The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Certificate of Competency


Due to pressure building on all sides (Canada, Norway, etc.), I finally caved, took a Boating Safety Course, passed the exam, and am now the proud bearer of a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (Canada).

It isn’t that I think a boating safety course is a bad idea, it’s just that our peripatetic lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to a classroom situation. And—okay I’ll admit it—I just never got around to it.

However, it is now required in Canada that anyone operating a motorized vessel of 10HP or more must have an operator card, with noncompliance subject to a hefty fine. And Norway is also on the bandwagon with certificate of competency requirements (see the Norwegian Cruising Guide for more). Added to that, Transport Canada has now licenced several sites (Boaterexam is the one I used) to offer the course and exam online (Boaterexam also has a US site). So I couldn’t put it off any longer.

And, I have to admit, the online course and exam worked brilliantly. I paid my $45.00Cdn, I set up a profile, and then I could come and go as I wished. In the course I took there were 5 modules, each with numerous sections. Each section had a minimum amount of study time required (there was a countdown) and I had to put in at least 3 hours of online studying in total. There were quizzes at the end of each module.

When I completed all 5 modules and passed all the quizzes, I got scooted over to Transport Canada where I completed the 50 question multiple choice exam, which was open book. Once I completed that, I was scooted back to Boaterexam where I printed out a temporary card while I wait for my permanent card. And the card is good for life. Yeah!

What do I think of the course content? Well, that is a slightly different story! I do recognize that Transport Canada is offering this course for every kind of boat from a 6 m sailboat to a 24m long motorboat, from those sailing on lakes to those of us who sail offshore, so that means a lot of the information isn’t relevant to what we do. And, of course, typical for a bureaucracy, the amount of time spent on the equipment required far outweighed the amount of time spent on rules of the road, navigation lights, and basic seamanship concepts. But, after seeing some of the incredibly stupid things people do on the water (Chesapeake Bay comes to mind where we were repeatedly almost T-boned by turbo-charged, fishing-crazed, motorboaters with no concept of the rules of the road), I’m all for this kind of basic training.

And, since most jurisdictions with such requirements will accept the certification required by the mariner’s home country, I should now be good to go wherever we may roam. So lookout you Chesapeake Bay yahoos—next time you try racing across our bow when approaching from the port side, I’ll wave my Pleasure Craft Operator Card at you!

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Neil McCubbin

I did a Phyllis did, for the same reasons
While any learning is better than nothing, I felt the course is ridiculoously easy. I spent most of my time attending t my email during teh enforced waiting periods.

Matt Marsh

I was among the first to take the PCOC exam back when they first started doing this around 2000. (They made it mandatory for those of us who were young at the time, long before it became a for-everyone thing.) The online thing wasn’t an option then; we had to do it as classroom sessions through the Power & Sail Squadron.

I would suggest that while passing the exam does not necessarily mean someone is fully competent to operate any particular boat, failing it definitely means that some serious study and training is called for.

It’s a relatively cheap and easy way to flag the people who really are not ready to take command of a boat. (For all practical purposes, these are the same people who leave the lifejackets in the bilge and do the “beer bob dance” when a police boat comes into view… they are obvious and easy to catch, and the competency certificate serves as a way for the police to force them to smarten up and think before they get stuck out on the lake again.)

Marc Dacey

I’ve got you beat, Matt: My PCOC has a date of December 1, 1999. I, too, took it through the mulgi-week Boating Course here in Toronto through the CPS, and I have to say that method was far more intensive and, arguably, comprehensive than what Phyllis just completed.

Of course, it’s not the Phyllises of the waters that concern me overmuch.

The PCOC is the definition of “better than nothing” in that it does give basic instruction and very basic principles of boat operation, safety, pilotage and so on.

But to pretend that it isn’t today a watered-down to near-homeopathic version of what you and I took would be a mistake. I consider the “boat show exams” about sufficient to hand someone a line with little expectation after that.

I would support a more comprehensive course of study and testing, such as is found in the ICC or the dayskipper/coastal levels of RYA certs.

John Harries

Hi Marc,

No question the RYA certificates are the gold standard and, in my opinion, a lot of the reason why the standard of seamanship of recreational mariners is so much higher in the UK than it is in North America.

Colin Speedie

Hi John

The RYA courses are excellent, particularly the Day Skipper practical, which is really good.

But there are weaknesses, not least at Yachtmaster level (minimium 2500 miles) where, with the addition of a couple of additional courses (e.g. First Aid at sea) the newly minted Yachmaster can become Commercially endorsed and start teaching others. I don’t think I’m by any means alone in thinking that this particular level is set way too low – at 2500 miles you know just enough to get yourself into trouble and not enough to get yourself out – I think 10000 miles would be a far more realistic level.

Best wishes


John Harries

Hi Colin,

That’s a really good point. As you say, I would think that 10,000 miles should be about right.

Marc Dacey

Interesting point, Colin. I had forgotten that the Yachtmaster level allowed one to be a teacher. I suppose if that meant “to be a teacher of people going for the minimal PCOC level”, I would find that acceptable, but I concur that the equivalent of 2,500 sea NMs (perhaps a one-way Atlantic crossing?) would not necessarily prepare you for even a bad day Channel crossing or even going across the Northumberland Strait.

I have a friend doing RYA courses currently and he reports that the quality of the instruction is highly variable, to the point where he felt compelled to complain to “head office”, without much result, alas. It strikes me that this is an area in which quality control is literally life-or-death, so I hope RYA restores rigour to their selection of those certified to teach others.

Colin Speedie

Hi Marc

Yes, there has always been a degree of variability in the quality of the instructors, but that’s not entirely the fault of the RYA. In fairness to them, they do try and weed out the worst.

It’s more to do with competition – there are too many training organisations chasing too few trainees – a quick check just now revealed that it’s still possible to sign up for a week long RYA practical course for less that £450.00 per person with a maximum of 4 trainees, which is plain ridiculous.

As a result of this, those of us who were of more ‘mature’ years always got shunted off into the graveyard slots in the off season, whilst as soon as the universities were on holiday, the youngsters who would/could work for half of what we got took over – and you don’t even want to ask what we got paid…….

The result was that the trainees missed out on the lifetime of experience and errors that the older instructors knew of first hand, and which were the subliminal strength of this type of regime – you didn’t just get the course, you got far much more.

And the trainees had someone half their age with probably no more real experience than they had themselves shouting at them – and hands up who thinks that’s the way they would like to learn!

I’d advise anyone who wants to take an RYA practical course to check carefully on the age and experience of the instructors. There are some fantastic schools with really experienced skippers – and there will always be others.

Best wishes


Marc Dacey

That is excellent advice, Colin. Although I am not convinced it’s an absolute (for instance, I suspect I could learn a great deal of seamanship from the various teenagers who’ve done solo circs in recent years), as a general rule of thumb, I also believe that a live older sailor is going to be a better teacher of RYA material than some moonlighting college-aged dinghy sailor.

But it is an unlikely question a potential RYA course candidate is going to ask. Maybe if more of them did, the RYA would get the hint.

Of course, my problem is a late start: half the great sailors I know are dead of old age!

Dave DeWolfe

Hello Colin,
I’m a RYA Yachtmaster Instructor and Examiner and operate a RYA Training Centre in Nova Scotia. We prep and examine a lot of sailors for the Yachtmaster Offshore certificate. The average mileage of these sailors is 10,000 or more and most have been sailing. We get very few with the minimum 2500. What is important is what kind of mileage they possess. I’ve passed sailors with 3000 and failed one who had almost 20,000. There’s quite a difference between 10 years of experience and 1 year of experience 10 times.

A newly minted Yachtmaster Offshore CANNOT teach. To teach, they must get more mileage and take the Cruising Instructor course to be able to teach up to Day Skipper. To be able to teach at the Yachtmaster level requires more seatime, teaching time and another training course to become a Yachtmaster Instructor.

John Harries

Hi Matt,

I think that’s a really good way to look at it. While some parts of the course that Phyllis took was just down right silly—did she really need to memorize how many fire buckets are required?—the process does act as at least some sort of a filter.


I took my first USCG Auxililary course in 1981 (I am holding the card in front of me). In 2010 I took a US Power Squadron course with my wife (she beat my score because she studied the PWC part, that I didn’t care two hoots about). We did this because if you stop in New Hampshire, you’d better have something on you saying you took a course. It makes sense, I guess, to require some knowledge, but the sad part is, those that need it will not take it until required by law.


I chartered a 39 foot sailboat in Vancouver, BC three years ago. When signing in for the boat I asked them if they wanted to see my PCOC. I was told that you don’t need one if you are chartering. How does that make any sense?

Douglas Pohl

Right on point John. People ask me why I enjoy deep water navigation. My answer is simple – Because ships know and follow the rules of the road and I can communicate with them to exchange informations.
While navigating the 5,000 mile Great Loop in 2009 which is nearly all inland or near shore-waters, I counted more than 15 times when yachts crossed and/or passing created a dangerous situation – most failed to call/answer on a VHF radio. OMG, get me out of here… you are putting your yacht and crew at risk with these idiots… I WISH THE COAST GUARD WOULD MAKE MORE BOARDINGS AND ENFORCE THE LAWS. BUT MY BIGGEST PET PEEVE – A BOATING GROUP UNDERWAY AND NO ONE – ESPECIALLY THE CHILDREN – ARE NOT WEARING A PFD. I WOULD LIKE TO SEE ALL ADULTS PENALIZED WITH FORFEITURE OF BEING ON A BOAT FOR ONE YEAR AND IF FURTHER VIOLATIONS MANDATORY JAIL TIME.



Knowledge always makes you a better sailor. But I have to stress the importance that it is the flag of the boat that should be the deciding factor what certificates you need. It would get redicoulus if we have to comply to the rules in all the countries we visit. At the moment crusing in Portugal were the Maritime Police are trying to impose their safety standard to visiting yachts.

John Harries

Hi Roland,

I’m afraid that is the way of the world. Although our boat is Bermuda registered (where I am from) and fully complies with Bermuda regulations and ORC class 1, we still have to carry the silly kapok US Coast Guard approved life jackets while cruising in US waters because our Spinlocks, despite meeting every European and International standard, are not US Coast Guard approved.


That is how silly the world will look, if we quietly accept stupid bureaucracy that have no common sense.

Italy had a suggestion to collect tax on Italian and visiting foreign boats last fall. After some protest they decided not to include foreign boats.

Marc Dacey

It’s been some time since I’ve seen the word “kapok”, John. On the upside, kapok vests make a nice shock absorber for the Walker Log when secured with the Spanish Windlass.

For the record, I own a Walker Log, but the Kapok vest went in the bin years ago.

Daria Blackwell

Good going, Phyllis. I did my boating safety course when it was first delivered online many years ago. Then because we were heading out on a world cruise and insurers were requiring licensed captains onboard for ocean crossings, I studied and got my USCG OUPV captain’s license and my husband opted for the Master’s license with sailing and towing endorsements. We’re very glad we took the time to do this. It’s just too bad that there is no world equivalence rating for licenses, with the exception of Master Mariner, which a commercial license recognized by all leading authorities.


Your experience on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay suggests the limited effectiveness of requiring a boating safety course. From the MD Dept. of Natural Resources website: “All persons born on or after July 1, 1972, must have in their possession a certificate of boating safety education to operate a numbered or documented vessel (including personal watercraft) legally on Maryland’s public waters. The certificate is valid for the lifetime of the person to whom it is issued.”

Ed Kelly

Sue and I are on ANGEL LOUISE, a 12 Meter Catalack Catamaran now doing a circle around Europe… well at least the Roman Empire part (Rhein, Main, and Danube and Black Sea for north half, and Med for the south half). We were warned that despite our USCG issued Merchant Marine licenses (and stupid TWIC cards that must be current for them to be valid), Europe would not take anything less than a RYA issued ICC (Intl Certificate of Competency) to operate on EU rivers or canals, or near shore (separate certificates). We opted to pay the $500 each for the certificates. Only two officials in our EU trip ever asked for the credential… and they would not accept our Coast Guard issued licenses. Maddening. We felt abused – after sailing for five years from one end of the Caribbean to the other, and 38 days at sea crossing the North Atlantic, only to have to prove we knew how to tack and the technical rules of the road. I think that licensing is a pricey “feel good approach” to raise money, with limited benefits. Common sense is not able to be tested — as the old saying goes, “The superior sailor is one who uses his superior judgment to avoid using his superior skills.”

John Harries

Hi Ed,

Good point that common sense and experience trump all licences.

Eric Klem

Phyllis, good for you for doing the right thing and getting this done. Does this now mean that John can’t take the boat out without you? Clever.

It does bother me that you don’t like the course content very much. I have had to take 2 different safe boater classes in the states and both of them seemed to miss the whole point of what really keeps us safe in my opinion. Even a captain’s license from the uscg doesn’t mean much in my opinion. When I took my test, the proctor didn’t want me to hand in the navigation section which consists of 20 plotting questions after half an hour. I explained that I had done each question twice and that I thought there should be a time limit of 20 minutes instead of 4 hours on the section as if it takes you longer than a minute to do any of those problems, then your plot is too out of date to be useful.

I wish that I could come up with a more productive way for these courses to work but I really don’t have any great ideas despite my complaining. It seems like they should start by handing out a simple pamphlet that explains the required equipment on every boat which does not need to be memorized then move on to things like rules of the road which do need to be memorized and should be tested. Maybe I am just bitter that I waited in line for 2 hours this morning to pick up my renewed TWIC card which I have never even had scanned because no one besides the card office owns a scanner to read one. At least it sounds like your process wasn’t too painful even if the content was not very good.


John Harries

Hi Eric,

Good point about the content of these exams including the USCG lower tonnage licences.

I really think the only way we will see a real increase in the quality of recreational seamanship in North America is to go with the British model where the final exam is practical on the water and I gather that the examiners take fiendish delight in rushing you and throwing a bunch of questions at you at a critical moment to see if you can handle the pressure in a real situation.

Oh, and I think I can take the boat out without Phyllis since I have an ancient Bermudian head-boat skippers licence that the examiner himself (a Master Mariner) termed, quite rightly and with a curl of his lip, “mud pilot’s licence”.

Eric Klem

mud pilot’s license, I like that.

And I agree that a practical exam is by far the best. Implementing one that is cost effective and fair can be very tricky. Around here, the only practical commercial certificate that I can think of is an AB unless you get into the bigger licenses and endorsements like radar. I guess that STCW is practical but that is kind of after the fact and not directly related to the operations of a ship.

My insurance company who in theory should have a decent idea of what makes boating safer does not lower my premiums at all for my master’s license but would lower them if I had passed some of the ASA courses, even the beginning ones.


Colin Speedie

Hi John

Again, a comment on the UK regime. In the early days of the move to Commercial endorsement in the UK, there were two ways of obtaining your Yachtmaster ticket. The first was what was termed ‘grandfathers rights’, where if you could prove you were already skippering boats up to 24m long commercially you were given the qualification (!) The second was to take the exam by choice, which is what I did and which proved to be far harder than I’d anticipated (no complaint). And one of the main reasons it was hard was that many of the examiners were ex military, and of a Machiavellian frame of mind. They’d throw the spanner in your works constantly, and it made the exam a real challenge.

However, many people felt this unfair (as if life doesn’t do this to you!) and so, over time, this aspect of the exam was watered down, then just about disappeared. I had the opportunity to see this happen as I was involved in teaching RYA courses for a long period.

Not that the current regime is unfit, or the examiners any less capable. Just that the capricious yet effective methods of old are no longer really applicable.

Best wishes



As the Chesapeake Bay are our home waters, sailing out of Baltimore, I wholeheartedly agree about the turbo-charged crowd. I have tried many times waving my 50 ton masters license at them but they were not impressed enough to deviate course. I think that education is key, maybe they should make it much like a drivers license for automobiles. You have to have one to operate a pleasure vessel? Do not get me wrong, I am not for more government control but we need more enforcement on the water. I do not know what the answer is but I agree that something needs to be done to make the waters safer for all of us.

Colin Speedie

Hi Milton

Good points, and I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment.

In the UK the RYA run a range of excellent courses for all abilities and interest, and the uptake is good. The RYA belief is ‘education not legislation’, and by and large it seems to work pretty well. Given that our waters are pretty busy, and we all have to co-exist out there, the low level of accidents seems to bear that out.

And I’d have to say, some of the most egregious examples of sheer lack of knowledge of the basic rules have involved people of advanced years with expensive yachts – who would never admit that they needed to stoop to being ‘trained’. Many of the ‘new to boating’ crowd are far less self-satisfied.

But try visiting some other nations with a less well-developed training infrastructure and you’ll get a shock Rules of the Road? What are they? Anchor light? What for? etc, etc. These are places where there is a desperate need for training, but I’d doubt they will get it in the near future.

And while I’d defend the RYA’s position with my head, my heart sometimes misses a beat when yet another idiot cuts me up, all the while oblivious to their dangerous ignorance. But would legislation make a difference – I very much doubt it.

Best wishes


Richard William Lord

I’m not sure if any country is really looking at it as “wanting us to be better / safer boaters” (also read: automobile drivers, bicycle riders, sidewalk walkers, etc.), as much as they are looking at it as “another form of income and control” for their governments..

Paul C.

This is a great site and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of its contributors and commenters. I wish I could contribute even a fraction of what’s here. I grew up in the Newport, RI area sailing & racing primarily dinghies (lasers, 410’s, 420’s, etc.). I’m now landlocked in Arizona but from time to time fly over to San Diego and solo a 27′ for a couple days although I haven’t done it in a few years. The plan is to own my own 40′ +/- within the next 5 years and be prepping for world travel. To prep and help with the boat selection process, I’m contemplating crewing on deliveries (preferably in Europe as there seems to be a much wider selection of boats I find appealing….Boreal being near the top due to aluminum construction and a lifting keel among other reasons). I figure the crew time would also accrue towards any hours required for licensing.

From an insurance, regulatory (foreign countries considered) and (gaining) sound practical experience standpoint, what would some of you recommend as the best courses certifications to take? I don’t have any ASA certs but used to teach sailing to kids.

Thanks again to all who make this a FANTASTIC CLASSROOM AND ESCAPE from the 110 degree desert! (…and it’s not even summer yet!)

ps – not sure if you’re aware…it seems there’s no scroll bar when trying to comment via an android phone.

Colin Speedie

Hi Paul

As I mentioned above the RYA Day Skipper course is excellent, and you can find RYA centres outside the UK these days, although I’d recommend the UK as (a) it’s often windy, (b) strongly tidal in places and (c) beautiful in places, too. The theory part is basically navigation, lights etc and as long as you read up what you need to know in advance you should be OK. There are plenty of centres but Cornish Cruising ( have always impressed me.

Deliveries can be heaven or hell. If you want to get some real ocean miles with top skippers and crews, then I’d recommend PYD ( who actively train their crews, with one eye on their future use to them.

Others may have better ideas, but these are good places to start your search.

Best wishes


Paul C.

Thanks Colin! On your recommendation I’ve reached out to PYD and Cornish Cruising. I also found an RYA affiliated training center in Newport, RI that I’ve reached out to. Thanks again!

Paul C.

Thought I’d follow up with some info in the event future readers would like similar information. Here’s an email I received from They offer a 16 week fully customized (for the student) RYA Offshore course. It’s quite impressive and doesn’t need to be a single 16 week stint. I apologize for the formatting. It’s supposed to be DATE, TOPIC, LOCATION, # OF DAYS.

“Thank you for your email, regarding our Yachtmaster Development Programme.

The Cornish Cruising Yachtmaster Development programme is a Quality 16 week Training programme taking students from novice or where they are at to the Yachtmaster Offshore Qualification including Ocean Theory. Each programme is tailor made to suit the students requirements, The way the Training programme is structured enables clients to take time out if and when required. Because every course is tailor-made, there is no term start date as such; you would tell us when you wanted to start and we would build a programme accordingly. You would cross other students completing a programme, but you would be on different boats with different Crews on every Practical course. There is no specific age group for these courses, we have a 70year old completing the course and we have a 19 year old lad on the course.

We have 24 yachts on the fleet which enables us to give the clients experience of all the different types of Vessels, eg Fin keels, Bilge Keel, long keel, Gaff Rigged etc.

I have detailed below a Training Programme that another student has completed, this will give you an idea of how a programme is structured;-

Phase 1

Saturday 17 March 12 VHF Radio (Inc GMDSS) Classroom 1 Day
Sunday 18 March 12 Radar 1 Day
Sunday 18 March 12 Familiarisation Week Local Waters (125 Miles) 5 Days
Saturday 24 March 12 Mileage Building/Seamanship Training Channel Islands (350 Miles) 7 Days
Monday 2 April12 RYA Day Skipper Theory Classroom 5 Days
Sunday 8 April12 RYA Day Skipper Practical Local Waters (125 Miles) 5 Days
Saturday 14 April12 Bareboat Charter TBC (150 Miles) 7 Days

During this phase you will undertake a 7 day bareboat charter based on local waters, which you will be familiar with as a result of your training.

The charter boat will be provided by ourselves and the cost is included in the programme fees. We will assist in the planning of the itinary prior to departure and we anticipate that you will achieve a minimum of 150 miles during the 7 days. We will review your log upon return.

Phase 2

Saturday 21 April 12 RYA Diesel Engine Classroom 1 Day
Saturday 21 April 12 Mileage Building / Seamanship Training North Brittany (400 Miles) 7 Days
Monday 7 May 12 RYA Coastal Skipper / Yachtmaster Theory Classroom 5 Days
Sunday 13 May 12 RYA Coastal Skipper Practical South Coast (125 Miles) 5 Days
Sunday 20 May 12 STCW95 Fire Fighting/PSSR/First Aid/Survival at Sea 6 Days
Sunday 27 May12 RYA Coastal Skipper Prep and Exam Local Waters (125 Miles) 6 Days
Sunday 2 June 12 Mileage Building / Seamanship Training Southern Ireland (800 Miles) 14 Days

During the passage making / Seamanship Training, your navigational and skippering skills will be developed. You will undertake an intense programme based on the challenging waters of North Brittany, The Isles of Scilly and Southern Ireland, with the exact itinary based upon the prevailing weather conditions.

The programme is designed to provide comprehensive and varied exposure to challenging navigation, passage planning and execution, giving you the maximum experience for the time and miles covered.

Phase 3
Saturday 16 June12 Spinnakers Local Waters 1 Day
Sunday 17 June12 Weather Classroom 1 Day
Saturday 24 June 12 Mileage Building / Seamanship Training Isles of Scilly (300 Miles) 7 Days
Sunday 30 June 12 Bareboat Charter (Bavaria 36) South Coast (200 Miles) 6 Days
Saturday 7 July 12 Yacht Husbandry Classroom & Boats 2 Days
Sunday 8 July 12 Yachtmaster Prep and Exam Local waters (100 Miles) 6 Days

The final phase of your Sailing programme will consist of another opportunity to practice the skills you will have aquired and to gain confidence from Bareboat skippering. We will provide a larger boat and agree a programme for your run up to the final week, which will be the preparation for the Yachtmaster Exam.

Phase 4

Monday 23 July 12 Motor Boat Course South Coast 4 Days
Monday 30 July 12 RYA Yachtmaster Ocean Theory Classroom 5 Days
Saturday 4 August 12 RYA Power Boat Level 2 2 Days
Sunday 5 August 12 RYA Cruising Instructor Local Waters 4 Days

The cost of the whole programme is £7695 (inc VAT) which includes all the accomodation on boats at Falmouth Marina during the Training, all meals eaten aboard during the Practical Courses, all berthing and mooring fees , Quality Wet Weather gear and all examination fees including the ICC (The International Certificate of Competence). The ICC qualification will be
awarded for Sail Boat, Motor Boat and Power Boat.

The course can be taken over whatever period and however many gaps you may want to have. Once you have achieved the Yachtmaster offshore qualification you will need to aquire a Commercial endorsement on your Licence for work purposes, this entails having a full medical with a GP and sending of the required application form.

Please have a read through the programme and come back to us with any queries you have.

You are quite welcome to come down to Cornish Cruising and see our facilities/Boats and meet some of the guys on the programme and meet some of the Instructors.

We look forward to hearing from you soon

Kind Regards
Nick Jordan
Cornish Cruising”

Any thoughts? Thanks in advance!