RYA Midlands OnBoard Blog - July 2023

Sailing Development Officer Tom Davenport shares his OnBoard stories and tips...
17 Jul 23

A few weeks ago I visited an OnBoard centre during a session they were running for a Pupil Referral Unit. These units provide education for young people who have struggled with mainstream school, often with lots going on in life and in need of a different environment.

During this session there was a lad who arrived in a grumpy and argumentative mood, making sure everyone knew what he thought. As I pushed their boat away from the jetty, in his purple wetsuit and with wet trainers he still wasn’t very happy! The instructor’s aim for that morning was to build confidence in this small group of young people by trying something new.

Fast-forward 45 minutes and as I pulled the RIB alongside the boat, I was met by a different person! After blasting around in the champagne conditions he was now smiling and chirpy. After persuading me I should help him get back to shore in the RIB, I even got a fist bump from him as he walked off to get changed. His confidence had grown and on that day his outlook had changed.

Experience for the future

Helping to rig those boats, was a 16-year-old lad who lived round the corner from the lake and had first come sailing with his school. He now volunteers regularly as part of his work experience programme with college. On the day I was there he had helped to launch powerboats, jet washed a fleet and acted as a very helpful extra pair of hands on a sailing session.

He told me how he hoped the experience he was gaining at the centre would lead to a career in watersports. The centre manager filled a few gaps, sharing that the lad struggled in school but was thriving in his work experience and stood a good chance of a job once they’d helped him through some qualifications. Another young person whose confidence had grown.

What’s your story?

I’m sure these two stories won’t be new to you. You know the value that being on the water brings and will have seen these changes in children and young people over and over again. That’s why you do what you do. But I wonder how good we are at telling the story of our sport so that everyone else knows?

We can't assume that just because we know the benefits of being on the water, everyone who drives past our clubs or scrolls past our social media posts knows this too! We need to tell a better story.

Two Fusion dinghies on a sunny day each with two youth sailors on board, one helming, one crewing, wearing helmets.

What story is your marketing telling about both our sport and your venue? Telling people the price and the opening times are important, but these days people need much more than that to commit their time, energy and money into trying something new:

  • Young people need to see the fun they can have with their mates or with new friends and the freedom and independence of jumping on a board or in a boat.
  • Parents need to hear of the life-changing value that being on the water can bring to their children, including attributes like resilience and determination
  • Teachers need to hear how taking their students sailing can meet their objectives and OFSTED’s with regards to character development

The OnBoard programme provides some ways to tell this story – have a look at the research demonstrating how sailing changes lives, a video showing a school sailing programme and the details of the character attributes that our sport helps to develop in young people.

Why not make a video like this from one of your sessions, or use quotes like those in the OnBoard Impact Report in your social media posts.

If you’d like to chat about how you could promote your junior activity to more young people feel free to get in touch. If you’ve done something extra snazzy to promote your activity, we’d love to see it and share it with other OnBoard venues around the region!

Powered by OnBoard

A few weeks ago, the BYS (British Youth Sailing) Midlands Regional Junior Championships took place at Rutland SC, with two racing fleets plus the Rookie Fleet powered by OnBoard, which saw 24 young people, all about Stage 2 level, enjoying loads of ‘games with aims’ both onshore and afloat.

We saw teamwork and communication growing through all the fun as everyone chose to sail the double handers, even if they would normally sail a single hander at their club.

Three OnBoard sailors on a sailing dinghy, with the one on bow with his arms in the air smiling.

Creativity from the instructors also brought out creativity in the kids, with cake-eating briefings, shipwreck rigging races, water pistol tag and give-us-a-clue relays. We saw everyone in the group get involved and take on challenges in a different environment surrounded by a bunch of new people.

Our finale was a rendition of Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes in the shallows (watch the action replay here). Not sure it would make the final of Britain’s Got Talent but no-one cared after they’d ended their day dunked under Rutland Water! If you’ve got kids getting into sailing at your club this summer, why not aim to take them to next year’s Regional Junior Champs, our plans are already underway!


  • Independence
  • Creativity
  • Teamwork
  • Determination
  • Communication
  • Confidence

If you’d like any help or support with OnBoard activity at your club or centre, or have any ideas or stories to share with other clubs/centres and instructors in the Midlands, please feel free to contact me.