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Ways into Yacht Racing: Time for sailing to adapt

by Mark Jardine 4 Jan 2017 11:46 GMT 4 January 2017
The sport of sailing is changing © Mark Jardine

There is no doubt about it - the sport of sailing needs to adapt. People's lifestyles are changing, pressures on time seem to be greater than ever before and the finances of everyday people are stretched. Combine these factors together and you have a lethal cocktail for the traditional hobby of sailing's 'weekend warriors'.

Does this spell the death-knell for sailing? Does it mean our sport is in terminal decline? My view is that it doesn't, but the sport will be a shadow of its former self if it doesn't make changes at a fundamental level.

We've published various articles with ideas on increasing sailing participation on YachtsandYachting.com, and I know that clubs up and down the country have implemented schemes based on what they have learnt. This is all well and good, and I take my hat off to the enterprising individuals and committees at those clubs who have worked so hard at getting more people out on the water, but I feel a national scheme and framework is needed to give our sport the boost to increase participation.

So what scheme is needed? What framework will make it easier and more affordable for people to get out sailing? To see the solution, first we need to list three problems...

  • Time - the commitment to go sailing isn't just about the time on the water, the boat needs preparing and maintaining. Modern family life can make it feel like sailing is a chore, when we all know it's the best feeling once you're out on the water.
  • Money - getting on the housing ladder can mean 'big ticket' purchases like a boat are pushed way down the list.
  • Space - most boats aren't small. A garage is a pipe-dream for most and many dinghy parks and moorings have waiting lists.

So what scheme can overcome these problems? My thought is club-owned fleets with either 'Pay as you play' or membership tiers to cover the costs of storage, maintenance and boat ownership. This kind of scheme is working at a club level in Germany, the United States and Australia, and Queen Mary Sailing Club have been working on this in the UK, but if we can do this at a national level, with the framework and financing options laid out simply for clubs then I believe we can give sailing a real shot in the arm.

Tony Bishop at Queen Mary SC gave us his thoughts on the 'Pay as you play' scheme they have in place, "In 2016 we looked after just over 300 'pay and play' visitors hiring boats and windsurfing kit. A further 175 'day sailors' have enjoyed a temporary membership to get on the water this year, with many windsurfers making more than ten visits this way. It reflects about 2% of the income at QMSC so not enough to power a business, but nice lines to help us invest in the club. Looking back, these two income lines they have both nearly doubled since 2007 and, as the price has not changed dramatically, reflects the growth in these areas. We see pay and play as a very important way to keep people active in our sport."

This of course needs the national governing bodies talking to each other, the boat builders, the financing institutions, the insurance industry, and the clubs themselves to 'make it happen'. Is this far-fetched and wishful thinking? No, everyone recognises the problem and this framework can be created. There are some seriously bright minds in our sport and in our industry, and when they are brought together great things will happen. It's time we made our sport change for the better.

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