Guy on yacht

Why Obtaining Your Captain‘s License Is Essential

How to Get Your Captain's License and Pilot Your Own Yacht

If your boat is longer than 9 metres, without a skipper’s or captain’s license, you cannot legally take it out to sea.

That kind of defeats the purpose of owning a boat, right?

Earning a captain’s license and being able to confidently pilot your own yacht will be your passport to traversing our planet’s beautiful oceans. You will have the freedom to explore the seas to your heart’s content without a care in the world.

Getting the right certification for your requirements, be it a Day Skipper, Coastal Skipper, Local Waters Skipper or Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate of Competence, will allow you and your sailing companions to get the most out of your yacht and enjoy it to the maximum.


Yacht steering


Become a yacht captain by acquiring your captain's license

If you already have significant sailing experience, you may want to go the self-study route and simply take your exams at an accredited sailing school.

If you are new to the world of sailing, you’ll want to choose a reputable sailing school. They should provide you with the necessary practical and theoretical training to confidently captain your yacht.

Here are the various Certificates of Competency (COCs) or 'Captains Licenses'


  1. Inland Waters Skipper

If you hold this license, you will be qualified to skipper a sailboat inland during day and night.


  1. Day Skipper

This skipper’s license will qualify you to captain a sailboat at sea in local waters from sunrise to sunset. Local waters are defined as 15 nautical miles, or 25 miles, from your home port, given that they are no more than 15 nautical miles from an approved safe haven.


  1. Local Waters Skipper

Holding this license, you will be qualified to skipper a sailboat at sea by day or by night in local waters, as defined for the Day Skipper’s license set out above.


  1. Coastal Skipper

A Coastal Skipper‘s license will qualify you to skipper a sailboat on any coastal passage, as long as it is within 40 nautical miles of the coast, day or night.


  1. Yachtmaster Offshore

A Yachtmaster Offshore skipper’s license will qualify you to captain a sailboat on any extended or ocean passage.


  1. Yachtmaster Ocean

A Yachtmaster Ocean certificate is a badge of honour, indicating that you have mastered celestial navigation.


Pink sunset


To sail around the world, you will need a captains license!

You will need your international accreditation through the Royal Yacht Association or International Yacht Training if you wish to skipper a yacht or superyacht as a career.

International Certificate of Competence

If you plan to sail your yacht around the world, you’ll have to obtain an International Certificate of Competence (ICC). The ICC has been likened to an international driver’s license for boats.

If you have your sights set on the waters of Europe and the Mediterranean, you will need an ICC to do so legally. However, it is essential to note that the US and Canada have different international captain license requirements and do not recognise the International Certificate of Competence.

You will have to contact a Royal Yachting Association affiliate to obtain an ICC in North America.


COCs - start your captain's license from the beginning

The various Certificates of Competence are progressive, so it makes sense to start with your Day Skipper’s license, and progress to your Yacht master Offshore captain’s license from thereon.

An important consideration to keep in mind is that the Certificate of Competence you select will very much depend on your individual needs and circumstances.

For example, the requirements for a Recreational Sailing Certificate of Competence differ from a Commercial Sailing Certificate of Competence. So, your motivation (recreational, commercial or professional international sailing) will determine which skipper training course you select.

There are also some necessary prerequisites that have to be met before any sailor can apply for skipper’s license training. They are:

  •   All candidates must be at least 16 years of age
  •   For ocean sailing, candidates need a radio operator’s certificate valid for operating a marine VHF radio in South Africa
  •   All candidates will have to pass a basic eye test. If you are colour blind, you will not be able to proceed past the Day Skipper Certificate of Competence
  •   Candidates for the Coastal Skipper Certificate of Competence and above must have a current and valid Level 1 First Aid Certificate
  •   All candidates will have to produce a logbook of experience to get their qualification. The required expertise to be logged varies depending on the certification course.

Here you will find lots of information on the various sailing Certificates of Competence (or skipper tickets, as they are also known) available to you.  

Just keep in mind that such certificates (and what they will legally qualify you for) vary from country to country.

If you are a non-SA citizen, you will have to research your country’s legal requirements for the various sailing Certificates of Competence.


Yacht captain seat


How long does it take to become a yacht captain?

This will depend on the skipper’s course you decide on. To obtain certification in basic sailing skills is quite affordable and could take as little as three weekends to complete.

Courses like the Yachtmaster Ocean Certificate of Competence are much more comprehensive, intensive and costly. This course takes about 17 weeks to complete.


Why getting your skipper’s or captain’s license will be worth every cent

Unless you have a sailing crew (including a qualified skipper) at the ready, it will be absolutely worth your while to obtain the necessary credentials to skipper your yacht yourself.

South Africa has many reputable, accredited sailing schools. They can provide you with all the information and training you need to obtain the captain’s or skipper’s license that is right for your requirements.

Undergoing the necessary practical and theoretical training will give you all the knowledge and experience to sail your boat with confidence.

What’s more, your skipper’s license training is likely to be an exhilarating adventure in itself.

 It is also an excellent way to meet other sailing enthusiasts who might just become friends for life.


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