Certificates - the passport to pleasure under power.

My RYA Yachtmaster exam was one of the most gruelling days of my boating life. It was also one of the most fulfilling. After 12 hours of nerve-tautening pressure, in the company of one other fellow sufferer, our examiner finally pronounced himself satisfied that although they were not entirely absent, the dangers we posed to other seafarers, the coastline, friends, family, and Her Majesty’s buoys and beacons were nevertheless within limits deemed acceptable by the Board of Trade for civilians, journalists and other persons of an expendable nature – we had therefore passed.

The relief was almost overwhelming. And the sense of achievement still endures. About 15 years earlier, by contrast, my Hong Kong Marine Department Master (15 tons) exam was the easiest day’s boating I can recall, conducted as it was on the fifth floor of an office block by a Chinese official who seemed faintly bemused by this spotty youth presenting himself for a grilling in best jumper and slacks. After half an hour of getting my lights, shapes and ‘colregs’ nearly right I was in: officially licenced to take to the water and charge about in the busiest sea port in the world.

So I have two certificates that say I’ve managed to convince someone I’m a competent, safe and trustworthy skipper, and in different ways I’m very proud of them both. One’s a beautiful, passport-type document, made to last a lifetime and guaranteed to impress harbourmasters the world over. The other is an unprepossessing computer-printed scrap of paper folded into a plastic wallet. You can guess which is which, of course.