University of the Sea: The Fast Track Yachtmaster Course

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10/15 years ago the Yachtmaster fast track courses started to immerge, but too much criticism. People boasted that you couldn’t teach seamanship in such a short period of time and that the courses were far too expensive. As time has changed much of the criticism has died away. Indeed I have met some incredible skippers that came through a Yachtmaster Fast Track scheme and I believe at least 2 if not more of the skippers in the 13/14 Clipper Round the World Race were recent graduates.

The course is simple in theory. You arrive on day 1 a complete novice and in 14 weeks you will be at a standard to pass the gruelling Yachtmaster exam. The reality is a lot tougher than it often appears. You will spend a minimum of 12 hours a day learning for every one of the 98 days straight. It’s physically and emotionally tough with many people struggling and inevitably quitting, but to those that do get through its sheer elation.

If you think the Yachtmaster certificate through a fast track course is guaranteed then think again. At the end of the course each candidate has to go through the most nerve racking exam I’ve ever done. It is comparable to a 24 hour maths exam with the examiner stood behind making slight inhalation every time you write anything. By strict RYA regulations these examiners don’t have any connection to the students, they are independent of the training schools. So they have no problem turning round and saying; “Sorry, a bit more practise needed.” Indeed there are stories of whole courses failing and schools with 50% pass rates.

This article is designed to offer some advice and tips on how to find the best course in the best destination for you. 

Why do a Fast Track Yachtmaster course?

The old fashioned means of getting a Yachtmaster certificate, by which we mean you go away and gain experience as part of deliveries or cruising over a period of time, can take years. The fast track course is an intensive course where you can get the certificate in just 14 weeks.

My wife is currently looking to do her Yachtmaster exam and while she has the miles and experience she is looking at signing up for the last 4 weeks of a Fast Track Course. From my own experience I found an intense 4 week period really drummed into me many key things such as passage planning and navigation. This intensity and repetition is one of the reasons why the fast track course is so popular. Come the exam many students would have gone through so many mock exams and grilling’s that the exam is just another day of the past 98.

One other thing we are struggling with is getting rid of bad habits. I drove a car as a provisional driver for over 2 years but when I went for a lesson before my exam the instructor made a very large list of bad habits I’d picked up. Through a fast track course you shouldn’t pick up any bad habits, any that you do will be quickly found out and readjusted by different instructors.


Who does the course?

Like it or not, you will most likely fall into 1 (or more) of the following categories:

School Leavers: Here many people fall into two categories her: those who are done with education and want to get out working straight away and those who are looking for an academic break and do a bit of travelling with a bit of sailing as well before university.

University Leavers: Having spent potentially 16 years in education many people look for a break before starting work after University. For those with a passion in sailing/adventure the fast track course offers the quickest and easiest method of getting qualified.

Quarter Life Crisis: It’s the new midlife crisis. You went from university to a good cushy job in a steady career. But you feel your life is running away and before you settle down to the suburban house with 2.4 children you want one last adventure, before the midlife crisis anyway.

Midlife Crisis: The mortgage has been paid off, the kids might have even fled the nest and you don’t need that stressful job you hate for full income support, so why not relax and enjoy life? Why indeed! The fast track course allows people to train quickly and get working within months of leaving work.



You don’t have to do the Yachtmaster course in the UK. There are RYA registered schools all over the world offering the Fast Track Yachtmaster course. Below are a few key destinations:


UK – Keeping it close to home we have the UK. In fact pretty much every corner of the country offers the fast track course. The Solent is where you’ll find the majority of the schools.

Pros: It’s close to home so easy travelling and the tough tidal/weather conditions can produce great skilled skippers.

Cons: In the winter it can be cold wet and miserable.


Gibraltar – For whatever reason Gibraltar has become a mecca for sailing schools. There are a number based out there so it’s rich pickings.

Pros: Warmer weather (although winter is still trousers weather), a mixture of Spain and North Africa.

Cons: It can get a tad cold in the winter months.


Canaries – The starting block for trans atlantic sailors the Canary Islands is probably the best year round sailing destination with temperatures rarely dipping below 20 degrees.

Pros: Predictable areas of strong breeze offer challenging sailing, warm year round. The flights are often cheaper than many expect.

Cons: Tide isn’t as strong as other places, however the stronger winds make it more challenging.


Thailand & Malaysia – For the real adventurers there is a sailing school in Malaysia and Thailand offering the Yachtmaster course twice a year.

Pros: Some of the most stunning scenery in the wold.

Cons: Not too big a school so does get booked up.


What to look for.

For sailing schools fast track courses mean confirmed block bookers. It means they are guaranteed to have a berth filled for 3 months so it’s no wonder pretty much every sailing school offers it.

So how do you pick the best place for you? The first thing I’d say is look for a sailing school agency such as One Stop Sailing. Agents offer impartial advice and the way they work means you don’t pay for their advice compared to if you went direct. Tell them what you want and they can help, keep it easy.

Schools will range from a one man and his boat set up to large sailing schools that almost feel like factories only doing fast track courses and not individual weeks. So which is better? Neither, they both have their good and bad sides. Some say that the instructors at the larger companies are not as good. However many of the best skippers and instructors I’ve met work for larger schools. But big schools are often less flexible. Smaller schools quite often allow you to skip courses and join at the level you’re at.


Price Range

Prices can vary from £6,500 to £8,500. It’s critical to understand that each destination offers different things in the price. Some might offer all your meals for the 14 weeks. Others might only offer breakfast and lunches. Some might offer accommodation ashore, when others won’t. So when you’re looking around check out what’s included and decide whether those extra courses are necessary for your line of future work or whether adding your food intake in will actually level the price out.


Alternatives to Fast Track course

If you are looking for an alternative to the fast track scheme then you can look at signing up for deliveries or working at a sailing school where they might put you on board for a few courses. This will be a much cheaper method, however it is also going to take you a lot longer. By the time you pass the Yachtmaster exam the fast trackers would probably have already paid back the initial investment.


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