What qualifications do I need to sail a yacht?

Whether you’ve finally got your hands on the boat you’ve always dreamed about, or you’re doing a bit of research before a holiday, one thing you’ll need to know before you set sail is which qualifications you need. In the UK, you technically don’t need a sailing license to take your own yacht out on the water, but it’s a bit more complicated than “anyone can sail a boat”. We break down the specifics in more detail below.

What sailing novices need to know

It might seem unlikely, but in the UK, you’re not legally obliged to have any qualifications or a sailing license to sail a boat, providing you own it.

However, if you want to charter a yacht owned by a rental company, you do need a sailing qualification, and it’s generally the RYA Day Skipper that yacht companies require. So, as long as you’re sailing a boat you own, you don’t need any yachting experience or credentials to get out on the water.

Sailing without qualifications or experience: what are the risks?

Despite the lax laws, it’s ill-advised to take a yacht – even one you own – out on the water without any sailing experience, unless you’re accompanied by someone who knows the ropes. Weather conditions can change very quickly, and even the best marine navigation tools are no good to a sailor without the knowhow to understand them.

Not only is there a chance you’ll get out of your depth and damage the boat, but you could risk injuring yourself, anyone else on board, or even those around you in the water. On top of that, if you’re sailing without a boat license in the UK, and you’ve taken out sailing yacht insurance, or yacht and boat insurance, there’s a strong possibility the policy will be void – so make sure you check the terms and conditions of your cover.

 

Yachting qualifications and required skills

If you want to graduate from landlubber to qualified sailor, there are a few different credentials you can look into, depending on where you’re going to sail.

As we mentioned, the RYA Day Skipper Practical course is the first requirement for a standard bareboat charter. This is available to take at different centres all over the country, but it has to take place over five days, cover 100 miles and include four night hours on a sailing yacht.

But before you can take the Practical, you’ll also need the RYA Day Skipper Theory to get your navigation and theory knowledge up to scratch. 

Alternatively, you can take the International Certificate of Competence (ICC), which is also offered by the Royal Yachting Association.

Functioning almost like an international boat license, the ICC enables you to provide evidence of your experience and competence when you’re sailing in another country.

That said, the ICC may not comply with the maritime legislation of the specific country you’re planning to visit, so it’s worth checking whether it’s a valid yacht license in that location before you embark on getting the qualification.

Wherever you’re planning to go, getting the right insurance policy to cover the vessel – be it a rental or a boat you own – is always a smart move. Take a look at the extensive range of cover available from Admiral Yacht and get the peace of mind you need before you set sail.

FAQs

Do I need a qualification to sail a yacht?

No, in the UK it’s completely legal to sail a boat or a yacht without a license. However, if you don’t have much yacht experience in the UK, and you’re not with someone who does – this is ill advised. Plus, you’re unlikely to be covered by your insurance policy in the event of an incident if you don’t have a boat license. 

Do I need a license to sail a yacht in the UK?

No, in the UK there’s no law that states you need a license to sail a yacht. That said, some insurance providers may not cover a yacht which is sailed by someone inexperienced or unlicensed.

How do you become a yacht captain?

Yacht captain is a highly skilled paid position, and to achieve it, you’ll likely have to start at the bottom and work your way up through several different roles on ship. You’ll also be expected to have undertaken certain training courses, and get your RYA certification.

How do you get a yacht license?

Getting a boat license in the UK usually costs somewhere between £30 and £60. But before you can get your license, you need to pass an exam set by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) which tests you on both practical and theoretical matters.