Learning Curve


Once upon a not very long time ago, you bought a boat and you sailed it, or you bought a boat and, dragged someone off the quayside and got them to sail it for you. Once upon a little bit more time ago, you were pressed-ganged onto a boat, usually inebriated, and told to raise the main gallant top sail and then “Go find yer bunk, chump”.
Not any more: Years of sweaty hands, thumping hearts, stiffening inky fingers, and aching bums on wooden seats have passed since then as exam fever and fear has set in and been passed on down to the next set of eager ensigns.

The rules effecting the superyacht industry came around about thirty years ago. All new mandatory rules, regulations and training requirements are in response to improving health and safety onboard although at times it feels more like they’re devised to drag you under rather than keep you buoyant. So where will the training end? Will it end? Has it changed much? And what does the future look like?

A former Naval Commander of Royal Navy training vessel, HMS Mentor, John Wyborn is Training Director at Bluewater Yachting. He co-founded the business back in 1991. He says, “When we started 27 years ago there wasn’t any training and since then things have changed massively.” Slowly the MCA increased the training requirements and the 1985 STCW Officer of the Watch and Master 500gt greatly extended them. More recently, the HELM (Human Element, Leadership and Management) is the greatest change. It was brought in as part of the Manila Amendments to the STCW Code (STCW 2010). “It’s a hugely popular course”, explains Wyborn, “These days, one of the most important issues is managing crew.”

Lars Lippuner, Head of Commercial Operations at Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering, part of Southampton Solent University, sees an increasing intensity and challenge in the required training for superyacht crew. The School offers over 180 maritime courses and has simulator suites and a lake for use during simulated training exercises such as slow speed ship handling.

Joey Meen, Director of Training at the PYA agrees with Lippuner and adds that the mandatory training platforms and syllabi currently available are often out of date and irrelevant, not really meeting the needs of the wide-ranging skill sets required for superyachts. This sector demands multi talented crew, so although some of the mandatory training does meet the core superyacht skills required it doesn’t really touch the sides when it comes to the hands-on job requirements.

Says Meen, “For the Interior department there have been huge changes in the last few years. With the birth of GUEST (the PYA’s Interior training and certification platform – Guidelines for Unified Excellence in Service Training), there has been a significant increase in good, relevant and fit for purpose training now available to this department.”

Seb Rouse is Director of Barcelona Watersports, based at OneOcean Port Vell Marina, Barcelona. The company was set up in 2013, to complement the UK established company Lagoon Watersports which has been providing RYA training, corporate and group events since 1994. For Rouse the most important recent development in training is the recognition that some crew on the larger superyachts don’t get the experience they need to progress their careers and can now use the route of the Coastal Yacht Master which requires less miles at sea, and gain restricted Officer of the Watch certification. The other noticeable change is the yachts themselves; they are developing as RYA centres in their own right for personal watercraft training: “This allows the crew, as RYA superyacht instructors, to deliver safety courses to guests. There’s a big increase in demand for becoming training instructors,” explains Rouse. At Aigua Sea School based in Palma and Porto Adriano, Majorca, absolute beginners can train to competent crew, or potential Yachtmaster to Certificate of Competence. For Linda Revill, Principal and Founder of the school, the greatest change she’s seen is the increased emphasis on electronic navigation to the point where the RYA invested in the development of a chart plotter to be used to support the training in their shore-based syllabus. Explains Revill, “Whilst the Yachtmaster syllabus still focuses heavily on radar, use of GPS and plotters, the introduction of AIS has made practical navigation easier and more time has been allocated within a practical examination to these elements. The importance of stability knowledge has also come under scrutiny.”

Airside, Senior Trainer Jonathan Mutch at Heli Riviera has witnessed a growing number of yachts being delivered with a helicopter capability. Heli Riviera, he says, has worked with the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency to accredit and deliver training that conforms with the highest standards of safety that the industry has grown to expect.

Everyone agrees that safety is the element of training that has had the greatest degree of focus in recent years: For Joy Weston, Founder and Director of Crew Pacific it is vital that all crew have a very strong understanding about safety, being a professional crew-member and having fun at the same time. She says, “Knowing how to balance this out on a superyacht is very important, not only to the crew but also to the guests they are serving on board.”

Safety (or the lack of it) is a bugbear for Revill at Aigua, “The use of the kill cord still seems to be a battle, and why? There are accidents each year that are heavily covered in the press, yet fatal accidents still keep happening. The training we run for the personal watercraft and powerboating courses focuses on the safety and use of kill cord, throughout the course and we are quite baffled that anyone would take such a risk.” The school has tackled the use of drones, with a recent course that explored the options for Drone Defence, an important topic Revill believes.

Mutch at Heli Riviera has recognised an increasing need to educate Masters and Crew of the limitations of small non-commercially accredited flight decks. “It can be achieved,” he says, “by closer liaison and training through design, build and trials to maximise operational capability and flight safety without compromising either the aesthetic or the expectations of the owner.”

As well as safety, a new specialist area of training that has developed in recent years is training for interior staff: a popular idea among crew, management and captains. “It’s still a work in progress,” says Wyborn, “and it will never become mandatory because it is not a safety issue, but we as an industry have professional standards and I like to think it will become mandatory because of what the industry expects.” Meen explains, “GUEST offers 17 course modules and it certainly meets the needs for on trend training in all areas within the interior department.” Lippuner agrees and adds that training for Electro-Technical Officers (ETO) is increasing too. He’s a strong believer in offering young people as many options as possible that will last their entire career and so he is a fan of the Deck Cadet Foundation Degree programme and the Chief Mate (post Foundation) Degree route: He believes crew need career paths for their whole lives and this way they have an academic credential to take landside. New courses rolled out at Warsash this year include the three-year Superyacht Cadetship programme specifically tailored to the superyacht industry. In collaboration with sponsoring organisation, The Corporation of Trinity House and Chiltern Maritime, the superyacht cadetship programme is the first of its kind to issue a UK MCA Officer of the Watch (Unlimited) Certificate of Competency (CoC). It follows the Merchant Navy three-year between deck officer foundation degree programme and consists of five phases, alternating academic studies at Warsash and time at sea to gain practical experience.

There will be a shift of emphasis towards electronics fears Revill and the skills of navigating on paper will decrease. “I fear that the emphasis will shift to the electronics and that the skills of navigating on paper charts will decrease. I often have to defend our teaching methods, by reminding everyone that when they turn on a GPS or plotter, the initial screen states that it is a secondary aid to navigation.”

At Crew Pacific where Joy Weston and her team offer training for elementary level Junior Stewardess and Junior Deckhand courses, 75% of the teaching is practical and takes place on board a superyacht which helps students learn more efficiently and effectively believes Weston. “They can see and get the feel of what it is like being a crew-member on a superyacht.” That’s something that Wyborn wants to see implemented by the yachts through to senior level: Onboard crew training. He says, “We can’t do it all in classrooms and simulators – the other side of the coin – training on board is not being done.” To help that change, MYBA and the PYA are going to introduce a digital training record book that will provide evidence that crew have completed practical exercises on board videoed, for example, and signed off. This could be anything from tying knots, fire exercises, emergency drills or bridge work.

Wyborn adds, “Simulation is going to have a much bigger input in training. The USA already use simulators at Master level certification, but, as yet there are no plans to do that here.” He adds that virtual reality will have a role in training too with manufacturers already seriously looking at the maritime industry. “I can see a lot of applications for this; on the bridge operations and their consequences, rule of the road training, on board virtual familiarisation for escape routes, fire alarms; the technology exists and the prices are dropping.”

Weston at Crew Pacific believes that an increase in the shipyard log books for new builds will raise the need for newly qualified junior crew and her company is developing an opportunity for ex superyacht crew to licence Crew Pacific’s superyacht courses throughout Australia and Oceania.

Seb Rouse at Barcelona Watersports thinks there is, and should be an increased concern for what lurks in the toy cupboard especially as the Captain’s liability increases he’ll want to make sure the toys are used safely. He says, “There isn’t really any official body that risk assesses the use of inflatable slides, powered surf boards and other personal watercraft that are so powerful nowadays and we see our main value as helping yachts to look at the toys they have and advising through our experience to make sure they offer a nice smooth safe operation, such as water ski boat towing, wake boarding. We help with tips to tweak operations to make it safer for everyone.”

With liability and litigation a constant threat to the Yacht’s Master and Operator, especially in light of a recent serious air accident on a private yacht, it is highly likely that operators of yacht based helicopter landing platforms will be obliged to have completed some form of structured and accredited training believes Mutch, “Heli Riviera has long anticipated this change and is proud to announce the development of interim, recurrent and introductory online e-Training to complement our current courses which are delivered by experienced, ex-Navy, yacht based helicopter pilots in current flying practice.”

What’s more, the increased popularity of expedition style yachts will introduce a new element to training, where bespoke hangar facilities for maintenance and storage will require additional consideration.

The training team at Heliriviera has experience operating in environments as diverse as the Gulf States and the Antarctic, all of which pose serious operational constraints on operations that can be incorporated into bespoke training for more adventurous yacht owners and their crew.

Looking to the future, Lippuner would like to see a re-think in training which has grown organically over the years with more and more courses piling up on each other: He says, “It costs £20,000-30,000 for a 3000 gt Yacht Master Certificate but there’s no academic training and it counts for nothing when you go back to work on land. I hope that changes.”

Meen too advocates a different way of learning, similar to the GUEST courses: blended learning methods that are heavy on the practical training, fieldtrips and activities, (as this is the actual environment we need to assess) with varying interactive assessment methods to meet the standards of assessment criteria within the programme.

Revill regrets a lack of enthusiasm among students that didn’t exist before, “People used to get excited about the Yachtmaster and dedicated energy and time to their studies. Now it’s seen as a necessary qualification for a deck hand role and often viewed as a ‘show up and get it’ certificate. I would like to see a greater understanding in the yachting industry of the RYA/MCA certificates of competence, and what that qualification actually means. It is a command certificate and worthy of respect.” She bemoans a reluctance to follow the recommended stages of training.

For example, she believes it is better that candidates arrive for Yachtmaster training with a knowledge of theory to at least Day Skipper. “This is largely ignored,” she says, “and I am disappointed that many candidates don’t view the importance of that preparation. The Day Skipper training is a superb pre-cursor to Yachtmaster, and, in itself, a Skipper’s licence when commercially endorsed. Better to follow the advised route and build knowledge from a solid foundation than to jump in and hope not to sink!”

John Wyborn would also like to see a bit more enthusiasm beyond what candidates need to get the next job and to see students sign up for non-mandatory courses to help with career progression.

There’s a good chance that his wish might come true; As he says, the most popular courses are the hands-on practical training such as fire-fighting, efficient deckhand or HELM. Everyone enjoys ‘hands-on’ rather than hearing it second hand in a classroom – and it seems the sea change is heading in that very direction.