Studying boat Navigation & Seamanship in the UK

Have you ever dreamt of cruising along a beautiful coast, entering a new harbour at dawn or simply 'messing about in a boat'? Now is the time to start converting those dreams into reality.

People enjoy the boating life in all sorts of ways. They may sail alone, they may like partying or simply prefer to be with their partner or family in a shared activity. It doesn't matter because they all share one thing - the pleasure and fun that comes from putting their nautical skills into practice in whatever way appeals to them most.

Boating and being on the water is a way of life for a growing number of people.

You can do it! For many people there is no substitute for owning their own boat. Others prefer to charter a boat and widen their yachting horizons. Either way it is their route to getting afloat and enjoying their particular type of yachting.

This is one lifetime hobby that has no real age barriers. People own and manage boats and juggle their time between work, children and boat - children and boats are an ideal family holiday combination by the way. At the other end of the spectrum there are many examples of people who see retirement and boats as the perfect recipe for an entertaining life.

There are those who like the process of working their boat from harbour to harbour and pitting their skills against the elements. Equally, there's a huge number who want to get from one harbour to the next as quickly as possible with the minimum of hassle. Sailors are firmly in the first camp and motor yacht skippers and crew fit into the second.

What do I need? A boat or access to someone's boat!

There's an almost infinite range of boat sizes, speeds and capabilities and a world (literally) of places to visit and voyages to make. It is all waiting for you.

It need not cost a fortune either. You can charter a good boat for hundreds rather than thousands of pounds for a few days. Crewing agencies are always on the lookout for people who want to make passages on other people's boats. Yacht clubs are a good source of crewing opportunities and a fine way to meet other like-minded enthusiasts.

Finally, of course, there's a vast selection of new and used boats on the market at any one time. There is no need to buy new unless you want to and a good, well equipped yacht can make a very good investment and offer big savings over a new boat. With prices starting at a few thousand pounds for a small cruiser, the opportunity to get afloat at a reasonable price is there, for everybody, today.

Training and practice. Handling a boat of whatever size or type needs some training. If you crew for someone, they will often teach you the basics anyway. To be really useful as a crew, or to move onto owning your own boat there's really no substitute for some professional training.

It's a bit like learning to drive a car. There is some knowledge and core practical skills that CAN be learnt from a relative or friend but are often BETTER learnt from an experienced instructor.

The level of skill you require really depends on your own goals. If your aim is to sail the world's oceans on your own boat then you (and your crew) need a great deal of education and experience. At the other extreme, you might think that to sail a dinghy or handle a speedboat needs little or no training.

You would be wrong and if you plan to handle any boat you need to understand the basic techniques and rules that make life safe and enjoyable on the water.

How do I get this training then? Whether your dream is to cross the oceans, visit beautiful coastal regions or race there's one common thread.

'You need to know enough to be safe and to enjoy your time afloat'.

One very good place to start is with the UK's Royal Yachting Association training programme. They have a variety of schemes covering the requirements of dinghies, windsurfers, sailing and power yachts.

The cruising scheme, for example, has the aim of 'encouraging high standards of seamanship and navigation among cruising yachtsmen and women'.

It is highly regarded world-wide and consists of a series of practical and shorebased courses that are designed to be complementary and self reinforcing.

Each course leads to a Certificate of Competence and most are gained by examination after completion of the necessary course work. The certificates are recognised by all other RYA recognised training establishments.

The scheme covers all levels from the beginner (the Day Skipper course) to the more experienced (the Coastal Skipper / Yachtmaster Offshore) and those planning to cross the oceans of the world (the Yachtmaster Ocean).

You need to know about seamanship, navigation and how to manage a boat safely. Topics include chartwork, navigation and tides, safety, anchoring, passage planning and making, meteorology and pilotage as you work a vessel into and out of harbours

These skills haven't changed much over the centuries and are still the key to safe and enjoyable yachting. These days we also cover the proper use of electronic navigation aids and VHF radio.

The RYA split the learning process into two. The theoretical side is best learnt ashore. Practical training reinforces the theoretical knowledge you gained from studying ashore by putting it into practice.

This means that if you want to learn the theory of navigation and seamanship you can do it anywhere. A popular choice is to study at an evening class but there's a growing number of people who either do not have access to evening courses or just cannot commit time on a regular basis.

For these people there are alternatives and there's often no better place than your own home. A self-study course is a good and well proven way to study these subjects.

Combine self-study with some practical courses on the water and you have an ideal way to start a new phase of life.

After all, there is 'Nothing, just nothing, like messing about on the water'!

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