RYA PPR Course

The RYA – Royal Yachting Association has produced a great online course for people wanting to get a commercial endorsement on their sailing qualification. The PPR course stands for Professional Practices and Responsibilities, and means I can use my current leisure qualifications to upgrade to a skipper or crew on a commercial vessel.

I thought this qualification could come in handy on our sailing adventures. You just never know when an opportunity might arise, and I like to learn new things, so here are my study notes. (Sorry this post could be a bit boring for anyone else not interested in getting commercial endorsements!)

If you want to learn more about the course or do it yourself, here is the link to the RYA website for some more information.


I found the course really enjoyable. It is online, and there are little quizzes throughout that help with the retention of information. They stated that it would take about 8 hours to complete. I started enthusiastically and then got busy at work and then decided to do the whole thing again. I would say it has taken me longer than 8 hours to complete though as I have been typing up my notes and doing it in between other things.

The Commercial Environment

The IMO or International Maritime Organisation is a specialised agency of the United Nations which promotes the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.

Some of their conventions include:

  • SOLAS – Safety of life at sea
  • MARPOL – Prevention of pollution by ships
  • STCW – Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping
  • COLREGS – Collision Regulations
  • MLC – Maritime Labour Convention

There are many more and they can all be found here.

Maritime Labour Convention

This covers work employment related issues such as hours of work and rest, holidays, medical fitness, pay and working conditions. This convention supports the welfare of seafarers and works in conjunction with the ILO – International Labour Convention. Vessels that operate internationally and are over 200 tonnes have to be inspected for various things such as:

  • Crew accommodation
  • Payment of wages
  • Hours of work
  • Manning levels
  • Health and safety
  • Food
  • On board medical care
  • Employment contracts
  • Crew qualifications

There are special dispensations for older vessels in regards to the crew accommodation and construction categories.

National Interpretations of Conventions

For many of these conventions (apart from the COLREGS) each country gets to interpret to what extent they implement the requirements for each convention. So therefore a British registered vessel operating in French waters will need to comply with the requirements of both countries.


  • Crew = People employed to operate the vessel
  • Passenger = a fare paying person on board
  • Guest = If the vessel is being used for non-commercial purposes – for example a personal friend of the owner where you have been employed as the skipper

As the skipper you are responsible for ensuring that the vessel you are in charge of does not exceed the maximum number of passengers or people on board. The people on board include the crew. Commercial vessels have a certificate showing how many crew and passengers are permitted on the vessel at any one time. There may be restrictions on overnight passages. Small commercial vessels will usually be restricted to a maximum of 12 passengers. Some vessels can carry up to 16 people, but only a maximum of 12 passengers – the other 4 people must be crew.

You are also responsible for ensuring that all the crew have the appropriate qualifications, including medical certificates. Generally people with a safety critical role will require a medical certificate (even if they are a chef). This certificate is to show that the person is medically fit and able to perform their safety duties on board a commercial vessel.


You are responsible for ensuring your vessel is manned by the correct number of crew to allow for both the safe general operation of the vessel and in the event of an emergency. You must also ensure the crew are correctly qualified. A qualification doesn’t just mean a certificate. They need to have the experience to back it up.

For a British charter vessel operating offshore – category 0 the following qualifications are required:

  • Yachtmaster Ocean certificate of competence for the skipper
  • Another crew member with the Yachtmaster Ocean certificate of competence
  • Both must have a commercial endorsement – PPR
  • At least one crew member with a suitable radio operators certificate in line with the equipment on board
  • All crew must hold an ENG1 Medical Fitness Certificate
  • The Skipper must hold a basic sea survival certificate
  • The skipper or at least one member of crew must hold a medical care certificate
  • Any watch keepers should have radar training
  • At least one crew member should have an approved MCA Engine training certificate.

As a skipper you need to ensure the crew has the experience, knowledge and training for the vessel and the operation. The crew should have recent and relevant experience of the type and size of vessel, the machinery and the operation in which the vessel is engaged.

You also must ensure you have enough crew to maintain a safe navigational watch, as well as the man power to deal with any emergency situations and to comply with the Maritime Working Directive – which has laws surrounding the crew’s hours of work.

The operational requirements of the vessel include:

  • The area of operation (day trips, coastal passages – within 60 miles of a safe haven or offshore)
  • The role or activities of the vessel
  • The number of passengers on board
  • The competency of people on board – cook, engineer, watch keeper & first aider – spread the load of responsibilities between crew members
  • The number, size and type of propulsion units
  • Ability to deal with routine operations – skills and training to operate all the on board systems
  • Ability to deal with emergency situations – Fire – two people fire fighting and one calling for help, Serious water ingress – one on the bilge pumps, one calling for assistance and one preparing the life rafts, Man overboard – one crew in the water, one steering the vessel and the other recovering the casualty etc.
  • Ability to deal with injury or illness of a crew member – good to have more than one person qualified.

In order for a vessel to operate safely, it is necessary to have sufficient experienced and qualified crew on board.

There are legal manning requirements for different types and sizes of commercial vessel in operation.

If you have passengers on board you have a duty of care for them. You may need additional crew to take care of them and direct them in case of an emergency.

Alcohol & Drugs

The skipper and crew on duty, and off duty but whom might be required to assist in case of an emergency are not allowed to have more than 25 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.

If you take a drug for a medical reason, for example a painkiller, and it makes you drowsy, you are committing an offence, as it effects your ability to do your job correctly.

Each country has different alcohol limits.

In the UK the Merchant Shipping Act and the Railways and Transport Act cover alcohol related offenses on boats. There are alcohol limits for seafarers detailed in the STCW convention.

Prescribed limit for the UK is:

(1)The prescribed limit of alcohol for the purposes of this Part is—

(a)in the case of breath, 25 micro grams of alcohol in 100 millilitres,

(b)in the case of blood, 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres, and

(c)in the case of urine, 107 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres.

You have to stay under these limits for the whole time you are the skipper and responsible for the vessel – even when it is moored overnight or when you are off duty but required to assist in the case of emergency.


With the duty of care you have for your passengers, it is prudent to ask if anyone has any medical conditions, if they are taking medication, and what are the potential side effects etc prior to commencing a voyage.

Collecting the medical information  should be part of your standard operating procedures so you are aware of any possible complications.

Keeping your Qualifications Current

M Notices include:

  • Merchant Shipping Notices MSN
  • Marine Guidance Notes MGN
  • Marine Information Notices MIN

The M Notices have suffixes stating whether they relate to F – Fishing or M – Merchant Vessels

You can subscribe to receive M Notices by email, by sending an email with ‘Subscribe’ in the heading to notices@ecgroup.co.uk

You must maintain your skills and remain up to date with current legislation. Skills fade when they are not used on a regular basis. Know your limitations and call for help should you need it.

Safe Management

You should keep log books and records on board, include details of safety briefings, weather conditions, crew on board, and also maintenance logs, defect book, and accident reports.

If an accident occurs, you are able to look back through the records to get clues as to what might have been the cause. For example was it user error (lack of training), gear failure (check maintenance and defect records) or has this accident happened before (check accident records).

Certain types of accidents on commercial vessels need to be reported to the appropriate marine accident investigation authority.

Checklists are handy to use during safety briefings. A note should be made in the log book advising that the safety briefing was done.

Accident Report Books and Defect books are a good way of communicating potential issues with new crew members or during handover.

Safety meetings are a good way of communicating issues and coming up with potential resolutions or procedure changes.

The Merchant Shipping Act states that the owner, operator and skipper are responsible for ensuring the vessel is safe, well equipped and properly maintained. Keeping good records is a way of monitoring this.


Commercial vessels should be:

  • Equipped – with all the correct safety gear
  • Licensed – in the country of registration
  • Manned by a qualified and experienced crew
  • Maintained

These requirements are specific in accordance with the law of the country and the flag of the vessel. All vessels must at least comply with SOLAS V and IRPCS under IMO – International Maritime Organisation rules. The bigger the vessel, the more regulations apply.

Commercial Vessels will have various documents on board including:

  • Certificate of Registry
  • Workboat code certificate – this will include information such as whether the vessel is in current survey, how many passengers it can carry, the area of operation and any restrictions (weather, night time) cargo carrying capacity etc.
  • Radio Certificate – includes all the radio equipment on board, and your call signs and MMSI number.
  • Stability book – this is required if the vessel carries more than 16 passengers, carries cargo greater than 1000kg, has a lifting device on board, towing vessels where the vessel being towed is greater than the displacement of the towing vessel. Pilot boats also require a stability book.
  • Training manual
  • Operating Procedures
  • Class ticket
  • Safe Manning document
  • compass deviation card
  • Test certification for any lifting gear
  • Appropriate charts for the area of operation
  • Appropriate nautical publications for the area of operation
  • Insurance

These documents need to be kept in a safe place and produced if required.

As a commercial skipper you have a duty of care to all people on board and the vessel itself.

Firstly you need to determine whether the vessel is being used commercially or for pleasure. Pleasure boats are defined as follows:

  • Owned by an individual or individuals and use the boat only for sport or pleasure with friends and family
  • The boat could also be owned by a company and solely for the use of employees and their friends and family or owned by a club and used by club members
  • On a voyage in which the owner does not receive any payment (other than a contribution to any direct expenses incurred during that voyage)

In the UK pleasure craft of less than 13.7m do not have to comply with any statutory requirements as far as life saving and fire fighting equipment is concerned. If a vessel is over 12m in length then it needs to carry special lights and signalling equipment as well.

If anyone is paying more than the contribution towards expenses of operating the vessel then this can be deemed as a commercial operation. If the pleasure boat owner is just paying for a skipper to deliver a boat then this is still a pleasure vessel.

Commercial vessels are given various categories with certain restrictions which include their area of use. Some vessels are only allowed to be operated within an area restricted to a safe haven. Passage planning needs to be taken in to account to adhere to these restrictions.

Carriage of Cargo

If you are carrying cargo on board you should check the stability book to ensure that the cargo is lifted and loaded on board in the correct way. Things like the sea state, how much fuel, water and stores are on board, the trim of the vessel. Cargo should be suitably secured and within the capacity of the vessel.

Carriage of Safety Equipment

Many pleasure boats will already carry all the safety equipment that are required by Commercial Vessels, however once a boat reaches a certain size, then your obligations change. These vessels are called Class XII Vessels in the UK.

As skipper of a commercial vessel you need to ensure that the vessel is carrying all the correct safety equipment for it’s class.

SCV Certificate = Small Commercial Vessel Certificate. This shows the number of passengers and people that the vessel is licensed to carry, and the category – or area of operation and any restrictions.

The SCV2 is a list of all the equipment on board along with a training manual. The skipper and owner are jointly responsible for ensuring that the correct equipment is on board the vessel, however it is the skippers responsibility to ensure that the vessel does not go to sea without the equipment being correctly serviced and in date.

OP’s = Operating Procedures

Before taking on a job you should consider:

  1. The status of the vessel and her crew. Is she a pleasure vessel or commercial vessel?
  2. Conduct a risk assessment of the vessel and crew.
  3. Keep a record of safety briefs, checks and a log book
  4. Evaluate the passage and amend the working practices to suit.

For example – is the vessel carrying the correct safety equipment and lights – check SOLAS V and IRPCS regulations, is it operating commercially or for pleasure and are there enough qualified and experienced crew on board to cover the safe manning levels. Is the boat well maintained and are there any safety issues that need to be repaired or communicated?

OP’s should be:

  • Applicable – to the specific vessel and her area of operation
  • Suitable – a couple of pages is not appropriate for small commercial vessels, however a manual of hundreds of pages is not likely to be read
  • Usable – they should be written clearly and easy to understand. Checklists are good
  • Easy to Update – improvements and modifications should be easy to add.

They must reflect the legal and regulatory framework in which the vessel operates. Checklists and forms can be added to make the use of the document easier.

COSWOP = Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seaman

Risk Assessments should look at:

  1. Identifying the hazard – what hazards exist? Who or what can be harmed? How, when and where can the harm occur?
  2. Evaluate the risks
  3. Control the risks
  4. Review the plan

When making your safety plan, consult others who have experience of the vessel. Think about the different locations she operates in and what additional hazards can exist should you be at sea, on a mooring, or in a port, whether it is at night, or during the day, also the weather can have an effect. astrUse examples and look at other plans to get ideas but do not assume that everything will be covered on your particular vessel.

Risk of harm should be taken in to account with all safety procedures. Low risk activities don’t need any further attention, however moderate and high risk activities should have certain risk controls in place to mitigate these.

Risk controls can include things such as:

  • Modification of work practices
  • Checks and maintenance of gear
  • Back up systems
  • Training of personnel
  • Protective equipment
  • Not carrying out the activity

Once you have created your Operating Procedures, you should ask if the control measures now have a more acceptable risk level? Have these measures created any new hazards? Are these measures sensible and practical? Are they easy to use?

Familiarize the crew with the various procedures. Get their feedback and suggestions, and run drills and training sessions for the crew.

Operating Procedures should be regularly reviewed and updated. After any incident a de-briefing session can be run to see if there were any areas for improvement. Also if there are any changes to legislation, equipment, usage or the operating area of the vessel, then the OP’s will need to be updated also.

Towing & Salvage

Vessels offering assistance may want to claim salvage rights. Lloyds have a standard form of Salvage Agreement. This is an agreement between a salvage contractor and the vessel requiring a tow. Once the form is completed it becomes a contract. The fee for towing is then negotiated in professional arbitration once the salvage operation has been completed. This ensures fair play on all sides.

Emergency Situations

If you have prepared for emergencies by creating operating procedures to reduce risks, and then have standard procedures for handling emergencies, have routine training and drills, then you will be much better prepared to systematically work through the issue.

Each crew member should have a role to play and be trained what to do. Training and drills are a good way of reviewing and improving your procedures.

Checklists should be easy to follow and form part of your Operating Procedures.

Certain accidents and incidents need to be reported with the relevant Marine Accident Investigation Organisation. It is a good idea to have forms on board to be able to collect the relevant information they require.

Passage Plans

Every passage should have a comprehensive passage plan taking in to account:

  • The weather
  • Visibility
  • The vessel, condition and her limitations
  • The tide height and currents
  • Traffic
  • Navigation and special requirements of the ports you are visiting
  • Immigration requirements if traveling internationally.

The plan and position of the vessel should be monitored throughout the whole passage.

Complacency is an issue for skippers doing the same passage on a regular basis.


This is the Marine Pollution Regulations. It’s aims are to preserve the Marine Environment by eliminating pollution by oil and other harmful substances. It is compulsory for vessels over 400gt but small vessels are also expected to comply with the regulations which can also vary from one country to another.

Any oil – including oily bilges should not be tipped overboard or removed using a bilge pump. It should be kept in a container and disposed of on shore at a waste oil disposal point.

There is a complete ban on disposing of plastics at sea. This can result in criminal convictions including fines and imprisonment.

This handy table


Anyway… if you have made it this far – congratulations!

I have just passed the test! 93% – I am such a nerd, and my notes didn’t seem to come in handy at all throughout the test! Ah well its an interesting course so you will just have to do it yourself to find out.

So now I just need to get a medical certificate, pay some money, collect up my hundreds of other certificates and then send them off to the RYA. I am hoping to finish my Ocean Yachtmaster certificate this year, so might send them all in together and get my International Certificate of Competence upgraded from Coastal to Ocean at the same time.



5 thoughts on “RYA PPR Course

  1. You know I kinda wish NZ would take up RYA a bit more, we because an accredited RYA training centre in 2013 and ran a Competent Crew 5 day / night course to Akaroa and back with David Kennett, their library of books is excellent however there are some changes required for NZ conditions, I really have high respect for the RYA establishment, just seems there is not quite enough demand in NZ for it yet, however thats changing slowly..


  2. Pingback: RYA Offshore Yachtmaster | Astrolabe Sailing

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