“It’s lovely to see the traits of confidence and teamwork we instill at our school put into practice on the water, and vice versa as the pupils develop resilience and other character traits they bring back to the classroom too.”

Just 15 months after launching OB, this is the impact Notts County SC is having on local schoolchildren.

This comment from Michelle Robinson, Head Teacher at Willow Farm Primary School in Nottingham underlines the early OnBoard success being enjoyed at Notts County, where regular junior sailing numbers are up 75% and the parent-led Saturday Club junior sailing has been extended from 10 to 18 weeks of the year.

When the RYA Club of The Year finalists launched OnBoard in April 2016, they did so as part of a club-wide strategy to develop youth activity in all forms. But the consequences are already stretching far beyond just the young sailors as OnBoard has brought a renewed vibrancy to the club and is proving to be a magnet for attracting new members.

As Deb Pennington, the club’s OB coordinator, explains: “OnBoard has helped us even better achieve family-oriented participation through the whole club. We regularly host 50 kids a week in peak season, utilising the club training boats in the main. But the junior activities have also drawn in parents to try out the sport.

“Some parents have joined training courses, and many are learning to rig and launch boats from the kids themselves and our experienced helpers. This has quickly been converted into family memberships, which have grown by 30 units over the year.

“There has also been a feed from Saturday Club across our other activities like RYA training, the Honda RYA Youth RIB Challenge, a resurgence in our Team 15 windsurfing club and moving towards Youth racing. This allows all juniors to develop in whichever direction they choose; racing, instructing or just having fun.”

Building bridges

Notts County’s Saturday Club has been running for over a decade and proved highly successful in bringing kids (and adults) into sailing, while working with schools to introduce them to the opportunities of Saturday Club is also not a new concept. Where becoming OnBoard has made a difference is by formalising some of these relationships and providing a more strategic pathway into junior sailing.

David Eberlin, Training Committee member and Chief Windsurfing Instructor, picks up the story.

“Whilst we’ve had school visits in the past for taster sessions, the key difference in becoming OnBoard last year was the arrangement with Willow Farm Primary to run a three-session RYA course for their Year 6s (11-year-olds). This year this has been expanded to six sessions to try to complete Stages 1 and 2. We’ve had five groups, 19 volunteers and up to six safety boats out for the pupils all day on Wednesdays.

“No fewer than 30 Willow Farm pupils have been involved in these sessions last year and this, and a number have since joined Saturday Club. This is the long-term future of the club; yesterday’s juniors become our instructors and sailors of the future.”

Of course nothing happens at any club without volunteers. Notts County is no exception, and although the Saturday Club is ‘parent led’ with an expectation that parents are involved, adding midweek OnBoard sessions is a different challenge.

The club relies on a lot of retired volunteers, while David and another windsurfing Senior Instructor have qualified as Assistant Dinghy Instructors to help spread the load. This is part of a wider ‘upskilling’ programme to help volunteers gain new certificates like RYA Powerboat Level 2 and further instructor qualifications.

In addition Notts County is being supported by the RYA Midlands regional development team, including helping put some of the volunteers through RYA Race Coach Level 2, and has taken valuable advice from a number of RYA workshops and conferences, both regionally and nationally.

From little acorns…

“We have wonderful examples of kids flourishing in confidence, not only on the water but also in general, and parents as well. I have witnessed huge changes and progress in a number of kids in the past year," continues Deb, backing up what Michelle Robinson has witnessed in her school’s pupils.

Mentoring, resilience, perseverance, courage, listening, determination, leadership and role modeling are just some of the skills developed that Deb puts down to regular attendance and the building up of experience over time through OnBoard.

She admits it never ceases to amaze her when youngsters, who might have faced a challenge the previous week, return the following week even more determined and resilient because they want to, not because they have to. Then there is the extra confidence displayed in being able to constructively challenge and support other adults, often parents, who are not totally familiar around boats and/or the shore.

Comments from the Willow Farm pupils range from “I’m sad these six weeks have gone so fast” to “I feel like a pro! I know I’m not but now I feel much more confident sailing on my own”.

Meanwhile Miss Robinson also adds: “Trying a new skill like sailing that none of the children had done before means they all start at the same level. We’ve seen children who are quiet in a classroom situation absolutely excel when they’ve gone on the water, and conversely children you presume will be confident needing a bit more support and learning different things about themselves.”

So what advice would Notts County SC offer to a club launching OnBoard now?

Deb concludes: “This activity can be extremely rewarding for organisers and participants alike. Be consistent with the message on safety and encourage the kids to get involved in all of the activities, from signing in, rigging, launching, mentoring, landing and laying up. Most importantly have fun and spread the joy of sailing!”