Whether you have some sailing experience or not, the first step in official sailing certification begins with the Competent Crew Course. This certificate states that you have completed certain skills and an examination, and you are able to take orders from a skipper and participate in basic sailing tasks.
This course will include some theory lessons as well as some time on the water, and you will be able to start your log books, which will come in handy when you wish to progress to further certification. This theory includes basic terminology where you will learn to identify and name certain parts of a vessel, become familiar with “rules of the road”, complete some basic chart work and learn some chart symbols. Practical will include preparation of the vessel, the various checks to be made and followed by some time on the water, learning skills such as hoisting and reefing sails, time at the helm, laying anchor and how to move about on a sailing vessel. You will also be required to learn and use certain knots, which also forms part of the practical examination.
This depends on a few factors. Some participants only have free time over weekends so might opt to do a part time course which is spread over a few weeks. Others might have more free time on their hands and do a full time course, which could be completed over 5 – 7 days, depending on location, weather and amount of students. Each school will work according to their own format, but most will be working according to the guidelines set out by their certification authority, which will ultimately, be handing out your certificate. Now there are a few organisations who can offer these certificates, but choose one that is internationally recognised so that your certificate can be accepted globally. This way you could also complete your next level under the same organisation even with different schools or in other countries.
Although it would help, it is not necessary to have sailing experience to complete this course. If you are registered with a good school, they will adapt to your experience level, and ensure you are assisted along the way. When we completed our Competent Crew course, we only had experience in sailing sport catamarans so we were complete newbies. Chances are, there will be other students who do have some sailing experience, but will be receiving official training for the first time. Although they can probably sail well, don’t be intimidated, chances are they have picked up many bad habits and incorrect training along the way. We found this on both our Competent Crew course as well as our Day Skipper course. Ask as many questions as you can and make sure you understand everything that is being explained to you.
Some schools will be asking more than others, what you have to find out, is what is included and what is not. Make sure the examination and registration costs are included in the final price. Some schools might look cheaper than others, but fail to include the above, which could be quite a bit more. Ensure that there are no hidden costs and depending on where you complete your course, check if foul-weather gear is included. Then do your budget and make sure you have the correct gear such as gloves, good sunglasses, protective clothing and the right shoes.
You do need a certain degree of fitness. Picture yourself moving about on a rolling vessel, pulling lines, trimming sails, performing drills and operating winches. This might happen in wet conditions with colder temperatures. You will also need to be comfortable in and on water.
The examination is not that taxing and most of the theory you will learn during the course. This is why it’s so important to understand everything. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and query anything that you don’t fully comprehend. If you have time, do some reading before so you can give yourself a little introduction and a little insight as to what to expect. As this course will be your first introduction to sailing certifications, this is usually a fun, relaxed course. Things will get tougher from here on…
Choose the season widely. Our course was conducted in cold conditions as it was the only time we could sign up. This can add to a great deal of discomfort while you are trying to learn something new and once the cold sets in, things start to get miserable and the brain shuts down. It also means you might have to spend some extra money on protective clothing and gear. We were also restricted in the area we could sail, as the conditions were less than favourable and we were confined to sailing within protective waters, mostly within harbour areas. These restricted areas meant we had to rush through drills which created pressure situations, and made it difficult to understand what we were trying to achieve.
If you have no experience, do some reading before-hand, as this will help understand things a little better. Most internationally recognised organisations will have websites which will show what you can expect from the course. If there are things listed there that you don’t understand, look it up and learn, as this will give you a big advantage when it comes to the course. Use this mostly to learn theory. Don’t try to learn too much about practical skills as you could form an idea in your mind about how something works, and then have to re-learn it from scratch if your understanding was incorrect. Larger sailing vessels also react differently from what were used to so we had to adapt to different sailing techniques.
Completing this course in a formal yacht club environment also gave us the opportunity to experience the very traditional values of a sailing community. You will get to meet new people, learn what is expected and avoid the unacceptable practises and bad habits.
It’s also a lot of fun…
While there are many schools and organisations to choose from, we completed our course and certifications as follows:
RYA Competent Crew Course
Good Hope Sailing Academy