The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Royal Yachting Association (RYA) recently announced a new pathway to the UK Officer of the Watch (OOW) yacht certification via the RYA Yachtmaster Coastal Certificate of Competency (CoC). While the conventional route to OOW via the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore still applies, this new route intends to offer an alternative for crew who have little or no previous experience on vessels less than 24m to be able to progress to the next stage of their careers without them gaining a Master 200gt command qualification. The exact details of the alternative pathway can be read in a previous SuperyachtNews.com article here

At the PYA Sea Changes seminar during the Monaco Yacht Show last week, the alternative pathway was announced as in effect, and the reasons behind the change were discussed by RYA and MCA representatives. “We wanted to make the process of achieving a UK Yacht CoC more streamline,” explained Ajit Jacob, acting chief examiner at the MCA. “The RYA Yachtmaster Offshore forms the backbone of yachting CoCs, but the average size of yachts has increased, so it is becoming harder for yacht crew to get the relevant sea service on yachts under 24m to be able to progress to the next step. That is why we decided to do something about it.”

"The average size of yachts has increased, so it is becoming harder for yacht crew to get the relevant sea service on yachts under 24m to be able to progress to the next step." 

For the RYA, the change was also about protecting the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore CoC. “We had lots of reports from examiners of candidates coming to the Yachtmaster Offshore exam simply not ready and, therefore, many people not passing,” said Richard Falk, RYA director of training and qualifications. “These are generally crew who do not have much small yacht experience but want to progress in their superyacht career and could potentially end up with a Yachtmaster Offshore CoC – a dangerous ticket to have without adequate competency. So, we didn’t want the Offshore ticket to be watered down, but in addition to this the number of people failing was quite distressing and highlighted to us that something needed to change.”

With the new alternative pathway via the RYA Yachtmaster Coastal CoC, the RYA hopes to provide a better option for experienced crew with sea time on large superyachts that allows them to move forward without having to take any backward steps. “My hope is that this doesn’t become the mainstream pathway and that the Yachtmaster Offshore remains the CoC of preference,” added Falk.

“My hope is that this doesn’t become the mainstream pathway and that the Yachtmaster Offshore remains the CoC of preference."

For those wishing to go on to Chief Mate and Master 3000gt – having achieved OOW via the RYA Yachtmaster Coastal route – the candidate would then need to complete the necessary sea time, complete the RYA Yachtmaster Ocean oral exam and then be issued a letter from the RYA enabling them to apply for their Notice of Eligibility (NOE).

The new route, however, has also been received with some apprehension. During the PYA seminar, the captain of a 50m motoryacht voiced her concerns. “I’m worried about this new pathway because we already have a new generation of crew coming into the industry with a lack of skills, and as a captain it gives me reassurance when someone has the OOW ticket because it has always meant that they have a proper offshore sailing background,” she asserted. “No matter how much mentoring we give on board, it isn’t a substitute for sailing in big seas. On superyachts we avoid bad weather, but offshore sailing on small yachts puts you in situations that you can learn from, and until you experience such situations it just doesn’t sink it. That sea time crossing an ocean on a small yacht is very important.” 

"I'm worried about this new pathway... as a captain it gives me reassurance when someone has the OOW ticket because it has always meant that they have a proper offshore sailing background."

Falk agreed that the last thing the industry wants to see is a reduction in sea time and experience. “The issue is that an increasing number of crew have a lot of experience on superyachts, but don’t have the prerequisite sea time on yachts under 24m to take the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore exam,” he concluded. “The RYA has been asking for years for candidates not to take the Offshore exam before they are ready, but this hasn’t been happening, so we decided the system needed to change. The Yachtmaster Coastal CoC is now very much an option but, as I said before, I hope it doesn’t become mainstream and instead a useful alternative for good, experienced crew on yachts with professional mentoring schemes that just don’t have a small-yacht background.”

This new pathway will be sure to have its critics – many believe that the crew sector is already seeing a reduction in seamanship skills that only an offshore sailing background provides. However, the industry is growing and as yachts get bigger and more crew are needed, superyachts cannot rely solely on crew entering the industry from a small sailing yacht background as there simply isn't enough of these candidates around. The key benefit of this new pathway to focus on is that it will hopefully prevent crew from gaining the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore CoC, which allows them to command a vessel up to 200gt, without adequate experience. 

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