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Getting your kids into sailing? Make it fun!

by Mark Jardine on 20 Mar 20 March 2017
Family & Commodore's Weekend at Ripon © Ian Smith

By far the best way of increasing sailing participation is to get kids hooked on the sport. While we all know that sailing can be such an enjoyable pastime, persuading our own children of this can sometimes be a tricky task.

There are so many competing activities and pastimes on young people's radar nowadays that going sailing, and how that is done, can seem to them like a long-winded and difficult exercise. The last thing you want to hear is that they "can't be bothered".

The Open Meeting circuit for kids in racing is huge. Optimist, Cadet, Topper, 29er, Mirror, RS Feva, RS Tera and 420 fleets roam between the big UK sailing clubs for weekend events together with campervans, support RIBs and anxious parents wanting their children to be the next Ben Ainslie, Hannah Mills, Ian Walker, Alex Thomson or Dee Caffari. The reality is, and the stats are there to show it, that very few will make the leap into the British Sailing Team and even fewer still will go on to the Olympics, let alone win a medal. Competition at the top is tough and the attrition rate is high. The journey results in many broken dreams and a number of sailors quitting the sport entirely.

Family sailing has the advantage that it is also great fun for parents! If you own a yacht already you can take the kids out on it - on a good day - and just anchor up in a bay, maybe taking a kayak with you to explore the beach and have a barbecue. There are also dinghies such as Wayfarers, Wanderers, Scows, 2000s and many more which take passengers well, give kids their first taste of helming under supervision and in safety, and provide the fun 'transport' to a great day messing around on a secluded beach. With the pressures of everyday life so high, getting away for a few hours on a boat and playing on a beach can be extremely cathartic for adults as well.

Some sailing clubs are superb at making sailing events enjoyable for kids. Results are often secondary to the activities, with racing confined to the morning and rafting, dressing up as pirates and passage sails down creeks, the highlights of a 'Cadet Week'. This is what sailing should be for kids; something that has them enthusing about their day when they get home rather than moaning that they, "only finished 14th". These Cadet Weeks also lead on nicely from the RYA's hugely successful 'Push the Boat Out' days which get so many people who are new to sailing out on the water. It's no surprise to see sailing clubs which arrange fun activities are thriving while some of those with a pure racing philosophy are watching their membership dwindle.

Salterns Sailing Club near Lymington is purely for kids. Situated on a waist-deep pond, kids can go out in Optimists, Scows and British Moths with parents on hand in waders should they get into difficulty. The club is for children and run by children, with a junior committee of 12 years olds making the decisions and running the club. It's an RYA Training Centre and runs two 'Moppy Camps' each year. The key message is always to help children enjoy sailing; that says it all really. Salterns is also successful in bringing top sailors into the sport, Land Rover BAR's Matt Cornwell being one of them: a top bowman and often regarded as one of the 'nicest people in sailing'. A coincidence?

Please don't get me wrong. I have nothing against sailors racing at a high level in the big classes and Britain's place at or near the top of worldwide sailing simply wouldn't be possible without it, but I feel the 'grounding' for a sailor has to be in the fun that it is. Make their first sailing a trip out to a beach for a barbecue on a beautiful day. Don't throw them in at the deep end, crewing in a frostbite series race in January. Once they've started to love sailing at an early age they'll always come back to the fun side of sailing, no matter how competitive their sailing becomes in the meantime.

What are your thoughts on making sailing fun? Have you got a favourite spot you like to sail to with your kids? Tell us using the facebook comments below or email me directly at .

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