RYA Yachtmaster of the Year awarded by HRH The Princess Royal

Woman in red sailing jacket on yacht

22-year-old sailor Harriet Steptoe, from Tidworth in Hampshire, has been named as the recipient of the RYA Yachtmaster® of the Year award for 2021 for her exceptional demonstration of sailing and skippering skills during her RYA Yachtmaster certificate of competence exam.

Nominations for the esteemed accolade are put forward each year by the RYA’s worldwide team of RYA Yachtmaster Examiners. In recognition of the achievement, winners receive the RYA Yachtmaster Trophy, donated by the Royal Institute of Navigation. 

The RYA’s President, HRH The Princess Royal, presented Harriet with the prestigious trophy at its annual stakeholder lunch at Trinity House in London (Thursday, 12 January 2023). The event was attended by more than 80 guests from the maritime, sporting, charity, commercial and political sectors.

Going above and beyond

Richard Falk, RYA Director of Training and Qualifications said: “This accolade is often the ultimate aim of aspiring skippers. An RYA Yachtmaster needs a wealth of knowledge, not only to cope with plain sailing or motor cruising but also to be able to cope in the most demanding of situations. They also need the ability to put that knowledge into practice in the practical running of a boat.

“During her RYA Yachtmaster certificate of competence exam, Harriet displayed an exceptional demonstration of sailing skills, and outstanding skill and knowledge as a skipper.

“More than 3,000 people from around the world undertake the exam for the RYA Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence each year, so to be selected as the best is an incredible achievement and one Harriet should be extremely proud of.”

The prestigious RYA Yachtmaster of the Year award celebrates the achievements of incredible candidates who have gone above and beyond throughout their training and preparation. The candidates come from a variety of backgrounds, and many go on to develop fantastic careers in the marine industry.

Harriet Steptoe is presented with the RYA Yachtmaster of the Year 2021 award by HRH The Princess Royal and Richard Falk, Director of RYA Training and Qualifications.

Harriet’s pathway to success

Reflecting on her journey to becoming the RYA Yachtmaster of the Year 2021, Harriet said: “I started sailing on my family’s shared 30ft boat with my grandparents when I was very young and still strapped into a car seat in the cockpit. For many years I think I was completely oblivious to the sailing element of it, I just loved being outside on the water, swimming and exploring. Most summers were spent cruising the West Country, Channel Islands and Brittany.

“This passion for the outdoors continued throughout my school years and I was extremely fortunate to attend Dauntsey’s School, which owns a 24m pilot cutter called the Jolie Brise. I spent my holidays with some of my now best friends, taking part in the Tall Ships races and crossing the Atlantic with them when I was 16.

“Whilst studying at the University of Portsmouth, I continued to work on Jolie Brise both during winter refit and as first mate, alongside fitting in some other deliveries on bigger yachts gaining sea miles and experience for my Yachtmaster exam, which I then took aged 21.”

Building confidence and resilience

Looking to the future, Harriet added: “Now that I have my Yachtmaster qualification I hope to continue skippering boats and teaching sailing but with a primary focus on young sailors. I absolutely love working with young people, and hope that I can inspire many more children to build self-confidence and resilience through sailing. 

“It’s so rewarding to see them develop as a crew and help each other out, particularly in tougher conditions. It is lovely to be able to teach those who are keen to take their sailing further and kickstart their journey into sailing and give them the opportunities that I had growing up.”

Join the hall of fame

Over the years, there have been a whole host of incredibly talented sailors who have been awarded this prestigious trophy. Included amongst them are four-time Paralympian Hannah Stodel and the youngest ever recipient at just 18 years old, George Gillingham.

For your opportunity to join the list of exceptional Yachtmaster candidates, why not sign up for a course at one of the RYA’s 2,400+ recognised training centres and start working towards your RYA Yachtmaster qualification? Whether you’re looking to become a professional sailor or simply a safe and competent skipper of your own vessel, RYA qualifications give you all the skills required to succeed.

Start your journey by learning more about RYA training courses and qualifications

Or find out more about the RYA Yachtmaster qualification.


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