A Career Guide To Sailing And Watersports

orange square With the sea no more than a couple of hours away for even the most land locked of us, and with plenty of inland lakes and waterways, it is hardly surprising that there are more activity centres offering water sports right here in the UK than you could shake a stick at. In this career guide to watersports we are going to concentrate on sailing.

We also have detailed guides you can click through to below, for paddlesports, surfing, windsurfing and kite surfing. The career path for sailing instructors is, on the surface at least, a little more complicated than for some of the other water based activities. You need to have various Royal Yachting Association (RYA) skills qualifications before you are allowed to begin on the instructor programmes. Teaching on an inland lake is quite different from teaching out on the sea, so you will need to be assessed on different skills. And teaching in a standard dinghy is quite different from a keel or multihull boat, so again, you will need separate endorsements for that too. If you are confused about how to begin a watersports career then read on and we will try to make everything clear.

Surfing Guide

If you want to teach surfing, you also need to be qualified as a beach lifeguard as well as a Surf Instructor. Surfing GB recognised a couple of different options for both qualifications so take a look at our guide to help decide which you prefer, and read our interview with a Level 2 Surfing Coach.

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Windsurfing & Kitesurfing

Windsurfing is covered by the RYA, while Kite Surfing qualifications are sanctioned by the International Kite Boarding Organisation (IKO) and the British Kite Surfing Association (BKSA).

Windsurfing Kitesurfing
white water rafting
Canoe & Paddlesports

Canoeing and paddlesports are technically watersports too, but their popularity means there is too much to talk about all on one page. Click through to our comprehensive guide to paddlesport careers, where we talk to qualified coaches and raft guides, about all aspects of river, lake and sea paddling.

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Powerboat Guide

Powerboats are rigid inflatable boats (RIBs), dories (high sided, flat bottomed) and sportsboats (small speedboat style), and as an instructor you will be teaching people how to use them. To be an instructor you need five seasons' experience in a range of boat sizes, and hold the RYA Level 2 powerboat certificate

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Dinghy Sailing

Dinghy Instructor is an obvious starting point for a lot of people who want to begin a career in sailing instruction. You need to be able to skillfully handle a small boat in challenging conditions, plus a few other pre-requisites, but you'll then be able to teach adults and children, at both beginner and improver level.

Dinghy Sailing
Cruising & Yachtmaster

These instructor qualifications are not the kind of thing you get if you want to teaching beginners on lake at a watersports centre. Yachtmaster puts you up there at the top of the sport. This is what you will be aiming for if your life is sailing, and if you want to make yachts your livelihood.

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In many sports and activities, the UK qualification can struggle to compete once you leave the country and try to get work elsewhere. A UK mountaineering qualification for example is less important once you are in the Alps. But the great thing about our Royal Yachting Association is the recognition and respect it enjoys around the world. Plus in most respects, water is water the world over. If you follow an RYA coaching scheme, there could be plenty of opportunities for you, both here in our waters, and further afield. In the career guide below we will concentrate on dinghy sailing, but also look at a couple of other RYA instructor schemes.


Powerboat Instructor

Powerboat immediately brings to mind the type of craft that people use to set speed records, but in this case it just means a boat that has an engine. Being able to use a powered boat is a basic skill for any watersport as they are often used as a quick way to rescue people in danger, whether that is a capsized dinghy, or a surfer in trouble. As a result, you will find that the Level 2 Powerboat qualification is a pre-requisite for most instructor courses. To obtain a Level 2 qualification you need to be able to launch and recover your boat, handle it safely, manoeuvre at high speed and recover someone who has fallen overboard.

To begin instructing other people how to use powerboats, you need to have at least five years experience in a variety of different craft, or to have a full year where using powerboats is your main occupation. Once you have passed you can instruct others, and move on to the advanced powerboat instructor course. Advanced instructors can then become a trainers and assessors themselves.

First Aid: 1 day / £70
Level 2 Certificate: 2 days / £300
Level 2 Instructor: 3 days / £400

For Personal Watercraft (PW) think Jet Ski. Jet Ski is actually a brand name, but these small powered craft are covered by a separate qualification. If you want to instruct you need to have two years experience, and hold the personal watercraft proficiency certificate.

Personal Watercraft Certificate: 1 day / £150
Personal Watercraft Instructor: 3 day / £350


Dinghy Instructor

The first step to becoming a Dinghy Instructor is the RYA Pre-Entry Assessment - this course is designed to make sure you aren't a landlubber. If you have a good grasp of sailing and boat handling, navigation and safety then you will be able to pass this one day assessment and start taking instructor courses. If you are a bit rusty and need to brush up your skills then some centres offer an extended version of the pre-entry, designed to get you ready for the assessment before you take it. You will also need a current first aid certificate for any of the courses, so make sure yours is up to date. You will also need the Powerboat Level 2 certificate as discussed above.

The course assesses your boat handling abilities, focusing on following different shaped courses, and being able to stop and bring a person back onboard from the water, coaching techniques, and group organization. The training will give you the theoretical knowledge, and build your communication skills. On completion you will qualify to teach to the National Sailing Scheme standard. If you have ever had a go at sailing as part of an activity holiday then you probably went out in a small fiberglass hull dinghy.

First Aid: 1 day / £70
Pre-Assessment: 1 day / £100
Powerboat Level 2 certificate: 2 days / £300
Dinghy Instructor: 5 days / £350

Should you decided to take the Advanced Dinghy Instructor qualification, you will be doing so in order to teach sailing with a spinnaker (the extra sail that balloons out in front allowing a boat to sail off the wind), and techniques to allow sailers to improve their speed in all conditions.

Advanced Dinghy Instructor: 3 days / £200


We spoke to an RYA qualified coach about the dinghy instructor qualification...

Sally: My very first experiences of sailing were with my parents who would sail to the Isle of Wight and back from Lymington for day trips in a small wayfarer dinghy. At this time I was a small toddler and looking back on this now, a parent myself with many years of sail training experience, this seems a very brave thing to do! My first formal sailing lessons were on a small reservior in North London with my secondary school. I think this is what got me hooked as the training Centre my school used had a number of inspirational instructors who made it great fun and very inclusive. This is what started my interest in teaching others.

Are we right in thinking the first instructor grade is Assistant Instructor? Do you have to do this certificate, or can you jump right in at Instructor level?

Sally: Yes this is correct. the assistant instructor is a great stepping stone to the full Instructor award and gives essential insight into working within the RYA training scheme. Lots of people do miss this first stepping stone but I think struggle more to achieve the required standard when attending the full instructor training course.

For someone taking the Dinghy Instructor certificate, what is the training and assessment like? How good do you need to be before you can consider becoming an instructor?

Sally: The challnge I believe is you need to be good at many things; sailing a boat, driving a powered safety craft, briefing and debrieffing students, organising resources and people and somethimes even rescuing people and boats when they or you get it wrong, There are lots of skills and qualifications that you need to aquire along the way to doing the instructor certificate and I think a lot of people possibly rush into the training without fully undertaking all the pre requisites eg sailing skills assessment, powerboat and first aid training, having a logged experience of teaching beginners in a variety of types of training boats.

To start with as long as you can sail competently in a strong breeze, drive a power boat safely at all times and most importantly are a good communicator then you will achieve positive results. Becoming a good sailing instructor, however, is a very hard thing to do. I think the thing to realise is that the instructor training course just sets you on your way to achieveing this goal. Much of the real improvements to peoples ability to teach sailing starts at the end of the course when they take their 'tool box' of training ideas and start to teach sailing for real.

What sort of opportunities for employment are there once you are a qualified instructor? Are there so many qualified instructors that you need to move up to the advanced or senior level before you can realistically expect someone to consider you for a job?

Sally: With the increase in young people training to become instructors as part of their post 16 training courses at technical colleges there is most certainly a large number of people looking for a limited amount of work. Especially if you consider the nature of this work is seasonal with very very few people managing to hold onto all year round employment. Certainly if you are looking for something more than seasonal work to help get you through your summer vacations whilst at college you need to have not only a higher level of dinghy qualification than just instructor but also a raft of other outdoor education instructor qualifications to go with.

You are now a RYA Dinghy Coach/Assessor. Can you tell us how you progressed to this point and what was your motivation?

Sally: I have worked in the outdoor industry since qualifying as Teacher 25+ years ago. My first job after qualifying as a P E teacher was in a residential outdoor education centre in Lyme Regis; the sort of job most people would see as a dream job! From there I taught sailing, kayaking, climbing, powerboating and expediton skills on Dartmoor with no formal qualifications what so ever. In those days an ability to teach was all that most employers in this industry required. My how things have changed!

Over the years I have gained many qualifications in a wide variety of outdoor learning fields and have worked full time in 5 LEA run Outdoor Education Centres across Dorset. My last full time work in this field was as Head of Water Activities at the Hengistbury Head Outdoor Education Centre.

My motivation for this work has always been a love of the outdoors, an enjoyment of adventure activity and a passion for working with people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. What more can I say than I have been blessed with the opportunity to provide others with experiences that are both meaningful and memorable many years after they have first done them.

The assessment follows fifty hours of training. Is it quite difficult? Do you have to fail many people?

Sally: Both the preparation for the course and the course itself are demanding and so I think that most people do not put themselves up for the course lightly. Those that get as far as taking the course usually prepare for it well and feel they get a lot out of it. There is a lot to get into the course and often people go away with an action plan of things that they still need to practice or sort out before fully qualifying. On my courses very very few people fail outright because for anyone to get as far as coming on this course, sorting out all the things they need to do beforehand and during the course, I feel a duty to try my very best to get all candidates to a stage where they are competent to teach sailing.

Do you have any useful tips for people who might be thinking about taking the RYA Dinghy Instructor course? How can they make sure they are ready and get most out of the experience?

Sally: Check that you have completed all the pre requisits before applying for the course and don't rush into doing this course untill you feel well and truely ready for it.

Get as much experience of teaching real beginners as possible. I can not stress enough how important this is; if you can get this experience in a variety of settings even better as this will give you more opportunity to sail and teach in different boats.

When you do the course usually your own worst enemy will be yourself as you will put yourself under far more pressure than the coaches running the training. Again if you go to the course with good experience of teaching sailing already you will feel much more confident in your own capabilities and sound much more knowledgable to the other course members. Confidence usually (but not always) breeds success! Good Luck

Sally Davison is an RYA Dinghy Coach/Assessor based in Dorset. Call: 01202 460550.


Moving on

When you teach people to sail, you will be following the RYA Sailing Scheme. There are lots of options to advance your career, principally because there are so many different types of boats, and sailing conditions. Each option has a different career path so it is best to decide what you want to do from the outset. If it is sail all the way then Yachtmaster will be your goal. For powerboats, then you either want the Powerboat qualifications we talked about above, or Yachtmaster (power), or even a commerical endorsement which allows you to work on British flagged commerical vessels.

As your career progresses you don't simply move through the various instructor courses, you also collect qualifications which are essential to the instructing side of things. As well as those already mentioned there are plenty of skills courses including day skipper, coastal skipper, safety navigation, VHF radio, and safety boat. The ultimate achievement would be the Yachtmaster Instructor. To achieve this you need to be a qualified Cruising Instructor. Both can be either power or under sail, and the Yachtmaster can be coastal, offshore or ocean. But before you reach that point you will want to have gained your offshore certificate of competence, your radio operator licence, sea survival and day skipper courses. You also need to be a Yachtmaster before you can think about learning how to teach other people how to become one too. With a requirement to log a lot of hours at sea and a hefty charge for each piece of the puzzle, it's not the kind of career path you are going to conquer very quickly, unless you are both wealthy and motivated.

water infographic

Types of job available & salaries

A lot of the type of work you will find will be seasonal, or fixed term contracts. And the amount you will get paid will vary based on how much previous experience you have, and how good you are at negotiating! As with the course prices above, the figures below are only intended as a rough guide.

Dinghy Sailing Instructor - sailing can be taught year round, though most centres will close during the depths of winter, when demand is low. The seasonality of the work often works in your favour as it increases the turnover of staff. You will be teaching novices in small craft, usually on lakes or at the coast, depending upon your endorsement.
Yachtmaster - working as captain or crewing on a luxury yacht is many people's idea of the dream job, especially if you are hired by wealthy owners to take them and their boat from harbour to harbour.

Dinghy Instructor £15,000 - £20,000
Yachtmaster £100 per day
Yacht Crew £18,000 - £24,000

Mountain Instructor awards

Mountain Instructor awards

Following on from our Mountain Leader page we now take a look at the even more serious Mountain Instructor scheme, overseen by Mountain Leader Training UK. The leader awards are great qualifications to have on your CV and very useful when it comes to introducing groups to our upland areas, but for serious climbers and budding mountaineers the MIA and MIC scheme is the next target on the horizon.

Mountain Instructor awards >>

DofE Assessor

DofE Assessor

The Duke of Edinburgh scheme is well known to most people, but how many know about the expedition element of the award which requires small groups to make their way, unaided, across wild terrain, for up to four days and three nights of wild camping? To make sure each group successfully completes their expedition, we enter the secret world of the assessors - the people who shadow the candidates, often unseen, as they trek through the wilderness. Read our interview with Georgina and find out how you too can add expedition assessor to your outdoor instructor profile.

DofE Assessor >>

Multi Activity Career Guide

Multi Activity Career Guide

You probably went on a residential activity holiday when you were at school; most children do. Getting a job as one of those idolised instructors is actually easier than you may think. Hundreds of thousands of school kids every year means lots of centres and each one requires plenty of instructors. For young people, the wages are pretty good considering the alternatives, and when you factor in the training, experience and qualifications you can achieve in a single season... So how do you get involved? We discuss the different options for starting out, and offer some valuable inside tips on passing a selection weekend.

Multi Activity Career Guide >>