‘Whereas you have been examined to standards approved by the Department of Trade (Marine Division) and found duly qualified as a Yachtmaster (Ocean), the Royal Yachting Association hereby grant you this Certificate of Competence. Dated this 13th day of September 1984’ – so reads my Certificate of approval by the RYA/DoT Yachtmaster Qualifications Panel, but what’s it worth today?
Well, I can tell you it was worth something in 1984 when it enabled me to obtain a job as the skipper aboard the ‘Speedwell’ based in Brighton under the auspices of the Discovery Dockland Trust. Not only was it worth something because it proved my competence at yacht handling and people management, but because it was the means whereby I was able to obtain an income.
That was 20 years ago, and how things have changed! Competence in using a sextant and tables to establish the geographical position of a vessel was part of the land based examination. Most likely today’s examination requires the skipper to be competent in operating GPS gizmos and radar equipment, which brings me to the theme of today’s homily.
What is my certificate worth? For sure, I would not be qualified to skipper the ‘Speedwell’, because another certificate would be required – A Commercial Endorsement. In order to get it I would need a Certificate of Completion of a Basic Sea Survival Course and a Medical Fitness Certificate. Yes, that makes sense; I wish it had applied when I was skipper.
But what is my Yachtmaster Certificate really worth? The point I’m making is I was examined 20 years ago when I was au fait with everything on the RYA syllabus. I knew by heart the Collision Regulations involving the movement of vessels at sea, their lights and signals, both audio and visual. It’s true, I can look such things up fairly quickly in Reads Nautical Almanac, but that’s not the same as knowing them off by heart. Furthermore, am I competent in the physical aspect of managing a yacht? Am I fit enough?
It can be compared to the issue of a Driving Licence. I received mine in 1958, that’s 47 years ago, and yet I’m deemed competent to drive my car through any European city and over any road or track where vehicles are permitted.
In retrospect, should those who hold certificates of competence in the handling of yachts, dinghies and canoes, or indeed, any waterborne vessel be required in law to have periodic refresher courses coupled with examinations before their certificates can be renewed?
I am mindful of what the Royal Yachting Association has to say about their qualifications:
‘Newcomers to boating are often surprised to discover that no driving licences are required for amateur yacht skippers in Britain. The RYA believes that voluntary training encourages yachtsmen and women to achieve higher standards of ability than a system of compulsory certification.’
Is the time right for mandatory qualifications?
Certification is mandatory for those skippers who carry paying passengers; the lives of the passengers are in the skipper's keeping.
The lives of those passengers are also (to a lesser extent) in the keeping of the skippers of other boats; skippers who may not have any qualifications. Surely that can't be right? It's like training bus drivers but not car drivers!
The RYAs thesis is that voluntary training is better than compulsory training; what is the evidence for this?
The result is that a proportion of skippers (half?) are untrained and unqualified and the rest were trained (on average) 15 years ago.
The only justification for not making sailing qualifications mandatory is that so few sailors die of incompetence.
They might be prejudiced: they are certainly lucky.
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