What is an RYA Day Skipper and how do I become one?

The short answer is, an RYA Day Skipper is somebody capable of safely skippering a small cruising yacht, or motor boat, by day in waters with which they are familiar, but perhaps we should go on to the slightly longer answer, which may be more useful.

Most people appreciate that to become a safe skipper will require some learning. Sometimes these are skills or knowledge that we know you need to improve, while at other times the first time we realise there is something to learn is when we’ve had a nasty surprise or embarrassing moment.

The RYA cruising schemes aim to give the potential Day Skipper sufficient information to make informed choices about their cruising; should we sail today given this forecast? Which berth should I choose when I get there?

The recommended route is to do the training in two parts. The first covers the theory and knowledge based training, such as meteorology, navigation, pilotage techniques and collision regulations; the second is putting this theory into practice in addition to developing the practical skippering skills of crew management, boat handling, practical pilotage and passage making.

The Day Skipper Shore based course

This course is available through RYA recognised training centres and is available in numerous formats: classroom, online or distance learning.

Regardless of the method of deliver the course will be at least 40 hours of teaching time plus two assessment papers. There is no pre-knowledge requirement, although it is expected that you will have some practical experience.

The overall aim of the RYA training schemes is to be able to do things practically, so having enough experience to put these lessons into some context will greatly improve your chances of success.

There are 17 sections in the syllabus ranging from understanding nautical terminology to calculating tides and tidal streams. In broad terms the content relates to:

  • Information: locating and using information such as weather forecasts, tidal data or navigational information in the planning and execution of a passage
  • Regulations and guidance: gain a working knowledge of the collision avoidance rules, marine pollution responsibilities and carriage of safety equipment requirement for small yachts
  • Techniques: lean and plan the use of pilotage and navigation techniques, passage planning strategy and dealing with emergency situations

Each student has access to a RYA Training Almanac and also receives a course pack which includes RYA Training charts, course notes, practice electronic chart plotter and a training exercises booklet. A combination of instruction and practice exercises enable you to work through scenarios you are likely to come across in real life. Full details of the syllabus can be found in the Sail Cruising logbook (G15) and Motor Cruising logbook (G18).

The Day Skipper Practical course

This course is where all the theory is put into practice. Under the careful guidance of an instructor you will build confidence and get a feel for the reality of practical navigation and skippering on a small cruising yacht or motor boat.

The course is delivered over five days for sail or four days for motor and can be broken down into two day slots e.g. three week-ends for a sail cruising course.

Holding a shore-based course completion certificate in not a pre-requisite, but it is essential that you have the same knowledge level as somebody that has completed the Day Skipper Shore-based course. There simply isn’t the time to learn theory whilst putting it into practice.

You will be expected to have practical experience in line with the Competent Crew course for sail cruising or Helmsman Certificate for motor cruising. If you do not hold these certificates then you should have an equivalent skill base. For sailors this means that you should be able to helm on all points of sail and be competent at the deck work. For motor you should be a competent helmsman in open water and have a working knowledge of carrying out simple berthing and mooring situations.

The practical course moves away from the hands-on crewing roles and looks to develop your ability as a crew manager. During the course you will gradually take over more and more of the skippering role for short passages. In addition to the preparation and planning you will develop a feel for the execution of your plans.

Most sailors know that many stressful and embarrassing moments occur when in sight of others. Therefore quite a lot of time is spent entering and leaving ports using a range of techniques and approaching a range of berthing and un-berthing situations. The instructor guides you through the scenarios, working towards you taking more responsibility and decision making. At the end of the course you will have experienced a number of scenarios, either first hand or as a crew member for another trainee Day Skipper, which will put you in a better position for doing the same when you are on your own.

As part of the course you will also experience the difference of executing a plan at night.

The Day Skipper course can be taken in tidal or non-tidal waters and your certificate will be endorsed accordingly.


Pre-course experience 5 days, 100 miles, 4 night hours on board a sailing yacht
Assumed knowledge Basic navigation and helmsmanship. It is recommended you attend the Day Skipper shorebased course beforehand
Minimum duration 5 days, 3 weekends or 3 days plus 2 days
Minimum age 16
Course content Preparation for sea, deck work, navigation, pilotage, meteorology, rules of the road, maintenance and repair work, engines, victualling, emergency situations, yacht handling under power, yacht handling under sail, passage making, night cruising.