We’ve had a number of people ask us how we got into sailing and suggestions for how they can as well. There’s a number of ways, from less formal gaining of experience sailing with friends, through to formal courses such as the curriculum by the RYA (the UK’s Royal Yachting Association). We’ve done all, as while sailing with friends is a great experience builder, there are parts of the world, such as Europe, that require formal qualifications, such as the highly regarded and widely recognized International Certificate of Competence (ICC).
Learning to Sail: Jump at the first opportunity to get on a yacht
Sydney Harbour is where we first learnt to sail. A mate of a mate, Al, invited us for a sail on the harbor one day. We loved our first sail and from then on we went out with Al whenever he chartered a yacht, usually once a month. Al was a part time DJ and at times he would come on board a little worse for wear (and at time a lot worse). Lying down in a corner feeling sorry for himself he’d get us to get the yacht set up and set sail. We learn a lot from that, and from getting involved in all aspects of sailing.
When Al packed up and headed to Dubai chasing a girl, we had a choice, either to give up on sailing, or do it ourselves. Just so happens that to charter a yacht in the Whitsunday Islands all you need to show them is how to raise the sails and drop the anchor – not exactly easy, but within the domain of anyone who’s had a little bit of sailing experience. And in case you don’t have any experience, they’ll take you out for half a day and show you the ropes (ever wonder why so many sayings have their roots in sailing?)
So there we were, on a catamaran swanning around the Whitsundays for 10 days. On our return to Sydney we could say we had skippered a yacht and the charter companies were more than happy to let us take their yachts off their hands. We maintained Al’s tradition and chartered our yachts on a regular basis both in the busy Sydney Harbour and the quieter Pittwater just to the north.
We eventually moved to the UK and were keen to sail the likes of Croatia, Greece and Sardinia. However the Europeans are a bit more strict than Australians when it comes to who can be let loose on the water. We needed formal qualifications, and the ICC provided by the RYA and other official bodies, is required. Let’s look at how to gain sailing experience and formal qualifications through training by sail schools.
Learning to Sail: The Formal Path
If you don’t happen to have friends or acquaintances to learn to sail with, or need formal qualification for waters like the Med, the well worn path is to take lessons. Make sure you take lessons with a school that has connections with the local yacht club; when a yacht is looking for crew for a race, they can line you up. Listen, make sure you know what you need to do (like how to load a line on a winch the correct way and when to take the line off), and work hard, and you may well get invited to pass on your phone details and be ready to race the following week!
The Royal Yachting Association curriculum is a well worn and recognized path for gaining sailing experience and qualifications. You may consider starting with beginner lessons, progressing to crew lessons, and from there you should have enough skills to charter a yacht, at least in Australia’s Whitsundays, to really build up your experience. Once you have enough experience, the next natural step is Day Skipper. This gives you the fundamentals of sailing yourself, including basic navigation and COLREGS (Collision Regulations), and more importantly, this is the minimum qualification for getting the highly valuable ICC (International Certificate of Competence). The ICC is your ticket to chartering in the Mediterranean, and opens up some amazing charter locations like Croatia, Greece and Sardinia and Corsica.
From there, we took some additional RYA courses to make sure we’re as equipped as possible for sailing around the world. Firstly I did the Safety and Sea Survival course which is invaluable in familiarizing yourself in the use of lifejackets and liferafts, dealing with dangers like fires and how to avoid storms. For more details on the Safety and Sear Survival course, click here.
I also completed a Marine First Aid course; while a First Aid course is fine, it’s meant to be sufficient to keep someone alive until emergency aid arrives. You don’t have that luxury on a boat and must be prepared to have to handle medical emergencies yourself, hence the Marine First Aid course.
Next up is a Diesel Maintenance course, to teach us the fundamentals of maintaining and repairing one of the most critical components on our yacht, the diesel engine.
The final training we have completed is the Yachtmaster Theory followed by the Yachtmaster Practical courses. These are fundamental to ensure you are across all aspects of COLREGS, Passage Planning and Navigation, Weather forecasting and handling a yacht under motor and under sail. For us we did the Yachtmaster courses primarily to help us understand what we may not have already known, after all you don’t know what you don’t know, and it’s these things that are most likely to cause you grief. For more details on the Yachtmaster Practical, click here.
Now there’s plenty of people sailing the world who don’t have formal qualifications, and they do just fine! However we felt it’s better to be as prepared as we can be before we sail off across the seven seas!
Let us know if you have any questions. Good luck with your sailing adventures!