International skipper's licenses. Which one is the best?

Comparison of RYA, ISSA, IYT, ASA and ICC certifications. Which is the leading one? And are they accepted everywhere?

Crew trimming
    International skipper’s licenses attract prestige and the prospect of a hassle-free charter. But which will you get the most out of? What are their downsides? And are they worth it? We will be comparing the 4 most recognized ones — RYA, ISSA, IYT and ASA, as well as taking a look at ICC and IPC certificates. 

 The good news and the bad news. The bad news is that there is no international certification recognized everywhere. The word international may give the impression that it applies to all countries, but in practice it only means more than one. The good news is that in many holiday destinations, charter companies will somehow rent you the boat on both international and national papers. Sometimes, though, it isn’t easy.   

That’s why it’s important to check the validity of a country’s certificate beforehand. When travelling on your own, you’ll have no choice but to Google it. But if you rent a boat through, it will be completely hassle-free. We can help you with the certificate, or arrange it for you with the charter company.  

Is an international certification worth it? 

Now you’re probably wondering what the advantage of international certification is. First of all, the quality and depth of the training. The programs are demanding (we won’t lie), but when you complete them, it means you’ll actually know something. The courses also open doors to further your sailing education and to the global community. All four associations offer skipper’s licences from inshore to ocean sailing. Today, we’ll compare the basic ones that are the perfect starting point for new skippers.

license comparisons

Royal Yachting Association (RYA) 

The criteria of the British Royal Yachting Association (RYA) are so stringent that they hold the reputation of being the most prestigious certification. Even the most basic RYA Day Skipper qualifies a captain for recreational and commercial sailing. It is fair to add here, however, that the conditions of employment as a skipper are governed by the laws of each individual country. The course is only available from certified partners. Strict requirements from the RYA and a sophisticated system of online study materials ensure the same quality of teaching globally. 

RYA Day Skipper 

As a captain you will gain a basic understanding of navigation, meteorology and the rules of the sea. You can then skipper a sailing vessel up to 15 m in coastal waters up to 20 miles on a day passage. The higher level RYA Coastal Skipper certification is required for night sailing.  

Recommended experience: At least 5 days and 4 night hours on a boat and 100 nm underway, which is roughly equivalent to the RYA Competent Crew beginners course.   

Validity: Unlimited  

Minimum age: 16 years   

Where to go: UK, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, the Czech Republic and other locations    

Course time: 6-day practical course + 4 days of theoretical instruction.

license comparison

American Sailing Association (ASA) 

The US Coast Guard recognizes  the quality of ASA instructors and instruction. The length of the practical courses now exceed the length of half that of the others . The ASA has extensive online videos for instruction and pre-training programs. The number of online theory courses is greatly increased.  ASA is most suitable for sailing in North America and World wide. For Europe you’ll need to upgrade to the International Proficiency Certificate (IPC) if sailing in Croatia. For Greece, Turkey the ASA 104 certification is all that is required. This is where ASA comes back into play. In fact, it is commonly accepted in popular European sailing destinations.  

Bareboat Cruising 

As a skipper, you can captain a boat up to 15 m in coastal waters up to 20 miles in good weather. The course does not teach night sailing, but does cover the use of the radio (VHF).  

Recommended experience: Knowledge of at least ASA 101, Basic Keelboat Sailing and ASA 103, Basic Coastal Cruising and at least 7 days at sea, before applying for this license.  

Validity: Unlimited

Minimum age: 16 years   

Where to go: Greece, Croatia, Canary Islands and other locations      

Course time: Approximately 7 days depending on the school. Practice and theory can be taught separately or on a practical course.  

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International Sailing School Association (ISSA)   

The ISSA is an association that brings together sailing schools all over the planet. Thanks to this, and the fact that, along with the RYA, it is one of the oldest maritime certifications, it has managed to negotiate acceptance of its certificates almost everywhere you can think of. Its teaching system is not as sophisticated as the RYA’s, but its quality and depth is on a similar standing. As well as English, tuition is available in the language of the sailing school’s home country.   

Inshore Skipper  

As a skipper you can operate a boat up to 24 m in coastal waters up to 20 miles, both day and night. The course includes instruction and a radio exam (VHF/SRC), which is always a plus.  

Recommended experience: Experience at least at ISSA Yacht Crew level, i.e. 3 days at sea 

Validity: Unlimited  

Minimum age: 16 years   

Where to go: UK, Ibiza, Cyprus, Montenegro, Poland, Russia and other locations      

Course time: Approximately 10–14 days depending on the school. Practice and theory can be taught separately or on a practical course  


International Yacht Training (IYT)  

The US-Canadian IYT was created as an alternative to the RYA and offers similar courses and credentials. However, it distinguishes between certificates for recreational sailing and for pro skippers and crew (recreational and superyacht). Teaching standards are high and courses meet ISO standards. However, again, it should be added that they may not be in accordance with the laws of the country you are sailing through.  

International Bareboat Skipper 

The certificate is comparable to the RYA Day Skipper and allows you to sail a sailboat up to 24 m up to 20 miles offshore, but again only in the daytime. To obtain the certificate you need a radio course (VHF/SRC). 

Recommended experience: Knowledge to at least IYT International Crew Certificate level and a full 10 days and 200 nm.  

Validity: 5 years, then renewal required. 

Minimum age: 16 years   

Where to go: UK, France, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Croatia and other locations      

Course time: 10-day practical course (6 days with Crew Certificate) + self-study of theory online (access to material for 2 months includes radio).   

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