RYA Competent Crew Practical Course

The RYA Competent Crew course in Southampton is an excellent practical introduction for beginners. It is the perfect starting point if you have done little or no sailing before, or have spent a week or two sailing with friends in the UK or abroad.

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The Competent Crew Course in the Solent leaves from Southampton and is 5 days long and will teach you everything you need to know to become a useful crew member, including personal safety, seamanship and helmsmanship.

Throughout the course you’ll sleep and eat on the yacht, and you’re welcome to attend by yourself, with friends, family or a partner. We will aim to visit a different marina, harbour or anchorage each evening.

We have options to book courses with either 2, 3 or 4 students on board or you can take the whole boat with up to 4 friends plus yourself. We typically welcome a mix of people attending both alone and with friends or a partner

The course is great fun. Indeed, a holiday! We think that a few days on a boat in the Solent is the equivalent to 2 weeks on a beach in terms of having a quality get away from it all kind of break.

This course is ideal if you have done little or no sailing before. You will become a useful crew member and an asset to anyone you go sailing with. Sleeping and eating on board (apart from perhaps the odd evening meal out in a pub or restaurant if you choose!) you will learn lots about sailing, life on board and how fun it is. You will stay at a different marina or anchorage or harbour each night.

Minimum Pre Course Experience: None required.

Ability after the Course: You will be a useful crew member!

Course Content: Basic seamanship and helmsmanship.

The course is best taken over 5 consecutive days or over 2 weekends (a short and a long).

We can also run different courses at the same time, on the same boat. So if a friend, family member or partner would like to complete another course, such as the Day Skipper or Coastal Skipper Course, they can do so at the same time as yourself. Just make us aware at the time you book.

You can expect a fully qualified and friendly instructor to welcome you aboard and teach you everything you need to know. All our instructors are regularly recognised for being enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and they all offer a wide range of experience and passion for teaching sailing.

You’ll meet like-minded people and there’s a good chance you’ll leave with new friends alongside your new sailing skills. There’s also delicious fresh food and fresh sea air to match.

Each day is action packed and you’ll find yourself pleasantly tired at the end of the course. We typically enjoy breakfast at around 8am or earlier, and you’ll normally be in a marina for a hot shower by 6pm, followed by supper on board and then if time a trip to the pub.

We tailor each course depending on the wind, tide and your preferences, so some nights we’ll drop anchor, and others we’ll tie onto a buoy. We will also go for an evening sail to try out sailing in the dark, which is great fun!

First Class Sailing runs the practical courses Competent Crew courses from Southampton in Hampshire.

Learning to sail on the South Coast

If you choose to take our Competent Crew course in Southampton you will leave from Shamrock Quay and mainly sail around the Solent. Take a look at this handy map of the Solent, where you’ll see some of the places we sail to, including; Portsmouth, Cowes, Yarmouth, Beaulieu, Lymington, Hamble and many more fantastic places.

Taking the Competent Crew Course in the Solent is a great way to learn to sail. We’ll use the various harbours, bays, creeks, rivers, marinas and anchorages to help you practice a wide range of required skills. Because of the large volume of other boats and busy shipping activity, the Solent is always great fun, and will prepare you well for sailing in other places or countries.

Whilst the Isle of Wight provides some protection from the worst of the Channel weather, making the sea within the Solent relatively flat compared with conditions in the open sea, the tides in the Solent provides students with an excellent challenge to their seamanship and navigational skills.

During your sailing course you’ll sleep on board the yacht. There’s typically three double cabins and two single berths which provide accommodation for eight people.

However, there’s only ever a maximum of 2, 3, 4 or 5 students on board plus the instructor depending on the course ratio option that you book.

You will get your own sleeping space be this a cabin or the saloon. You will not have to share a sleeping space with anyone else unless you have booked as a group of friends/family.


Whilst we do have showers on board the yacht, most nights you can use the hot showers and facilities in a marina.

We also offer the Competent Crew course on our traditional wooden boat - Golden Vanity. Golden Vanity is over 100 years old and was built in 1908. She is quite different from our modern boats. She is all wood and, unlike our other boats, there are no winches on board (apart from an anchor capstan) which means the sails all go up by hand. Plenty of teamwork and a good technique, that we will show you, make this possible.

On deck she is as she would have been in the early 1900's. Below deck she has been modernised. Capable of sleeping 12 there would only be a maximum of 5 plus instructor and maybe a mate on board. The accommodation is more dormitory like with cosy bunks in the forepeak. The saloon is cavernous and there is a well-equipped galley and a spacious heads. There is hot water and heating.

For more details on taking a Competent Crew course on Golden Vanity have a look here:

Except for supper on the evening you join the boat, we cater on board for all meals. We provide food that is healthy and nutritious, including salads, vegetables, white and wholemeal bread, chicken, lean minced beef, salmon, muesli and cereal. In fact, just the kind of food that you might buy yourself. For snacks there is plenty of fruit, but also a supply of chocolate and biscuits.

If you have any special dietary requirements, be it vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten free, or allergies, we can normally accommodate these. Just let us know when you fill out your booking form.

Shamrock Quay is easily accessible by train or car.

Getting to Shamrock Quay

Shamrock Quay is about an 8 minute taxi ride from Southampton Central Station, or 15 minutes from Southampton Airport if you’re flying. If you arrive by car there is plenty of free parking and 24/7 security.

Occasionally a course may start on one of our boats when it is not at Shamrock Quay. It may be very close to Shamrock Quay or in Hamble. We will give you plenty of notice when this is the case.

We find it is better if you arrive the evening before your course starts. This way you can start getting to know the yacht, the skipper and your crew mates before the course really gets under way. If this is not possible then you need to be at the boat by 8.00am on the first day of the Sailing Course.

You can expect to get away by 5/5.30pm on the final day of your course. If you are catching a train we recommend you do not book a ticket in advance as we can’t guarantee you will get away at 5pm on the dot. It could be earlier or a little later.

The aim of this course is to introduce the complete beginner to cruising and to teach personal safety, seamanship and helmsmanship to the level required to be a useful member of the crew of a cruising yacht.

Knowledge of sea terms and parts of a boat, her rigging and sails

Sail handling


Fire precautions and fire fighting

Personal safety equipment

Man overboard

Emergency equipment

Manners and customs

Rules of the road



Sea sickness

Helmsmanship and sailing

General duties

  • Sufficient knowledge to understand orders given concerning the sailing and day-to-day running of the boat
  • Bending on, setting, reefing and handling of sails
  • Use of sheets and halyards and their associated winches
  • Handling ropes, including coiling, stowing, securing to cleats and single and double bollards
  • Handling warps
  • Ability to tie the following knots and to know their correct use: figure-of-eight, clove hitch, rolling hitch, bowline, round turn and two half hitches, single and double sheet bend, reef knot
  • Awareness of the hazards of fire and the precautions necessary to prevent fire
  • Knowledge of the action to be taken in event of fire
  • Understands and complies with the rules for the wearing of safety harnesses, lifejackets and personal buoyancy aids
  • Understands the action to be taken to recover a man overboard
  • Can operate distress flares and knows when they should be used
  • Understands how to launch and board a liferaft
  • Understands accepted practice with regard to: use of burgees and ensigns, prevention of unnecessary noise or disturbance in harbourincluding courtesies to other craft berthed alongside
  • Aware of the responsibility of yacht skippers to protect the environment
  • Is able to keep an efficient lookout at sea
  • Understands and complies with the loading rules
  • Is able to handle a dinghy under oars
  • Awareness of forecasting services and knowledge of the Beaufort Scale
  • Working efficiency is unaffected/partially affected/severely affected by sea sickness
  • Understands the basic principles of sailing and can steer and trim sails on all points of sailing
  • Can steer a compass course, under sail and power
  • Has carried out general duties satisfactorily on deck and below decks in connection with the daily routine of the vessel.

Whilst the weather sailing off the Isle of Wight is actually fairly mild it is important to have the correct clothing. We provide modern, branded waterproof trousers and jackets free of charge.

Space on a boat is always at a premium, so you should pack your clothes in a soft holdall that can be stowed away in a locker. Bags with wheels or metal buckles should be avoided, as these may damage the woodwork on boats. You will need:

  • Sleeping bag.
  • Pillow.
  • Towel.
  • Warm clothing. It can sometimes be considerably cooler at sea than on land.
  • Fleeces and thermals are good for chillier times of the year.
  • A sunhat/baseball cap.
  • A woolly hat for cold weather.
  • Suncream.
  • Sunglasses
  • Retaining strap for glasses/sunglasses.
  • Sailing gloves.
  • Non marking shoes (Trainers or deck shoes)
  • Non-slip/non-marking waterproof sailing boots (not agricultural-type wellies). These can be purchased from the chandlery at Shamrock Quay for about £40.
  • Waterproof clothing (unless you have asked us to provide it for you).
  • RYA Logbook, if you have one, if not we can provide one for £7.49.
  • Current passport (if sailing holiday or trip may involve other countries).
  • European Health Insurance Card (if sailing holiday or trip involves other EU countries).
  • Health insurance documentation (if applicable)
  • For clothing, remember that you will be outdoors most of the day. A range of sporty, layered clothing is best. Jeans are OK, but not ideal as they are hard to dry if they get wet. You want to be warm, comfortable and able to move easily. We provide waterproof trousers and jackets free of charge. Just let us know your sizes on the booking form.
  • Soft bag for all your belongings (no hard suitcases please).

We provide all safety equipment such as lifejackets and harnesses.

"The Instructor was an excellent coach and really took the time with our class to ensure we all understood all aspects of the course. He was patient and prepared to take the time to ensure we all had the best knowledge transferred to us. He was an excellent instructor and had a significant amount of detailed knowledge that was most helpful to me and the rest of the class. He is passionate and fully committed to his work and goes above and beyond to ensure you are capable and have a really enjoyable experience learning with him. First Class Sailing are well organised and the logistics, course material and facilities were all top notch."

David, Director

"Excellent instructor - gave freely of his experience - very dedicated and enormously helpful."

Colin McKnight

"Professional and effective. Good equipment, taught by knowledgeable and enthusiastic professionals."

Ron G

"Just passed my Competent Crew with Paul - excellent instruction, made wonderfully fun with his top humour. What a great way to learn to sail - a different marina every night, comfortable berths on board a brand new boat, and tremendous company to boot. Even me losing a treasured hat to the wind triggered a full (& successful) 'man overboard' drill - priceless. I would definitely recommend - I'm certainly looking forward to returning for my 'Day Skipper'."

Richard R
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0203 006 3717
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Shamrock Quay

William Street



SO14 5QL


c/o Cruising Association

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