In recent years I'd been trying to get the Club to focus more on attracting and retaining adults who are statistically more likely than juniors to remain as long-term members. Previously Club focus was more on attracting juniors, such as DSC’s successful children's Bright Night Friday sessions. I thought about what would help to retain those members and realised we needed to concentrate on turning those adults into sailing members and not just as parents of junior sailors. I then thought that adult females were particularly under-represented, and wondered what stops adult females from trying sailing or those existing Club members who used to sail, coming back into it.
My husband, Martin and I, talked about this after the first committee meeting and he suggested we incorporate into our Wednesday evening sailing (which is our race night) an adult female focussed event to encourage existing adult female members to have a go or come back to sailing. This is when we came up with the idea of acquiring a keelboat (we’re a predominantly dinghy sailing club with plenty of club dinghies) with our belief that:
Having to wear a wetsuit can be unappealing to many women. It can feel alien to non-sailors and can make you feel self-conscious. They may feel they need to buy a wetsuit, not realising they are able to use club equipment. They may worry about capsizing and there’s less chance of going swimming in a keelboat than in a dinghy. You don’t need to put a wetsuit on to go sailing in a keelboat - a waterproof top and trousers over normal clothes suffice.
The sailing committee was all for it, so I set up a small group of coordinators to help run our new initiative which we named “WOW-WE: Women on Water Wednesday Evenings” and it became official. During this WOW-WE meeting a Club member, Jimmie McKee, ended up in our discussions on acquiring a keelboat and graciously offered us his Hunter 19 for the season which, we eagerly accepted.
The event turned out to be pretty successful, regularly having up to twelve participants on the water. What we did notice though was that there were a few non-members who heard about the event and wanted to try sailing so we decided that the next year we would open it up to non-members.
This year we launched WOW-WE 2023 with an open launch evening held on International Woman’s Day. We organised to bring a few nibbles and cakes for the evening, expecting a few ladies to turn up. WOW, were we shocked when 24 showed up.
We limited numbers to 20 participants over four-week sessions, based on the number of available boats and helms.
Statistics as of 5th July 2023 were a total of 36 ladies (including six coordinators) attended our WOW-WE evenings. Of those, 16 became full sailing members. Some of those have subsequently attended our adult learning course that now runs concurrently with our WOW-WE. We’ll work out the final tally at the end of the season, analyse and plan for next year.
Interestingly, after a couple of sessions on the water, the apprehension of wearing wetsuits and falling in seemed to subside and the appeal of dinghies over small keelboats seemed to grow. However, the big keelboats were a huge appeal with several ladies offering to crew on a regular basis!
Kate Broderick (Pathways Officer) - "Over the course of the 2023 season the WOW-WE has been a great success down at Donaghadee Sailing Club. It's fantastic to see more women on the water gaining confidence, developing skills, meeting new people and getting more involved at their local club. We can't wait to see this programme flourish even further within the next few years."
If your club is working on a new project or programme get in touch and let us know!