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Do I need a boating license to start sailing?

November 3, 2020

James Turin

Editor @ SailEasy

Start with the kind of sailing you would like to do

Do you want to do racing, daysailing, coastal Cruising, or long-term passage-making and live aboard? By far the most popular choices are day sailing and coastal cruising. Coastal cruising takes place on a sailing or motor yacht that is suitable for long-distance travel. These boats offers enough amenities to live aboard the boat, yet are small enough to not require a professional crew. This kind of sailing requires knowledge about boat handling, navigation and some technical knowledge about the boat itself. Day sailing is very similar but does not require being able to sleep on the boat or do complicated navigation. Hence, this can be done on smaller and simpler boats.

start of a regatta sailing match with a lot of small sails from above

Sailing races can be a a lot of fun

Most racing takes place on yachts that are built for racing and are typically very fast but also very spartan. While racing does typically not formally require any course work, it does require very in-depth knowledge of boat handling and sailing trim to be able to be successful!

In which cases do you need a boating license?

First, there is the regulation side of this question: Whilst offshore sailing regulations do not require a licence, to sail on any inland waterways in the UK, such as the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, you’ll need one. To get a boat licence, you a boat safety scheme certificate (BSSC) and boat insurance 

Second, charter companies might require a boating license or other proof of training. Most UK charter companies will require a RYA Day Skipper qualification as a starting point, and depending on the kind of voyages you plan on doing, it can be advisable to also get the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate. Internationally, to rent a boat in most countries you’ll need a recognized boat license. Most often an ‘international certificate of competency’ (ICC) and sometimes a Radio Licence. These former two types of certifications prove the holder has undergone formal training and has all the necessary boating skills to manage a vessel in international waters.

If you have a RYA licence or other license from your home country, you can usually fill out an ICC application and send it in with proof of your current licence to receive an ICC certificate. Often, international charter companies also accept RYA qualifications. The best way to determine what kind of licence you will need — depending on destination and boat type — is to ask the charter company you book with

What’s the best way to get a boating license or certification?

As most people start off with chartering a boat vs owning one we’ll focus on that category here. The RYA system gives a good overview of what the prerequisites are for their different qualifications. As most charter companies require at minimum an RYA day skipper qualification, this means you’ll have to complete that course if you have enough experience. Else, do the pre-requisite courses ‘Start Yachting’, ‘Competent Crew’ and theoretical courses ‘Essential Navigation and Seamanship’ and ‘Day Skipper’.

If you have previous experience you might be able to skip one or more steps. Once you know which course you should enroll in, find the right location and school on SailEasy! If you have any questions, our team is here to help!