However, as the season has really started to get underway, I’m always being asked whether an RYA qualification, or existing qualification from another country, is valid on the lakes here in Switzerland or conversely, whether a Swiss qualification is valid abroad.
I think it’s high time to address the question definitively.
Which route you take will depend on your longer-term plans. If you are planning to stay in Switzerland for a long time or permanently, then it’s worth doing the local D-Schein (which is also valid on the Bodensee) if you want to sail anything with more than 15 m2 sail area. If you are only here for a couple of years or so, then I’d think twice about bothering with the D-Schein and focus on sailing yachts outside Switzerland.
In terms of international licences, the only ticket that is “international” is the ICC (International Certificate of Competence), which is valid in any country that is a signatory to resolution 40 of the UNECE, more info here:
It can also be endorsed for inland waterways with an extra online CEVNI test. Depending on your nationality, most national governing bodies will issue an ICC on request if you hold or complete a minimum level of their own qualifications (Day Skipper in the case of the RYA, Hochseeschein for Switzerland). The ICC can also be taken as a stand-alone course/qualification.
You will also need to check with the governing body in the country of your choice whether you are eligible for them to issue an ICC to you, based on nationality and residence criteria. Nationals and/or residents of countries that have fully adopted resolution 40 normally cannot apply for one outside that country. For example, the RYA can issue an ICC to British citizens wherever they live, to a French or US national living in Switzerland, or to a German national living in the UK, but not to a German national living in Switzerland – even if they hold a Yachtmaster certificate – because both Germany and Switzerland have fully adopted resolution 40. However, if you’ve progressed as far as Yachtmaster Offshore, then I would expect almost any operator in the marine industry to understand the level you’ve reached!
If you are looking to charter in the Med, for instance, I would advise you to look at a qualification of ICC level or above from a national governing body (the RYA’s qualifications are probably the most widely recognised in the world, regardless of ICC). Do bear in mind that there is no such thing as a truly international qualification for pleasure purposes (working commercially is a bit different), and it will depend on each individual charter company as to whether your qualification will be acceptable, so check before you book!
When doing your research and choosing your course, do check with the issuing body whether you can join their scheme at any level (as is possible with the RYA) or whether you need to start from the bottom and do all the qualifications in sequence regardless of prior experience.
Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the Swiss system is basically incompatible with any other country’s system. The authorities here tightened up their regulations substantially about 5 years ago and now the only foreign licences that can be simply swapped for a Swiss D-Schein (in the same way as driving licences) are French, Austrian, German and Italian. Even then you may still have to take the practical exam for sailing.
I wrote an article on this for Swiss News a couple of years ago:
This, of course, applies if you are a Swiss resident. Visitors/tourists can still use their ICC with CEVNI endorsement and I believe you are also OK with your home country’s licence within the first 12 months of being here.
In other words, if you take a foreign qualification while you are a Swiss resident, it’s not valid on Swiss waterways; even with a commercially-endorsed Yachtmaster Offshore ticket and instructor qualifications, I had to do the D-Schein from scratch here. Likewise the Swiss D-Schein is not valid on the sea, you would have to progress to the Swiss Hochseeschein (formerly known as the B-Schein) which is the Swiss qualification that confers an ICC, and there are other ICC-level qualifications from other governing bodies with far less onerous requirements.
However it’s not all bad news; as I mentioned, a licence is required in Switzerland to sail boats with more than 15 m2 sail area (official measurement, not manufacturer’s spec). The corollary is that if you have 15 m2 or less, no licence is required. That’s why, here at Sail YSL, we use dinghies for our work in Switzerland.
It’s a bit of a minefield, as you can see, but I’m always happy to advise. Get it right, and you too could find yourself here:
Don’t forget, though, that fundamentally, sailing skills are universal. Whatever training you do, and wherever you do it, it will be valuable and will help you with whatever qualifications you find you need to take.
And of course, Sail YSL’s dinghy courses are a great place to start 😉