From sailing adventures to maritime apprenticeships


Julia Hutchison explains what UKSA is all about, and seeks new partners for its workboat apprenticeship programme

The United Kingdom Sailing Academy (UKSA) is a maritime charity which believes passionately in inspiring and supporting children and young people, encouraging them to broaden their horizons through life-enhancing water-based adventures, education and training for careers at sea.

UKSA, based in Cowes, is the largest RYA training centre in the world. Our original role was to provide training in sailing boats, and each year we provide memorable adventures for around 8,000 children. But in addition to that we have broadened our remit, to offer professional training endorsed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to maritime students from across the globe.  Each year we have trained over 1,500 professional career students to work within the growing global maritime sector. We encourage our students to believe in themselves by providing a hand-up, not a handout. Our professional education, mentoring and training pathways create exciting long-term maritime career opportunities to empower students to succeed for themselves, their communities and society.

At UKSA we believe that all young people have a need, but also that there are some who require greater support. Living through this period of austerity has hit schools and young people in the most disadvantaged areas the hardest, and this has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

UKSA takes a unique approach to training; we believe that the time a student spends with our organisation is as much about honing interpersonal skills and developing confidence as it is about learning skills and gaining qualifications. Our holistic approach to learning gives students the real skills needed to enter the workplace; we have the resources to support the wellbeing of an individual by considering their emotional, physical, cultural, spiritual and social development in parallel with their learning journey in their career. As part of our commitment to the sustained growth of our students, we have a dedicated welfare officer on site; Kim Fry is professionally trained and offers support tailored to each individual, giving students the space to reflect and create proactive action plans.

UKSA’s experience shows that a career at sea can provide a rewarding experience, and we are well placed to support all students with an aspiration for a long-term career in maritime. At UKSA we work closely with funders and partners to remove the barriers, both financial and social, to enable students from any background to access our programmes. We want our students to achieve their potential, and to gain life-changing experiences, qualifications and careers.

Our new workboat apprenticeship programme

Learning how to operate navigation equipment. Photo: Paul Williamson

The two-year workboat apprenticeship programme with UKSA is designed to give young people all the skills, knowledge and behaviours to work effectively and safely in the rapidly expanding workboat sector. The apprentices will be able to work on a wide variety of specialist vessels, ranging from tugs and multi-purpose workboats to fast pilot boats and crew transfer vessels taking personnel out to vessels and installations offshore.

To become a crew member they will need to have developed the knowledge, skills and competence to carry out all the core tasks on board with minimal supervision, including the following:

  • Communications – including use of VHF and UHF radios, mobile telephone and IT
  • Navigation and vessel handling – manoeuvre the workboat and check position using bridge equipment
  • Berthing – bring a workboat alongside and handle mooring ropes to secure the vessel
  • Towing operations and laying moorings – using winches to handle ropes, wires and chains
  • Personnel transfers – ensuring all precautions taken to allow safe transfer to other object
  • Cargo handling – assist in slinging loads and in crane operations, and in securing cargo on board the workboat.

The training covers both the underpinning knowledge base and the practical application of the necessary skills to ensure competence and safety on board.

Training for employment

UKSA workboat students with an instructor, learning how to maintain and repair a ship’s engine. Photo: Paul Williamson

UKSA has two active work­boat apprentice­­ship programmes, one in partnership with Seacat Services and the other with Williams Shipping. Both partners will provide employment opportunities for the apprentices at the end of their training period.

With these schemes, UKSA is building on a fantastic heritage of supplying highly trained crew to support the UK’s highly successful offshore wind market. UKSA has recognised the growing demand in the UK workboat sector, and these programmes ensure that young people are able to benefit from this booming industry.

The programme follows the Workboat Crewmember Apprenticeship specification launched by the Workboat Association in 2018 to drive training initiatives for the next generation of workboat crews.

Chris Frisby, Director of Training and Operations at UKSA, said: ‘The theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week was Build the Future, and this is very much in line with UKSA’s ethos of providing training pathways that create exciting, long-term maritime career opportunities. With the backdrop of Covid, never has it been so important to provide opportunities for employment for our young people whose futures have been so severely impacted. Our two workboat apprenticeship programmes represent fantastic opportunities for students. Over the course of the two years, the apprentices will obtain no fewer than ten industry recognised qualifications from STCW Navigational Watch certification through to food preparation and hygiene, ensuring they are fully prepared for an exciting career path. We have a very well established reputation for training superyacht crew. Our move into workboat training was a natural next step for us.’

Philip Williams, Managing Director – Marine at Williams Shipping, commented: ‘We are really proud of these enthusiastic workboat apprentices, who have already shown they have an appetite to work hard, learn new skills and take on the responsibilities of working at sea as part of a skilled vessel crew. We are sure they will be great members of our team, and we look forward to working with them long into the future.’

Andy Calderbank-Link, Operations Director at Seacat, said: ‘We’re proud to be providing new opportunities for homegrown talent to be developed. Our apprentices will be amongst the first generation of truly specialist offshore wind support crews in the UK. Offshore renewables are now a bona fide career choice for young people, and the apprenticeship scheme will train recruits to the highest possible standard, providing a key point of entry into the sector and a clear path for progression.’

Kerrie Forster, Chief Executive Officer at the Workboat Association, added: ‘With these schemes, the UKSA, Seacat Services and Williams Shipping are building on a heritage of supplying highly trained crew and specialist vessels to support the UK’s hugely successful offshore wind market. This mirrors the picture we’re seeing across the country as the UK workboat sector gears up to meet growing demand, and ensures that young people are able to benefit from this booming industry.’

If you would like to partner with UKSA to deliver a workboat apprenticeship programme, please contact Julia Hutchison by email:

Julia Hutchison is UKSA’s Sales and Marketing Director. For more information about UKSA visit: