Why do people fail their Yachtmaster & Advanced Powerboat exams?


Is one of the questions most commonly asked by organisations booking courses for their staff and by those on their first day of the preparation course run ahead of the Yachtmaster or Advanced Powerboat exam. Predictably there is never a ‘one size fits all’ answer to such a question and it will vary person to person but there are some very common themes that are easy to identify and often quite easy to address.

Below is a detailed explanation however if you don’t have the time to read the detail the key points are:

• Potential examines must get the time operating as a skipper that they need to stand a chance of passing the exam – just being a crew member with some driving time away from shore is not going to be enough.

• That if a candidate may struggle with the theory aspects (which at Yachtmaster Theory level can be pretty challenging) that more time will need to be budgeted for their training

• That candidates from companies with existing skippers that mentor candidates and actively work to develop their skills fair far better in exams – hands on time as skipper under a watchful eye is highly beneficial.

• That candidates spending the vast majority of their boating time in one location may struggle at the exam – breadth of experience is key.

Before addressing the question raised it is perhaps worth revisiting the exams themselves and clarifying what an Examiner is going to be looking for when examining those putting themselves forward.

The Yachtmaster and Advanced Powerboat exams broadly follow the same route and are structured by the Examiner to give the opportunity for a candidate to evidence his/her competence across a range of areas. Ultimately the competence and capability of the candidate at these tasks determines whether the Examiner feels that the candidate is at the right level that they can command a commercial vessel with up to 12 passengers in the area of operation that they are seeking to be assessed for.

Broadly speaking the Examiner will seek to assess competency across the following areas:

Command and control – being an effective Skipper: Does the candidate actively manage the craft, direct and delegate crew as appropriate and ensure the safety of those on board and other water users?

Boat handling: Does the candidate have the ability to helm the craft at sea and in harbour safely, can he/she effectively helm the vessel into berths relevant to the craft? Can the candidate competently deal with distress situations including man overboard?

Seamanship: Does the candidate evidence a professional approach to seamanship throughout their time on board?

Navigation & pilotage: Does the candidate demonstrate the knowledge of the whole range of navigation skills that they may need to use when operating a craft across a range of geographical areas. Can they plan and execute entries into a variety of ports and harbours?

Night operation: Do they safely and effectively manage the craft at night and can they execute entries into harbours and at the same time utilise and appropriate range of pilotage techniques.

A nice way to sum it up is can the Examiner trust the candidate with your children or grandchildren so that anywhere they go boating they will make the right boating decisions and keep those kids safe. If yes they are probably up to standard, if not then they aren’t.

With the above in mind why do candidates fail to get through their exams? As mentioned there is never one reason but there are common themes.

Lack of command and control experience: To attend any exam the candidate must have hands on experience of managing the craft and planning and executing passages and entries into ports and harbours where the buck stops with them. Often those attending an exam have gained their miles as crew or on watch and whilst may have many hours afloat this has not been in charge of the vessel in its entirety. There is no replacement for time as skipper as it is impossible for someone to overnight transition from crew to safe and effective skipper.

Solution: Obviously it’s challenging in a commercial environment as it is difficult to give them the time at the helm to gain these skills. They have to gain the experience somehow though and often doing so away from the commercial world is the best way.

Navigation & pilotage skills: Often candidates have experience limited just to their home waters so struggle with being asked to plan entries into areas they have never been and therefore to display the full range of navigation skills. At the same time they may struggle with some of the more technical elements of plotting, secondary ports

Solution: They must have experience of a variety of areas and do need to be at the level in terms of their theory. Don’t try to reduce the time they need to spend getting to grips with the theory and a 5 day Yachtmaster Theory course for someone who struggles in this area may need to be longer. Likewise asking someone to do their YM Theory course if they haven’t got Dayskipper Theory level skills is pointless –

Boat handling: As with the command and control element this is often difficult for those that lack hands on skippering time as whilst the existing skipper may let them helm and plan at sea when it gets close to berthing they tend to take over. Nothing replaces hands on time at the helm in close quarter situations. Existing skippers need to be persuaded that after aspiring skippers are taught how to do it then they need to be able to do it for themselves – repeatedly!

Solution: Companies need to ensure that in addition to the specialist training existing skippers work to develop close quarter skills in their crew.

Night navigation: Being out as crew at night is one thing, navigating a vessel into a port or harbour without just using the plotter is another.

Solution: Time at the helm doing entries at night to ports and harbours which the candidate doesn’t know.

For far more specific information about the Yachtmaster and Advanced Exams/Courses follow these links:

Yachtmaster – https://www.powerboat-training-uk.co.uk/courses/yachtmaster-offshore-prepartion-course-examination/

Advanced – https://www.powerboat-training-uk.co.uk/courses/advanced-powerboat/

Paul Glatzel RYA/MCA Yachtmaster and Advanced Powerboat Examiner