Beginner to Day Skipper Level

There are many ways to enjoy sailing.  In this country if you just sail your own boat you don't need any formal qualifications.  But if you want to charter a yacht on the sea most companies in U.K. require a minimum level of Coastal Skipper PRACTICAL course completion certificate. 

In the Mediterranean all you need is an ICC (International Certificate of Competence).  The easiest way to get an ICC is to successfully complete a 5-day Day Skipper practical course.  But before you can do that there are three separate skill sets to master.  The following provides a good pathway to Day Skipper & ICC using the various RYA courses available.

Skill 1 - Learn to Sail on 2-day RYA Courses

  • Level 1 - Start Sailing - beginners
  • Level 2 - Basic Skills - improvers
  • Level 3 - Better Sailing - improvers

Skill 2 - Learn to Navigate

  • Essential Navigation & Seamanship, a short online introduction - beginners
  • Day Skipper THEORY, a 40-hour course (mostly taught during winter) - more comprehensive course for beginners
  • VHF Radio operators licence, online or 1-day classroom course - an international legal requirement

Skill 3 - Learn to Cruise (5-day courses living aboard a larger cruising yacht)

  • Competent Crew - introduction to cruising for beginners
  • Day Skipper PRACTICAL - combine sailing & navigation skills learning to skipper a larger cruising yacht 

You can start learning all three skills straight away on the beginner level of each one.  Then after learning to sail and completing the Day Skipper theory course you combine these two skill sets on a 5-day, Day Skipper practical course on a larger cruising yacht. This is where you learn to be a skipper, taking responsibility for the boat & crew and planning short passages. 

After gaining a Day Skipper Practical course completion certificate, you apply to the RYA for an International Certificate of Competence (ICC).  A few flotilla companies still allow you to charter with no qualifications, very little experience or a crash course. But we don't recommend it.  You're more likely to keep your family & crew happy if you've some idea how to keep them safe at sea!  

None of the courses (apart from VHF radio) are compulsory.  They just cover all the things you should know to successfully complete a day skipper practical course.  Do bear in mind that a Day Skipper practical course completion certificate is just the start of learning to be a safe skipper.  There's a lot more to learn particularly if you're sailing in tidal waters like here in U.K.  The Coastal/Yachtmaster theory course is a must if you you want to cruise over night on longer passages in tidal waters. 

Further Information

Learning to Sail
The RYA dinghy & keelboat courses are the best way to learn to sail.  These courses are designed specifically to teach you all the basic sailing skills.  Levels 1 & 2 are for beginners & improvers.  Level 3 is for improvers and a more flexible course to use as many times as you like to gain experience & develop different aspects of your sailing. There's no restriction on repeating Levels 1 or 2 either if you'd like to spend more time on the basics!  

Learning to Navigate
The theory courses are covered in the classroom or online.  Essential Navigation & Seamanship is a popular introduction to navigation which works really well as a short online course.  It goes well with the beginner keelboat levels 1 & 2.  Day Skipper theory is a much longer and more comprehensive course involving 40 hours of tuition.  We recommend the 'live teaching' version of this theory course to our clients because nationally the completion rate is very low for the self-study distance learning versions of the Day Skipper theory course.  Generally we teach one course before Christmas and another in the New Year.  We have been teaching this very successfully via zoom through Covid and hope to continue this option.

Putting it all together on a Day Skipper Practical Course
The cruising courses are all 5-days (or three weekends) living aboard a larger cruising yacht.  If you have no experience on a cruising yacht, we recommend a Competent Crew course as a gentle introduction.  As crew for the day skipper students you'll gain valuable experience of life aboard without the added pressure of taking charge of the yacht as skipper!  

VHF radio 
It's the best way to stay in touch out at sea. Legally you need to be qualified to use a marine band VHF radio, or be under the guidance of a qualified operator.  You're probably going to need your operators licence at some point.  Some charter companies now require this qualification so check the small print!  You can do this course at any stage but around the pre-day skipper stage may fit well with the pathway.  It's available online or as a 1-day classroom course.

How long does it take?
If you start learning to sail this summer you could be booking your first yacht charter next summer!  Start with Keelboat Levels 1 & 2.  Then if there's time, move straight on with Level 3 or do a Competent Crew course on a larger yacht.  You can do the online Essential Navigation & Seamanship course right now before the winter Day Skipper theory course.  

The following spring/summer a refresher sailing course would be a good idea. That could be a Level 2 or 3 keelboat course or a Competent Crew course.  By then you should be ready for your 5-day, Day Skipper practical course.  If you need more sailing practice, use Keelboat Level 3 again or look for 'mile-builders' on cruising yachts. 

In summary: 

  • Skill 1 - Learn to SAIL
    RYA 2-day Keelboat Courses:
    1. Keelboat Level 1 - Start Sailing Certificate
    2. Keelboat Level 2 - Basic Skills Certificate
    3. Keelboat Level 3 - Better Sailing Certificate


  • Skill 2 - Learn to NAVIGATE
    RYA Theory Courses:
    1. Essential Navigation & Seamanship - optional introductory online course for beginners 
    2. Day Skipper Theory - 40 hours tuition, classroom course recommended
    3. VHF Radio - international requirement, licence valid for life


  • Combine Sailing & Navigating Skills
    1. RYA Competent Crew - an optional extra 
    2. RYA Day Skipper Practical Course - 5 days learning to skipper a larger cruising yacht 


The ICC is free if you're a member of the RYA. Ask us about how to join.

Remember, this is just the first stage to becoming a good skipper.  If you're sailing in the tidal seas around the UK you need to take your skills a stage further.  Read more about how to Become a Yachtmaster here.