Hi, obviously every examiner has a slightly different take on it but fundamentally 90-95% of what they look at will be the same. My approach is:
Initial conversation to chat about the exam, the expectations, the possible outcomes and the backgrounds of the individuals taking it. I am keen to emphasise that the job of the examiner is to give the attendee the opportunity to evidence their capability. As an examiner in no way will I seek to add to nerves (ie no sabotage of the boat/engine etc) – people are predictably nervous enough already as it means a lot to them to do well.
We kit up and I then proceed to the vessel and ask each attendee to give me a safety briefing as if I was one of their customers for the day. There is plenty of information out there as to what a good safety briefing comprises so the attendee should do a pretty good job. (See RYA website regarding higher speed RIB trips)
We then leave the berth and each attendee is asked to undertake a series of on water manouvres, these typically include various coming alongsides, an approach to a mooring buoy and a MOB exercise. At all stages I am looking at safe execution of the task and certainly a failure to complete a single task first time is not an issue (usually) but a repeated failure to achieve an objective or a lack of awareness or good lookout probably will be. Good safe skippers get things wrong sometimes (we all do) but good safe skipper notices it is going wrong and doesn’t push a bad position.
We then return to the base and do two things:
1) Task the attendees to create a pilotage plan between A and B. Between these points there is a task of moving to a Lit mark to Unlit mark to a Lit mark. As mentioned previously the pilotage exercise is designed to allow the attendee to evidence their ability and understanding and application of techniques – not as a means to catch them out.
2) Alongside this I test the theory. The level as you know is Dayskipper Theory so I either give attendees a test paper to do on their own or I sit down individually with each (out of earshot) and go through the questions verbally with each attendee.
Once ready back on to the water and execution of the night exercise. I expect the attendee to use the resources in the boat (the other attendees to best effect) as relevant.
Once back alongside we do individual debriefs and outcomes.
Writing the above bit leads me to actually answering your question. I would say that the main reasons for a fail are:
1) Simply not enough experience. Time on the water is key as an examiner can tell a mile off if you if someone has not been afloat much recently/ever. A lack of sea time then manifests itself (typically) as hesitant handling, limited application of theory etc
2) Plenty of hours and very good boat handling but little at night. Night nav is very different and there is no ‘bodging it’. You either look at ease at night or don’t – experience is key. As a guide too it never ceases to amaze me on both Exams and Advanced Instructors courses how many people don’t turn up with decent kit – surely if you do any level of night navigation you realize a torch(es) is pretty handy. The lack of kit may tell a story although conversely it doesn’t mean someone with all the toys is going to be spot on.
As others have said before for me the acid test is would I trust the Skipper with my children/anyone’s children and be sure they would make the right decision as to whether to go to sea, get them safely from A to B etc.
Don’t worry about your nerves. Examiners can see through nervousness and can differentiate between nerves and a lack of competence/safety and if you do do something silly through being nervous will look to try and put you at your ease and give you another opportunity.
In summary I would say that if you deserve to get through you will and if you should brush up on areas before being responsible for the lives of others then take on board what the examiner says and then address the shortcomings. Plenty of great Skippers pass on their second time and are very good Skippers that I wouldn’t hesitate to trust with my children.
Good luck, hopefully the above addresses the question but do raise further questions.