One of the key announcements at the recent RYA Yachtmaster Instructors’ Conference was that, from 2017, there will be a single RYA Day Skipper Practical certificate. The distinction between Tidal and Non-Tidal Practical courses will end.
This brings the RYA in line with other international sailing schemes who do not differentiate between the certificates obtained when you learn to sail in different areas of the world.
What exactly are tides?
Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon on the earth’s surface. The water in the oceans is pulled in a certain direction for a number of hours, after which it is pulled in a different direction. This makes the sea deeper (at high tide) or shallower (at low tide) as the water piles up or is pulled away. Here’s a photo showing what happens in some tidal areas at low tide. Yachts in these areas often have special keels to allow them to stand.
As well as affecting the height of the tide, the gravitational pull causes the water to flow so that boats get moved in a different direction to that in which they are pointing. Think of how you would steer a boat to cross a fast flowing river to get an idea of what is involved in planning a tidal passage. If you simply point to the other shore the river would carry you downstream to a different place, so you have to aim higher up the river in order to reach your correct destination.
Other techniques are available to help you plan your passage so you steer in the correct direction, taking account of tides.
Why are there ‘tidal’ and ‘non-tidal’ areas?
The amount of tide in different parts of the world varies enormously, depending on geography and geology among other things. Even within one country it can be greater or less in different places. Most of the world has tides and so is regarded as a ‘tidal‘ sailing area.
The biggest tides in the world are in parts of Canada and the UK where there can be a difference of up to 12m in the height of the water at high and low tides. The tidal stream (how fast the water is floiwing) can be many knots.
I often tell students of our first boat, which was 32ft and could do a maximum of 7 knots (7 nautical miles per hour) flat out under sail or engine. We sailed on the west coast of Scotland, where you can experience tides of 7 knots. If you didn’t plan correctly you’d find yourself staying still or even going backwards!
In the Mediterranean and Baltic, the tidal effect is extremely small and so these are considered to be ‘non-tidal’ areas.
Sailing in tides involves much more planning than sailing in non-tidal water, as you have two natural forces to deal with – tide and wind. Because of this, the RYA has traditionally offered two separate certificates, depending on where the RYA Training Centre is located.
The problem is that it isn’t quite as simple as that. Some places, although they are tidal, only have weak tides. For example, there are tides in the Canary Islands and they are considered a tidal area. However navigation is hardly affected by them. Other non-tidal areas, such as Venice, can have tides as strong as those in weakly tidal areas. It’s always been a matter of dispute as to whether having a slightly different syllabus and issuing a different certificate if you are in a non-tidal area is really justified.
The RYA has now decided that it isn’t. From next year, all Day Skipper Practical candidates will follow the same syllabus and will be issued with the same certificate.
This change brings both good news and bad news for you as a student. And it presents both opportunities and challenges for schools like ours in non-tidal areas..
The Good News
The biggest benefit for you as a student is that you’ll no longer have to take a course in northern Europe or on the Atlantic coast in order to be able to sail in an area with tides in future. RYA Day Skipper certificates will be the same everywhere. So you can learn in Greece and get the same certificate as anywhere else in the world.
Of course, it’s still important to realise that it’s much more difficult to sail in an area with strong tides. It would be foolish to think learning to sail in a non-tidal area gives you sufficient knowledge and skill to sail everywhere in the world straight away. Charter companies in very tidal areas may want to see evidence in your log book that you have sailed in a similar area before.
But it does mean you aren’t restricted just to non-tidal areas. Many sailing areas, such as the Caribbean or Canaries, have weak tides and the new syllabus will give you a valid certificate to charter in those areas. Start your tidal sailing somewhere where the tides aren’t too strong and progress from there. I’ll write a blog post later in the year comparing the tides in various places.
The Bad News
This is really only bad news for those who never intend to sail anywhere but the Med or Baltic. As you don’t need to know about tides to sail here, it’s been possible to pass a Day Skipper Non-Tidal course without having to learn a lot of tidal theory.
The RYA scheme splits the courses into practical and shorebased. Before taking a practical course at Day Skipper level or higher, you must first have completed an appropriate shorebased course to give you the theory you will need.
The RYA Day Skipper Shorebased course is the standard preparation for taking an RYA Day Skipper Tidal Practical course. It’s a 40-hour course that can be taken online if you have the necessary dedication and discipline. Most often it is taken over 4 or 5 days in a classroom.
Up to now, students coming on a Non-Tidal course have been able to obtain sufficient theory by taking the shorter RYA Essential Navigation & Seamanship course either online or over a weekend, plus some additional material we provide.
From 2017 all Day Skipper candidates will have to demonstrate a good level of tidal theory, even if they don’t ever intend to sail in tidal waters. All students must have theory up to Day Skipper Shorebased standard, which unfortunately means more time spent in a classroom rather than at sea.
Although generally I think it’s a good idea to end this differentiation, it will mean that you have to learn a lot more theory.
How will this change affect courses in 2017?
I’ve mentioned already that you’ll have to prove your tidal theory is adequate. If you have an RYA Day Skipper Shorebased certificate, that’s all you’ll need. Over the next few months we’ll decide how to test the knowledge of students who don’t have this. We may have an online test or we may want you to take a short test when you arrive.
We hope to still offer a combined theory + practical Day Skipper. This may be over a longer period or we may perhaps be able to keep the length the same but require students to have done some studying before they came to us. I’ll let you know later in the year what we decide to do.
Schools must also give students practice manoeuvring the yacht in moving water, to simulate the skills needed when boat-handling in a tidal stream.
Although we don’t have tides, we do have currents. Our instructors will identify places that have a reasonably strong current and arrange to carry out exercises there. The Poros Channel comes immediately to my mind. There can often be up to a knot of current flowing through there, making mooring more tricky.
Only want Non-Tidal? Take it in 2016!!
If you have no intention of sailing in tidal waters in the near future, why not take your Day Skipper course this year and avoid having to learn more theory?
We currently offer two popular packages for beginner skippers. Our 7-day package is for those who have completed an RYA Competent Crew course or similar. Our 12-day package includes RYA Competent Crew, RYA Essential Navigation & Seamanship (ENS), and RYA Day Skipper Practical. It’s suitable for those with a little sailing experience but no formal training. You can check the availability of these courses for this year on our website. Click here to go to the appropriate page.
These will no longer contain enough theory to satisfy the new syllabus. The RYA is working on some online modules of the full Day Skipper Shorebased course and I’m hoping we may be able to devise a package that includes these so that it’s still possible to get a certificate without having to spend too much time in a classroom.
If you only intend to sail in non-tidal waters and don’t want to have to learn a lot of tidal theory, this may be the last year you can do it, so book up for one of our combined packages now! Here’s a link to our Availability page again. Remember you can do any of these as a private course on your own yacht with your own instructor if you don’t want to join a group course.
(We may be able to run courses on other dates if there is sufficient demand or if you book private tuition)
What if I already have a Non-Tidal certificate?
If your Day Skipper certificate is non-tidal, we won’t be able to re-issue it as one of the new certificates as you won’t have had suitable training. But we may well be able to offer you an upgrade to a new certificate with some additional tuition, perhaps over the first days of a charter.
I’ll discuss the opportunities for this with the RYA. As soon as I have more information, our office will contact everyone who has taken a non-tidal certificate with us in recent years to let them know if there’s an opportunity to gain an update in the warm waters of Greece.
We’ll also be running at least one trip to an area with stronger tides next year if you want to gain real tidal experience.
Does the change affect the requirements for Yachtmaster examination mileage?
Those who want to take a Yachtmater exam must have sailed for at least 50% of the required mileage in tidal waters. A Yachtmaster should be able to deal with both tidal streams and heights anywhere in the world.
This change does not affect the requirement for you to have sailed a minimum number of miles in tidal waters if you want to take the YM exam..
I’m not sure how the changes will impact on the Coastal Skipper Practical course but I’ll report on that once it is clear.
If you have any questions about this change feel free to get in touch with me – please email me with your questions or concerns.