Day Skipper – taking charge

New Liferaft
16th April 2018

The five day practical course

It is perhaps a daunting prospect being in charge of a yacht and crew and people look to you to be safe and solve problems if they arise. This is what it can be like, and if you are on the practical course you will learn about thinking ahead and the problems are less likely to be a big surprise.

On the instructional week you do have the backup of the instructor who can most likely get you out of a predicament or not let you get into more of a hole than you can dig yourself out of. Yes, I have let people run aground or sail the boat with way too much sail, and these can be learning situations if they are in a safe environment. You can learn from your mistakes but the RYA would rather you did not make too many and so the day skipper course is for people putting the experience they have to good use and for them to learn the practicality of being in control.

First up, you need a bit of prior knowledge and this can be got on the shore-based course and these days a number of people do this as a distance learning package so that you can work the hours you want and complete numerous modules. This teaches you a lot, and the practical course builds on this. There is much to recommend the theory course but it is not set in stone that you have to have done this. A number do self study or have gained some teaching from a more knowledgeable person to get to an appropriate level. The RYA recommend you have 5 days at sea, a minimum of 100 miles sailed & 4 night hours before signing up for the practical course.

Next up, it is you and the crew that need to do things, and you need to give them some directional guidance. There are many ways of being in charge but it is always best to explain what you want done and maybe in the order you want things done so as to produce a picture of events. Just imagine leaving a marina; there are many things to do and you are the one that has to keep control by usefully using the crew and ropes as well as engine and steering. On the course we start with very basic manoeuvres in open water to get the hang of what happens then we take this and apply it in a more confined area where there is still easy access. We build on this so that ultimately we can make a good judgement of what will happen and how to apply controls be it fenders in the right place, or a crew giving a distance count down, or neatly getting the rope secured to counter the wind. Generally the instructor is close by to help you along and prime you if an adjustment is required. This is how we learn and become more proficient.

There is a lot more to day skipper than just mastering a marina:

  • Navigation
  • The forecast interpretation
  • Keeping the sail plan comfortable
  • A short night passage
  • Manoeuvring in anchorages

The season’s start

Writing some of this in early March we have just experienced a spell of weather that many won’t forget with a bitter wind and snow aplenty in some parts as well as the duration of it. I am a winter climber so it has made up for the previous rather lean year. The skiers will be happy as well as the abundant white stuff will make it a long season.

So what will the sailing season have in store?
Now after the Easter week of sailing it did have a wintery feel to it, and there were a number of snowy hills to see; but winds were offshore and seas were slight and the sunny times we had were very pleasant. We basically went around Mull making best use of the winds though large spring tides did have there slowing effect at Iona. We saw very few boats but more are now afloat and others getting ready.

Testimonial from Elaine

“I thought it was the best 5 days sailing training I’ve been on. I learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed it. Brian is patience personified. Very professional with vast knowledge/experience but on top of that a great teacher which is sometimes lacking in others. 
Hope to be back in the future again”.