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How to Become a Yacht Captain - Certifications & Experience

Dimitris Tsapis
January 8, 2022
Want to learn how to become a yacht captain? This article delves into all the certifications, qualifications, and experience you need to acquire.

Just like any other highly paid and highly specialized position, becoming a yacht captain is a long grind. Nothing is given to you. You have to start from the bottom and work your way up. It is a process that takes many years of sea time, education, and experience.

Assuming that you are relatively new to the industry, it’s best to start from the very beginning. In the following chapters we will go through a detailed breakdown of the certifications and qualifications you need, and show you how to become a yacht captain.

Table of contents

How to become a yacht captain - Basic education

how to become a yacht captain

Before you get your first job onboard of any yacht, there are a few courses you need to take. These are mandatory for everyone who wishes to work onboard, and are commonly known as basic training for seaman:

  • STCW 2010 Basic Safety Training (BST) - This training consists of first-aid practices, response to emergencies, personal safety, social responsibility, and best practices for sea survival. The duration of this course is 5 days and pricing starts at $1012.
  • Efficient Deck Hand (EDH) course) - This course teaches basic seamanship, rope and wirework, painting and maintenance routines, as well as other safe working practices aboard. Much like the BST, this course is 5 days long and pricing starts at $964).

RYA certification

At this point, what you want to do is get your Royal Yachting Association (RYA) certificate. The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is a recognized organization that issues your Powerboat Handling Level 2 (basic course),  Yachtmaster™ Offshore, and Yachtmaster™ Ocean.

Note that the costs associated with the RYA certificate can vary, as you need to find an associated training center, purchase all the necessary materials, and abide by all the entry requirements. So you might need to do some research at this point.

Creating your resume

Once you successfully complete the courses mentioned above, you will need to put your CV together. There are many templates you can use for this purpose. You can start by using this one.

Once your CV is created, you will need to seek out the best yacht crew agencies and start applying to all of them. This page gives a good overview of the most popular options. 

Keep in mind that there are many options when it comes to resume templates and yacht crew agencies. It might be a good idea to use Google to find more options.

Get to a yachting capital

how to become a yacht captain

To increase your odds of getting a job onboard, you will now need to get to one of the yachting capitals. This is, by far, one of the best tips for ambitious young sailors that want to know how to become a yacht captain.

Don’t get fooled by those who tell you of their single best yachting capital of the world. Depending on your current location and budget, you will have several options. Check this article to start your research. 

“Earning” your first job

As soon as you arrive at your yachting capital of preference, you will need to get a job. Similar to any other industry, this usually happens by actively seeking out open positions. For yachting work, this is done through “dock walking”, a term that refers to the process of going from boat to boat, searching for opportunities.

What you want to do here is be pleasant, hand out your CV, grow your network, and offering any kind of service. There might be owners that need help with buffing, sanding, polishing, scrubbing decks… you name it! Take any job that you can because each hour you spend onboard improves your resume.

After a while, you will hopefully manage to get a job aboard a (super)yacht. This is where you want to be. It is important to manage your expectations and prepare to work very hard. Your first job will not be glamorous and it will certainly not be a “working holiday”. You will be living in a cramped scape, away from home, doing chores most hours of the day.

Don’t let the day-to-day tasks discourage you. Everything you do at this point helps you build character and shows that your position is “earned”. You will have many opportunities to gain experience, overdeliver, and start climbing the ladder.

Gain experience & continue your education

As you become more experienced and collect enough hours onboard, you will qualify for a few more courses, which are issued by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

  • Officer Of the Watch (OOW) - This course allows you to become an officer on board a vessel up to 3000gt. In order to apply for this course, you will need to meet several requirements, including >250 days onboard, holding an RYA certificate for at least 36 months, and having completed an MCA training record book. The latest is a list of tasks that you need to complete while serving onboard a vessel that exceeds 15 meters in length. Anything smaller is not qualified as valid experience according to the MCA. The modules of OOW include:

Each of the modules, once completed, requires a written exam. This means that you need to find a partner organization where you can go and write the exam. If you pass, the certificate will be sent to your location (including a digital copy that you can add to your resume).

You need to pass all of the modules in order for the MCA to issue your certificate of competence (COC). And as soon as all that is done, you are officially qualified to perform your oral exam for the OOW. Here is a video that shows you the steps you need to follow:

The exam itself consists of a discussion with a qualified instructor, where you go through all the modules through a series of questions. Upon passing the exam, and given that you hold all the aforementioned certificates, you will receive the MCA Yachts OOW certificate and are officially qualified to be a deck officer.

Climbing the ranks

Keep in mind that the certificate itself doesn’t automatically guarantee you a promotion. You might move slightly up the ranks (lead deckhand) but you will still need to gain more experience in the form of additional sea time.

More specifically, you can continue with higher-level education once you gain even more experience on board.

The course you want to do is known as MCA Master 500 yachts. You can do this once your certificate of competence has been issued for OOW and 12 months have passed. You will also need to have an additional 120 days of verified sea service.

The course consists of several master modules, which include:

The course also includes some ancillary course modules, as well as the requirements you need to abide by in further detail. Similar to the OOW, you will need to pass a written certificate for each of the modules, in order to proceed to an oral exam to receive your Master 500 certificate of competence (COC).

Becoming a yacht captain

You now have all the necessary qualifications - there are no more modules. However, you still need to perform an additional 12 months of sea time, and 120 days of sea service.

The final step is getting your MCA Master 3000 certification, a process that consists of an oral exam only. You can find more information about the requirements and components here. The oral prep course for this exam is highly recommended, takes 5 days, and costs between $890 and $1160, depending on the number of students that choose to participate.

Responsibilities of a yacht captain

Those who have little to no experience tend to think that a captain’s only responsibility is to command the ship. The truth is much “broader”. A yacht captain’s responsibilities are divided into three areas:

  • To ensure the safety of life of everyone onboard
  • To ensure the safety of the vessel (paperwork, unforeseen circumstances, etc.)
  • To ensure the safety of the marine environment

This may sound rather simple, but remember that there are many subcategories that fall under these responsibilities:

  • Ensuring the crew is well-trained, rested, and qualified to do their job, all while remaining safe. This requires strong (cross-cultural) people skills and is probably the hardest part of the job.
  • Make sure that all your personal certificates, as well as the vessel documentation, is in order.
  • Staying up to date with yacht inspection, maintenance, and logging all the necessary information. You can completely automate this responsibility by using our software, PlanM8.
  • Make sure that the vessel is compliant with the International Safety Management code
  • Navigation of the vessel
  • Make sure the yacht owner (or guests) are satisfied.

Yacht captain salary

The salary of a yacht captain depends on several factors, including the years of experience, the size of the vessel, and the duration of the contract. Generally speaking, the low end of the salary is approximately $5000 per month and the high end exceeds $18.000 per month. For more information, check this resource.

Final notes on how to become a yacht captain

After reading all of the above you should have a better idea of how to become a yacht captain. There are many courses you need to complete and lots of personal sacrifice in the form of sea time. This is why only the most passionate ones - those willing to go the extra mile - will manage to get a hold of the helm.

Remember that in between each of your certifications it is important to get as much sea time as possible, doing everything in your power to learn from the master on board. Much like any traineeship, your primary concern should involve gaining lots of experience. 

The discipline and character you build along your former years will help you understand the importance of continuous education. You will naturally want to familiarize yourself with the latest industry practices and improving your abilities.