions for future skippers

This guide is for those who have decided to become a sailing skipper but do not know how to choose the right yacht school so as not to waste time and money on training in vain.

It makes sense right away to take into account the fact that the Russian yachting community, for the most part, is not very friendly towards beginners, so trying to get an adequate recommendation on any yachting issue on Facebook would be tantamount to diving into the sewer. So you should count on yourself and your search skills.

Of course, first, you should remember all your friends who have already been students at any sailing school. If there are any, call them and ask: “Buddy, do you go to sea on your own?” If the answer to this question is direct or allegorical, but still “no,” hang up the phone; there is nothing to discuss with this comrade. The quality of training can be realistically assessed only after a few (!) independent trips to sea and nothing else. If the answer is yes, then you can start your research with feedback from such a young skipper.

But first, let's focus on some important and not-so-important details that can baffle future applicants.

Certification system

There are many of them, for example, RYA, IYT, ISSA, etc.

  • RYA: the most authoritative from an image point of view, they teach only in English, the instructor and examiner are different people, and it is more difficult to obtain accreditation for a school than in other systems
  • IYT: the world's largest network of schools with a huge number of Russian-speaking schools, issued certificates are accepted by all charter companies without exception; in recent years, control over the work of schools and instructors has been strengthened
  • ISSA: low qualification requirements for instructors, including schools that have been deprived of IYT accreditation due to poor quality of education or corruption

All certification systems have franchise schools, meaning you won't study directly at RYA, IYT, or ISSA; any yacht school can belong to any of these certification systems as a completely separate company. But as a result of studying and passing exams, you will receive plastic cards from one of the above systems.

Since your skipper's goal is probably to rent charter yachts, you will be happy with any of the certification systems, as they all lead to this result in one way or another. But the most versatile ones are RYA and IYT; they are time-tested, and it is extremely unlikely that any of the charter or insurance companies will suddenly stop working with their certificates. The main thing to remember is that you will be taught by a specific instructor on a particular yacht in a particular area of water, and this is much more important than what is written on the card you will receive in the end.

The only conclusion you can draw from information about an individual school's certification system is how seriously this school got into obtaining accreditation and how many tests/approvals have passed: in the case of RYA, the maximum; in the case of ISSA, the minimum (critical). There are a lot of good instructors at IYT schools, and they don't join RYA just because English is required. Both the instructor himself and potential clients may have difficulties with it, which, obviously, will be fewer than with Russian-language instruction.

Where to study?

By and large, yachting schools are everywhere, and the easiest way is to choose countries and waters according to your own preferences. But from a yachting point of view, it makes sense to pay attention to whether this region is tidal or non-tidal. Simply put, is there a significant difference in sea water levels and the corresponding currents? This is also a matter of taste, or rather, intellectual and physical capabilities.

For an average student studying from scratch, I would not recommend studying in tidal waters — this adds a lot of difficulties and risks that can be better avoided until you have at least some experience. At the same time, about 10% of my graduates would be very good at tidal education as part of a standard two-week course. To evaluate the difference, imagine studying at a driving school on quiet streets with a double pedal from the instructor (non-tidal waters) or, on the contrary, going to the racetrack from day one of training (tidal waters). Studying in the UK or Normandy is quite acceptable and even interesting, but be prepared for the fact that it is much more difficult than the Mediterranean and the Canaries. Those who, for some reason, prefer studying in tidal waters should choose a school from those which teach the basic course for at least 3 weeks — 2 weeks is definitely not enough.

What to study from?

There is only one answer here — on a modern monohull (!), a yacht not less than 30 and no more than 60 feet in length. It should be fiberglass, with one mast (sloop), two Bermuda sails (staysail and grotto), and a stationary diesel engine, and with cabins, galley, and latrines.

Why this one? Because these are the kind of yachts that are chartered all over the world! Training always includes (should include!) not only sailing, but also maneuvering under the engine, studying the electrical and plumbing of a yacht, working with modern winches and stoppers, and much more that cannot be learned or experienced when training on catamarans, racing yachts, yachts that are too old, yachts that are too small or too large, yachts without a motor or with an outboard engine, yachts with non-Bermudian sailing weapons, etc. The more ordinary and standard the boat on which you begin to learn marine science is, the easier it will be for you to sail on charter yachts in the future.

Simply put, the ideal training boat is the Bavaria/Beneteau/Jeanneau/Hanse/Dufour 35 to 50 feet, aged 0 to 30.

Who to study with?

This should be a study group point. Not a regatta, not a cruise, not an expedition, not a training session — a training group! All people on board must be of one of two types: instructors or students. It will be extremely difficult to stay motivated and diligent if there are drinkers and vacationers on board. Education is not a vacation, and your classmates should be just like you with the same goals and objectives.

How much to study?

If you are studying from scratch, then at least two weeks, in case of non-tidal waters. All these 5, 8 and 10-day courses should be a warning for you about the school's untidiness. Based on my experience, it is absolutely impossible to learn and practice all the necessary knowledge in less than 14 days. Moreover, if you have the opportunity to study longer, it is better to do so. RYA and IYT elementary courses can be easily and thoughtfully learned in at least 3-4 weeks, but the market requires shorter terms, so instructors and schools have to push in all the information within two weeks. It's hard for us and you, but there's nothing we can do about it.

Theory and practice together, separately, online, independently?

Much of yachting theory is directly related to the details and parts of a yacht. Sure, basic meteorology, tides (if you're studying in a non-tidal region), and basic navigation can all be learned independently, in class, or online. But everything else — safety, radio communications, sailing theory, MPPSS, practical navigation, and much more — requires more than just being on a yacht; you have to go to sea with all this in your head to learn it well. Touch, feel, try. Try buying a steering wheel with pedals for yourself and learn how to get out of a real skid with it all.

There were quite a few of my students who tried to read textbooks and delve into them on their own. The result is 90% the same: such people had to be retrained because of incorrect or simply incorrect conclusions. And these incorrect conclusions were most often the result of the impossibility of testing theoretical introductions in practice.

With grief, if, for example, you are completely unable to devote two weeks to study, you can afford to split theoretical and practical training. But the only logical option seems to be, firstly, extremely short breaks between theory and practice, and secondly, you will still need at least two weeks of practice on a yacht. It's just that one of them can be done right after the first half of the theoretical course and the second after the entire theory is over. As a result, it will take more time, but there will be no need to hang out while studying for two weeks in a row. I highly recommend combining the practice and theory of yachting by doing both on board. This is logical and simple; the rest are not always necessary compromises.

What are the end-of-studies exams?

Regardless of the chosen school and certification system, after graduation, all students must (!) take exams — theoretical and practical. In the case of RYA, the examiner will be a different person than the one who taught you. In the case of IYT and ISSA, the same instructor who tried to make you a skipper will have to administer the exams.

I prefer the second approach. The fact is that this is not the first time your instructor has seen you and knows what your abilities really are, what you did well, and what you had difficulties with. Therefore, he objectively has a better idea of whether you are worthy of a skipper's license after the school weeks than someone who sees you for the first time. For many people, the exam is very stressful, and you can be an excellent skipper in terms of knowledge and skills, but screw it all up by worrying about the exam. On the other hand, stress resistance is an essential quality of a future captain, and if you are unable to cope with yourself in front of an examiner, what will happen to you in stormy weather?

And finally, how do I choose a school?

— If you are ready to study in English, and this is the only understandable introductory language, pay attention to RYA schools. Most of them are decent, with decent instructors and sane boats. Go to and find a school in the country and area of water that you like best. If studying in English raises concerns, it makes sense to contact IYT or ISSA. The websites of both associations have a list of authorized schools from which you can make your own personal shortlist suitable for region/name/site design.

— If, for some reason, you are leaning towards ISSA schools, I advise you to take the issue of school cleanliness more seriously. For example, it is worth checking whether this school was previously revoked from the IYT license due to corruption or lack of professionalism.

You can do this here: All of the following tips apply to any school from any certification system.

— Carefully review the training courses offered by schools. The more courses and higher levels an individual school has, the more competent its instructors are, and the more serious their own yachting experience is. By choosing a school that offers only the Bareboat Skipper/Day Skipper elementary course, you risk becoming a student with an instructor who has insufficient knowledge or is simply inexperienced.

— Look for feedback from graduates on social networks; it's pointless to watch reviews on school websites since there is no idea who wrote them. If there are no reviews at all or fewer than 10, you should skip this school if you don't want to become a guinea pig. If you have reviews, do not be lazy; read them all, selecting those whose authors are closest to you in meaning and style.

Now, let's go back to the very beginning of this article and write to the authors of these reviews: “Hey, buddy! I read your review about studying at school N. Can you please tell me if you go to sea on your own? If so, did you start sailing right after school or finish your studies elsewhere? During the trips, did you ever think that you were not told something very important as part of the routine management of the boat? Do you feel like you've been taught well?”

If the “buddy” replies that he doesn't go to sea, you can ask him why, but in general, this is not your respondent — move on to the next one. I think 3-4 people are enough to create a figurative portrait of the school and some of its instructors.

And now you have a shortlist of nominee schools.

— Contact each of these schools and ask them a few questions:

  1. Who's going to teach you? They should tell you the name of the specific person who will bear the burden of your skipping career. Check the relevant certification system's website for the fact that this instructor is actually an instructor. See what level of study he is certified to (higher is better) — this is an important factor.
  2. Find out which particular yacht will be trained on and check that this yacht meets the criteria in paragraph 3 of this article
  3. Ask who's going to be in the group. Will it not happen that there will be not only students on board but also tourists, children, and drunks?
  4. How will the training take place? Does the training include island tours, excursions, tastings, motorcycle and bike rides, and museum visits? If the answer is yes, stop talking. Training should be training, and to get off the boat as a skipper two weeks later, you must study, not rest. Do not hesitate to find out the school schedule. If the entertainment component occupies more than 10% of the school day, then this is a reason to wonder if you've chosen the right school.
  5. Ask a key question: if I pass all the exams and get the coveted skipper certificates, will I be able (competent enough) to go to sea on my own? Many schools mislead and simply break the rules by issuing skipper certificates to graduates who are obviously not ready for the sea with the words: “You know this is just a piece of paper, so don't think about chartering a boat, you'd better go with us at least 3 more times.”

According to common sense and yacht certification rules, a person can only have two conditions: without certificates = not a skipper or with certificates = skipper. If you did not complete the course or did not pass the exams, you should not (!) be issued a skipper license. If it was issued, this is a legal confirmation of your competencies from the point of view of your instructor-examiner.

If you are satisfied with the answers to all of the above questions, it's time to get to know the instructor better.

How do I decide if an instructor is right for me?

To begin with, you should meet him, or at least call him. A very important but underestimated fact is that an instructor should be, first of all, a teacher and only secondarily, a yachtsman. There are lots of very, very serious sailors and round-the-world sailors who are completely incapable of teaching others. Teach = explain, tell, argue, chew, select epithets and definitions, and finally get interested. There is no point in going to study with a person, even if he is a world sailing champion, if he will moo and grunt instead of offering logical explanations. Look for a talented teacher. The teacher is a professional. Again, people who have studied with this person will help you make the right choice, find them on social networks, and ask for feedback about the teaching skills of a particular instructor.

The second factor is personal sympathy, so you need to talk to someone with whom you will spend at least two weeks. Ask the candidate for your instructor to quickly tell you what a pennant wind means, for example. If he did it in a way you enjoyed it, then he's the right fit for you.

Ask the instructor if he will teach you how to moor, if you are ready to go out to sea with a wind of over 20 knots, and what you will do when it is calm. Evaluate the answers and decide if this is the right person for you.

I deliberately avoided the topic of contractual relations, prices, and living conditions during my studies, as I consider these factors not important enough to choose a school and instructor.

See you at sea!