Yachtmaster Practical Course

Link to Yachtmaster course YouTube video

In March this year I completed the Royal Yachting Association’s Yachtmaster Practical Coastal Course, building on the Day Skipper and Yachtmaster Theory certificates I already hold.  The following is a summary of why, what and whom, along with the most important, the key learnings.


The reason for completing the course was to find out what I still didn’t know about handling a yacht, navigation and COLREGS (collision regulations), what more I needed to know for sailing offshore rather than in sheltered waters. While we have done what amounts to offshore sailing when we island hopped the Aegean islands of Greece with days gusting up to 45 knots, it was limited to 10 days.

The course was with Pacific Sailing in Sydney: 5 days of sailing, in Sydney Harbour, up the coast to Pittwater and back again. Our instructor Gunnar had over 200,000 nautical miles under his belt – think about that – that’s equivalent to 16 times around the world!  And a number of Sydney to Hobart races to boot. Yes you can say Gunnar was one experienced sailor!

Joining us was my mate Greg who had previously sailed the afore-mentioned Aegean with us as well as the Whitsundays and some racing around the cans in Sydney Harbour with me. Greg’s got a leave pass from his very tolerant, understanding and most awesome fellow-adventurer wife to do the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (the famous ARC) in November 2017. So you’ll get to know more about Greg in due course!

Keith taking a Position Fix

Then there was Keith, who I had previously met during the Sea Survival Safety course. Keith was a young, intrepid and cheeky Canadian who last year had hitched a sail from California to Panama before flying to Sydney where he somehow managed to get a ride in the Sydney to Hobart. Envious? Nah! (you can tell I’m lying) Incidentally Keith is on the shortlist in case we need additional crew for the ARC.

Antoine and his amazing whale tattoo

Then there was Antoine, a mountain climber from Switzerland. Antoine and his wife had caught the sailing bug on their recent arrival in Sydney and were also planning on buying a yacht, however going the ‘wrong’ way, from Australia to Europe. He still hadn’t decided if he would head north, nose into the wind and island hop across the Coconut Run, or head south and take the roaring forties across the Pacific.

Dennis off the coast of Sydney

The fifth member was Dennis, who was about to retire and replace his current yacht, a luxurious Moody 45 yacht, with a 50+ foot motor cruiser capable of crossing oceans. When you find yourself mostly motoring your yacht, you might as well replace it with a motor cruiser.

So what did we take away from the course?

Key learnings:

Clearing bearings – while the Yachtmaster theory course only talks about clearing bearings in context of heading for a point like a marina and keeping off hazards, clearing lines can be used in a much wider array of circumstances. Such as sailing along a coast, establishing a clearing bearing to keep away from coastal hazards. Or sailing into the wind, use clearing bearings to know when to tack outside of any hazards.

Motorsailing – Hoist an inverted cone when motorsailing. It signals to other vessels that you’re under motor as well, and it’s a marine legal requirement in the Med

Man-overboard (MOB) recovery under motor – tack immediately into a heave-to to stop and start engine. Furl or drop the head sail, motor back to the MOB and throw out a life-ring, then motor into a position upwind of the MOB and position the yacht directly beam to them. Pull in the main sheet to fill it with wind and let the wind push you sideways to the MOB, using the engine forward and back to nudge the yacht to drift to the MOB. Use a double coiled line, throwing it out over the MOB to lasso them and bring them to the transom to lift them back on the yacht.

MOB recovery under sail – if you have no engine, as above tack immediately and drop the headsail. Sail back to the MOB and throw out the life-ring, then head downwind of them. The aim is to be in a position where you can sail on a close-reach to the MOB, spilling and bringing in the mainsail sheet to depower and power the mainsail to control your speed. Aim to be doing around 1 knot of speed as you reach the MOB and for them to be on the leeward (downwind) side of the yacht to lasso them as you would with an MOB recovery with engine. Going faster than 1 knot as you reach the MOB will make it more difficult to lasso the MOB. Having the MOB on the leeward side protects them from the wind.

For both of these, practice with a fender tied to a bucket – the bucket adds weight and makes the recovery more realistic.

Picking up a mooring buoy under sail – the principle is very much like a MOB recovery under sail; the aim is to sail up to the mooring buoy under a close-reach, powering and de-powering the mainsail to manage your speed up to the mooring buoy. However unlike an MOB recovery, aim to have the mooring buoy on the windward side of the yacht. WHY??

Mooring at marinas – head aft into wind as the wind will have less tendency to push the boat out in comparison to heading bow into the wind

Ferry gliding – to ease into position, like next to a wharf. With a strong tidal current, say more than 1 knot, throttle the engine enough to keep you in position into the tide. Then put the nose to port or starboard relative to tide and the tide will glide you sideways. Do it at enough of an angle to the tide and the tide will pull you forward much like a sail on a close-reach.

Onshore breezes and cloud formations – one indication of an onshore breeze is the puffy clouds over land and with no clouds over the sea. This was readily apparent when I recently flew over the northern coast of Australia, with thick clouds over the land and absolutely clear over the Gulf of Carpentaria!

Storm sails – practice hoisting them in calm conditions, before you need to use them in anger.

We need to make a legal point: please use this summary as a guide to the key points we took away from the course. Don’t use this summary in lieu of professional training!