What Qualifications Do I Need to Charter a Yacht?

24.08.2020 Fiona Mokry

In this post we look at what qualifications you need to skipper a bareboat yacht charter. There are several certificates available, such as the ICC, from the Royal Yachting Association. Requirements vary from country to country so please check the list in the article below. You can also find some information about how to get a yacht license, and how long it takes to learn to sail.

The thrill of embarking on a great ocean adventure is second to none. If you’re planning a first-time charter trip and new on the sailing scene, you’re probably realizing there’s a heap of information to filter through. For starters, novice sailors in the early stages of planning often ask themselves “what qualifications do I need to charter a yacht?” To ensure the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of everyone aboard, it’s important that this question be answered accurately and specifically before you set sail. That’s where we come in!

What Qualifications Do You Need to Sail a Yacht?

Thinking about pushing off on your own into the big blue? Awesome! Chartering a yacht is a relatively straight forward process, however qualifications vary based on which country you want to sail in. Above all, proven experience is the highest qualification you can possess when it comes to bareboat charter.

A charter company is likely to feel more comfortable renting to someone who demonstrates competence and a license, as opposed to someone with a license but very little experience. There are some charter companies that will rent to anyone regardless of qualifications or experience, however keep in mind that you’ll likely face the consequences if something goes wrong, so please be careful.

Additionally, some countries and regions do require an official license and you won’t be able to travel their seas without it. The best bet is to check the specific country requirements or ask Boataffair to review your qualifications and weigh in.

Do I Need a License to Sail a Yacht?

It depends. There’s no cut-and-dry answer to this question; whether or not you need a license to sail a yacht is contingent upon your location. Some local authorities and charter companies require you to have official certifications to sail their waters. In other countries, you may just need to prove that you know what you’re doing, i.e. provide a sailing resume to showcase your sailing experience. Sometimes you’ll need to provide both a formal certificate and proof of experience.

In some scenarios you may find that first-hand knowledge trumps an official certification. As previously mentioned, experience goes a long way in getting a charter company to trust you as a competent skipper. But remember, it’s never good practice to exaggerate the depth of your practical knowledge.

The best way to approach this question is to focus on the region you plan to explore and research the local regulations adhered to by marine authorities. Below, we’ll look at which popular destinations require you to have a license to sail a yacht, and how to get a license if you need it:

United States/Caribbean

In the United States, there are several states that don’t have any legal requirements for boat operators, however this is not the norm for the rest of the country. Most states do at least mandate a boat safety course, oftentimes depending on the operator’s age. It’s a good idea to look into individual state requirements before planning a trip. If you plan to navigate down to the Caribbean, a sailing resume should be prepared although no official certifications are required. Be ready to answer some competency questions related to handling tidal ranges and currents, safely navigating reefs, and what to do if a squall suddenly pops up.

Europe/Mediterranean

Sailing the inland waterways of Europe and around the Mediterranean require an International Certificate of Competence (ICC) or the RYA Day Skipper certification. Failure to produce proper documentation to authorities upon request could result in a fine or your vessel being impounded. Charter companies will ask for this certificate as well as your boating experience. You can apply for your ICC here.

United Kingdom

Although part of Europe, the U.K. differs to the mainland continent when it comes to yacht charter qualifications. In fact, no formal licensing is needed to sail the U.K.’s offshore waters. However, if you’re planning any inland waterway discoveries (e.g. The Broads), you’ll need a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate (BSSC) and boat insurance. If you’re tempted to hop over to France once you charter a boat in the U.K., remember that you’ll need the ICC first.

Australia

Similar to the U.S., Australia’s yacht qualifications change depending on the territory. In Queensland, no boat license is needed. Some basic boat knowledge is expected. Victoria is another story. This territory does ask skippers to have a marine license. Make sure to check the regulations in whichever territory you plan to visit.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia remains one of the more elusive charter destinations due to the region’s often- perceived complicated requirements. But don’t worry, there’s almost always a work around. For  example, while Indonesian and Thai regulations sound confusing, Boataffair can help you clear the obstacles and get you on your way – as long as you’re a competent boat operator. Typically, an ICC (not always necessary) coupled with adequate experience is enough to get you a charter in Southeast Asia. It’s wise to consult the charter company via Boataffair to find out if your documents and boating knowledge is up to par.

In short, it’s a good idea to obtain a certificate and formal training before chartering your own yacht. The safety of you, your passengers, and the boat is your responsibility when you get behind the wheel.


How to Get a Yacht License

If you’ve got some experience, but no credentials to back it up, you’re probably wondering how to get a yacht license. Below you’ll find some information on starting that process. 

The ICC is one of the most recognised competency certificates out there and is a good starting point for novice sailors. The ICC—a set of standards created by the United Nations under Resolution 40 and signed by mostly European countries—is basically an assurance from one government to another that the person captaining the boat is competent to do so. If you’re eligible for an ICC, earning this certificate requires passing a one day assessment administered by a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) instructor. Upon successful completion, the ICC qualifies the certificate holder to captain a sailboat up to 24 meters and/or a powerboat up to 10 meters. 

Procedures differ slightly for U.S. and Canadian citizens because these countries did not sign the Resolution 40. Americans and Canadians can still obtain an ICC, but it must be done in one of the three RYA’s North American locations; Florida, Toronto, or Halifax. If this isn’t possible, NauticEd offers an equivalent certificate accepted by every charter company and port authority in the Mediterranean; the Sailing License and Credentials (SLC).


How Long Does It Take to Learn to Sail?

If it’s your first time chartering a yacht in a destination that doesn’t require a license and you don’t have the experience or the certificates, is it possible to learn to sail in a couple hours before you shove off?

This is a question many beginners ask, and the answer is yes. Basic lessons can be completed before setting sail. Check in with Boataffair to ask if they can connect you with some local on-site lessons.

If you’re playing the long game (i.e. determined to perfect the art of sailing), RYA and the American Sailing Association (ASA) provide ample courses and certificates necessary to reach your A game.  

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So in summary, there’s no clear-cut answer when it comes to charter qualifications or license requirements; it depends on location, type of boat, local authorities and the decision of the individual charter company.

We recommend independently researching the requirements and qualifications you need to charter a yacht in the specific destination before you go. If you’re unsure, reach out to us here at Boataffair, and we will happily dig deeper and provide clarity on the technicalities that cause confusion!

You can email us at welcome@boataffair.com if you have any questions about charter yacht skipper qualifications.

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