There are over 200 RYA Sailability sites across the UK helping nearly 61,000 people with disabilities sail in 2015/2016 alone, with 17,000 going on to sail regularly.  

With such high demand recorded, the annual conference offered volunteers the chance to meet with experts and attend a range of workshops, clinics and talks scheduled across the day.  

Ahead of the sailing season, delegates were able to organise one-one-one clinics with RYA staff on a range of subjects including safeguarding, racing progression, affiliation and grant funding and charity queries.  

Throughout the day, attendees were also able to hear case studies from three successful Sailability sites, including Wealden Sailability, who won the 2015 Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, as well as Bisham Abbey Sailing School and Aztec Adventure at Upton Warren. Despite each having differing operational approaches and strategic aims, they have all run successful, regular RYA Sailability sessions and were able to share their insights to other sites. These sessions were an excellent opportunity to share good practice and discuss different approaches to running sessions for sailors with disabilities.  

In addition, RS Sailing, WindRider, Harken, Gill, the Green Blue, the Wheelyboat Trust, Arthur J Gallagher, Outdoor Adventure and several class associations provided different displays for delegates to visit, showcasing some of the latest equipment and boats for Sailability sites.  

With workshops on social media, networking, top tips on applying for funding and coping with demand delivered by RYA Sailability staff, attendees were able to develop skills and consider ways in which their sites could improve self-promotion and develop effective systems for dealing with increasing participation numbers.  

A Conference Special Sailability Photo Of The Moment was held during the conference, with John Osbiston claiming the top prize of a GoPro for Milton Keynes Sailability.  

One attendee said: “Visiting the conference was an incredibly useful experience. We found it to be a great opportunity to share ideas and to learn from the challenges and success of other sites. From the varied and interesting range of workshops to the opportunities for one-to-one meetings, the conference has helped our site fully prepare for the new sailing season.  

“We really appreciated the opportunity to engage not only with other Sailability groups, but also with RYA staff, who were able to answer our questions and provide guidance on a whole host of issues.”  

The RYA Sailability Volunteer Awards recognise the priceless voluntary contribution given by people who make a real impact on our sport.

The Awards Ceremony offered an opportunity to thank volunteers for all their hard work and commitment in helping others to sail regularly.

Among those who received Sailability Volunteer Awards were Ian Nicholson from CVSS – Sailing for people with disabilities, Paul Bunting from Belfast Lough Sailability and Mylor Sailability’s Tracey Boyne, in recognition of their work supporting RYA Sailability and its aims over a number of years.  

Following the dinner, the attendees were able to hear from after-dinner speaker Norman Croucher.  

Norman is an acclaimed mountain climber who set out to climb one of the world's 14 highest mountains and completed the 26,250 foot ascent, despite having two below –the- knee artificial legs.

Norman was able to share stories and experiences drawn from nearly 50 years of mountaineering expeditions around the globe, alongside his extensive work with disabled groups.  

Debbie Blachford, RYA Sailability Manager, said: “It was fantastic to see so many RYA Sailability sites represented. The workshops during the day offered us a chance to really engage with all of sailing providers and help them assess and improve the activities they offer.  

“The Awards Dinner in the evening also offered us a great opportunity to recognise and celebrate volunteers at Sailability sites across the country. Without these people dedicating their time and efforts to helping others sail, many RYA Sailability sites would not exist.  

“The conference was a great opportunity to reflect on the progress made in 2015 and also to look ahead to the coming year, with some really exciting events coming up. We are looking forward to what will be an incredibly exciting 12 months for RYA Sailability and disability sport as a whole.”

To find out more about RYA Sailability, visit www.rya.org.uk/go/sailability

Or visit their Stand (G28) at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show from 05-06 March at Alexandra Palace.