Getting youngsters to stick with sailing once they are in OnBoard is a challenge everyone has and few truly master.

Racing remains one of the most popular avenues to try to encourage them down. But forcing a youngster who isn't ready to racing can be as counter-productive as doing nothing as the fear of the unknown, both from the sailors and their parents, can kill any enthusiasm stone dead. 

Over the past few years the introduction of the Regatta fleets at the RYA Zone and Home Country Championships has helped provide a stepping stone for OnBoard sailors to go to their first event. But for many sailors and parents that is still a huge jump to take, often mentally more so than anything else.

So how can you help give your sailors the confidence to believe racing is for them and their parents the confidence to support them in doing it?

Softly softly

This winter Llangorse SC have up to 15 youngsters aged eight and over involved in Welsh and British squads, some of whom have only been progressing from OnBoard for a year.

For the past two years parent Charlotte Sparks has co-led Llangorse's cadet coaching days as one of two volunteer Junior Sailing Co-ordinators at the club. She and fellow parent volunteer, Will Willet, help guide sailors from their first taste of sailing ​through to racing in ​the Regatta fleets at the regional and ultimately national events. 


Charlotte believes getting parents involved from the outset is as big a step as coaching sailors on the water.

Charlotte said: "OnBoard is all about getting youngsters into sailing who might not otherwise discover the sport. But that also means you have lots of non-sailing parents to whom the whole idea of rigging boats, putting boats on trailers and travelling to events etc. is totally alien. 

"You might have a super enthusiastic young sailor, but ultimately to progress that sailor will need their parents' support and if it all seems a bit too difficult, daunting or too expensive they will quickly find something else for their child to do. While the sailors are making step-by-step progress through the season on the water the same step-by-step approach has to be taken with parents off it."

Hands on approach

As part of Llangorse's cadet coaching days, parents have to get involved. While the children are getting ready to go afloat, the parents have everything explained, including what bits of the boat do what and learning how to rig and de-rig to help their child. 

Like learning to sail they won't take everything in the first session, but week by week they develop greater understanding and knowledge, supported by volunteer parents who were once in their shoes. Having this sort of informal network of people who know how new parents are feeling Charlotte believes is important in nobody being embarrassed to say 'I don't know what I'm doing' or to ask for help. 

To get more youngsters to events, new sailors can borrow boats from the club and everyone mucks in to get boats and sailors there. For every session and event parents are told exactly what their child will need from what they need to wear and bring to what will happen on the day.

Good communication is critical. At the start of the season Llangorse parents get sent a calendar featuring all junior club events as well as two 'away' columns that includes the regional and Welsh national events with Regatta fleets. Regular contact is maintained through email, a newsletter, the club's Facebook and club website, where the comprehensive junior sailing section details exactly the pathway young sailors can follow. 

It's about removing all the unknowns and perceived barriers to make things as easy as possible for a parent to support their child to sail.

Charlotte continues: "We've taken a step back and said if I knew absolutely nothing about sailing, what would I need to know, and then produced information for parents to explain everything. Myself and Will attend many events with our own children so we're a familiar face for families to ask questions. 

"We're typically found volunteering afloat as safety cover or as regatta fleet coaches which offers the children moral support and ​a chance ​for us​ to keep abreast of how our sailors are ​progressing. We tend to brief our club sailors informally before and after events to embed their knowledge and experiences, offer praise and encouragement and include the parents. 

"Extra pairs of hands are always welcome on the water and for beachmaster type duties so there's always plenty for families to get stuck into. It builds camaraderie where people look after each other and each others children. When you have a strong sense of community like this where parents make friends themselves, and that they enjoy being part of, you've got a good chance of keeping their children involved." 

Building a pathway

Event Regatta fleets are simply about a coach-led fun introduction to racing, offering healthy competition in a relaxed environment with plenty of support, guidance and games to keep novices enthusiastic. Race officers set courses which sailors will become familiar with on the wider circuit and coaches provide advice and support on and off the water.​

Llangorse OB youngsters have a clear pathway from club racing, the Welsh Club Youth Racing Circuit (CYRC) series, RYA Cymru Wales OnBoard Llangorse Acorn Regatta, Welsh Youth and Junior Championships and Welsh Zone Championships to follow.

But all clubs across Britain can create their own similar pathways incorporating regional training and local traveller events, organised by class associations, and then entering the Regatta fleets at RYA Zone Championships, which this year are on 23-24 September.

If as a club you decide your aim is to go to a Zone Championships, factor this into your calendar and then go to couple of regional series events together beforehand to lose the fear factor around what to expect. Make t-shirts or hoodies, go en masse, do a session for parents on towing and make the whole thing an adventure as opposed to something which can be a scary step as much for parents as it is sailors.

As Charlotte concludes: "We're building on the encouragement that families before us offered us. For us creating a sustainable cycle and inspiring parents has been key to keeping youngsters sailing longer."