Adapting Club Activities in the Time of COVID-19

How East Region Clubs have been getting on the water
31 Mar 21

Whilst 2020 was a challenging year for many, it was encouraging to see East Region Clubs making the most of the situation. Once the weather started to improve and lockdown restrictions eased, sailors were desperate to get out on the water and have some fun. Here’s how a few clubs managed to get out sailing – which might be helpful as you plan for 2021.

Battling Covid blues at Bury Lake

One of these clubs was Bury Lake Young Mariners, a charity based on Rickmansworth Aquadrome which, in a usual year, sees some 6000 young people on the water. In 2020, as for everyone, things were a little different. Sailing at Bury Lake started with ‘members sailing their own boats’ recreationally, and over the next few months was extended to include sailing fleet boats by individuals or same family members, the boats being disinfected and quarantined after each use.

The training school at BLYM was determined to deliver a schedule of summer courses, albeit much reduced. A limit of 5 participants per course was introduced with only 5 courses running each week. With each course being run by a DI or SI, a limit of 30 people on the lake at any one time was met. The old boatshed and workshop were marked out with bays and each young sailor was allocated a boat and numbered kit for their sole use. Each group was allocated a teaching area so that appropriate social distancing measures could be observed, with each course lead given a specific Safety/Coaching boat for that entire week fitted with suitable PPE.

Gill Jones, from Bury Lake Young Mariners, said “Introducing a new skill to a young group can be challenging, especially when the first week was ‘quite blowy’ and complying with Covid restrictions meant that the ‘single-handed’ method was necessary. There are, however, advantages to teaching a small group in that the group and instructor gel quite quickly.

There is always a sense of pride for an instructor when fledgling sailors take to the water and start to master a new-found skill. Adapting our delivery to meet the various needs of our new sailors is both challenging, rewarding and much appreciated by their families. The feedback from the course participants and their families has been extremely favourable and is backed up by many attending general sailing and splash club sessions following their course week.”

She added “There was a lot of thought and planning given to how we might deliver courses and continue to give both old and young the chance to ‘get out on the water’ in 2020 despite the necessary restrictions. Ultimately the detailed planning meant that the summer and autumn courses were hugely successful and we look forward to carrying this success into 2021.”

Norfolk Schools Sailing Association

Getting back OnBoard with Covid-19 restrictions

A case study of how the Norfolk Schools Sailing Association operated under Covid-19 restrictions to enable kids to get back OnBoard

Norfolk Schools Sailing Association (NSSA) is one such OnBoard centre which rose to the challenge posed by sailing with Covid-19 restrictions, and put in place appropriate measures to enable sailing activity to take place in a Covid-secure way. The NSSA is a voluntary sail training organisation and registered charity which teaches sailing to young people and adults at its training centre near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. The 50 or so volunteers, many of them former NSSA trainees, help provide affordable, inclusive sailing courses to all. The membership price is just £50 for young people. There are no additional course fees for youngsters and a Bursary fund is also available. At the heart of the charity is Chief Instructor and Volunteer Coordinator, Sue Head: “Our whole ethos is about affordability, and our goal is to encourage youngsters into local clubs so they develop a lifetime sailing habit within a more traditional club setting.” said Sue.


To help understand how the regulations applied to the centre, Sue Head and Centre Principal Jeremy Mills attended most of the RYA club development forums. Sue commented: “The RYA support has been phenomenal. We attended a variety of national, regional forums (with East RDO, Robbie Bell) and OnBoard forums (with East OnBoard SDO Jen Miller) and the advice from all of them has been invaluable. We learn so much from them in helping us change our operating procedures.” 

First steps

Step one was to connect with people online. This helped the charity keep in contact with everyone and engaged with NSSA until they could offer courses again. Sue said: “Our volunteers used the RYA activities and had lots of fun running quizzes with our Optimist group.”

The centre had a trial run with volunteers before opening up for recreational sailing in July 2020. The centre felt they needed to do a staggered return and initially only opened for adults who could sail independently.

On-site modifications

A socially distanced work party was held to get the site ready. Luckily some of the volunteers are skilled with electrics and plumbing so came in very useful for helping to alter the centre and put in new modifications to make the site covid-19 secure.

Instant hot water dispensers and an exterior sink were installed outside. Sue comments: “We are now able to wash our hands with hot water and antibacterial soap, in our outside picnic area, as soon as you come off the water without having to go into the toilets. I don’t know why we didn’t put this in years ago!” The Centre also closed their changing rooms and pinned back doors so people could access the toilet. Sue considers this to be one of the hardest areas to address: “We, along from discussions with everyone in the forums, found the cleaning side of things to be a big concern to people. “We also managed to get hold of an automatic gel dispenser so before people enter the building, they need to wash and gel hands, and then they can enter the toilet. The centre also invested in antiviral cleaner, gloves and bags to dispose of items safely. The cubicle receives a thorough spray and clean at the end of the day as well as extra cleaning during the day too. Sue adds: “This made us all feel secure.”

Boats were split into Saturday and Sunday usage. Odd numbered boats are used on a Saturday and even boat numbers on a Sunday. This meant people automatically socially distanced in the dinghy park with every other boat in use. In addition, cleaning of the boats was not essential as the boats were not in use for the next seven days. The same arrangement applied to clothing, with Saturday and Sunday rails introduced. On-site shelving was also built in the Oppi and Topper storage sheds. This enabled the group hubs to take their belongings to where they were going rather than putting them in the changing rooms.

Sue explains: “This new system of belongings being taken to where they are going from, rather than being put in the changing room, is a much better system. It enables groups to stay apart and the changing room to be simply used to change in. Sue adds: “It proves with some planning, you can look at your centre and practically make it work - the rewards of doing it are great.”

Back to teaching

Sue believes that opening up conservatively to recreational sailing first gave all the volunteers confidence that they could bring back youth and beginner sailing in the summer and autumn.

Sue comments: “We wanted to give people the opportunity to do things but put no pressure on anyone to feel like they have to. We also assigned different roles to our volunteers so we were socially distanced as a team. So some would do the signing in, other volunteers stayed in the dinghy park to support with rigging, whilst someone also managed the slipway.” The sailing programme was reorganised with teaching of small groups of six in line with government restrictions at the time. The centre was able to run three courses over a day with typically 18 beginners out on the water, consisting of a beginner Topper and two beginner Oppi groups. Slightly shorter sessions, no lunch breaks and staggered start and finish times were introduced so groups arrived 10 minutes apart. NSSA achieved an impressive eight weekends of youth sailing activity. Safety boats were manned by family bubbles and additional instructors went out on the water in Lasers to give coaching and help. Parents were also encouraged to help youngsters with their kit.

Sue continues: “The children adapted really well too. We found that for the youngsters that did return to school, they were so well versed in the new routines there that they just took onboard our extra measures without any concern. Everyone – volunteers, children and adults alike - settled into our new routines really well.”

Sue adds: “It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve done; a real challenge. But parents have been so appreciative of our efforts. To have parents say to you (in July) that this is the first time that my teenager has been out of the house since March – it is all so worth it.

“The mental wellbeing of being outdoors, in the fresh air, in the sunshine, and being active has so much benefit. I believe that you can be part of a sailing group, have human contact and do all this safely. One parent told me ‘thank you for putting some joy into my daughter’s life’.”

The new ‘new’

However, the NSSA believes that some of these changes have improved the running of the venue, with or without restrictions in place. As Sue explains: “Even when the centre re-opens, it will still keep some of the things that we have changed. For example, we will continue to use the much better system of only using the changing rooms to simply change in, and belongings to be stored elsewhere. The staggered starts and slightly shorter sessions for the younger children will also stay.

“Even the way we do our admin will remain. We don’t have a lot of computer systems on site and normally we would just use the office and go to the files to get out kit lists, course programmes, certificate lists etc. This year we created course packs and put everything together in a plastic container with pens for each course, so that nothing was shared. That was brilliant and we will do this again. All our briefings were of course conducted outside and we may continue to do this too.”

“Normally we wouldn’t send anything out to members but after doing activities online this year, and seeing the benefit of keeping everyone in touch with each other, we will look to continue this. Possibly with activities around Christmas time and spring next year when renewals come out.”

Sue concludes: “It might not be quite like how you’d normally do it – but it’s so worth it - you can do it!”

Walton & Frinton Yacht Club

Walton & Frinton Yacht Club also got on the water last summer. For tuition, the Club created ‘bubble’ groups, or held family sessions or 1 to 1 activity. Groups were small, with a Senior Instructor, Assistant Instructor and 4 students. The Club was a hive of activity with people out on the water enjoying themselves – and improving their skills paddle boarding, Kayaking and windsurfing. As part of this, a number of sailors organically created their own groupings -with a boy group and girl group developing, each of which took it in turns to spend time with the Senior Instructor for some tuition. The result of this meant that a core group of sailors got involved with club racing, with support available from the SI where required. This gradual development had helped the sailors become more independent, making their own decisions (with support where needed). 

St Edmundsbury Sailing and Canoeing Association

SESCA is based on Lackford Lakes near Bury St Edmunds. During the summer months the Club is usually a hive of activity with dinghy sailing and paddlesports, including canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Given the lockdown in March 2020, the Club quickly recognised that communication with members would be essential, and kept members up to date with the interpretation of the Government’s and RYA's guidance as the opportunity to resume sailing approached, whilst at the same time used the Club’s Facebook page to reach out to members with news of events such as e-sailing and RYA training sessions.

As on-water activities were once again permitted, with appropriate procedures for social distancing, use of the toilet facilities and cleaning of shared resources, there was regular activity at the lake. The key message to members was to sail within one’s competence to reduce the risk of needing assistance on the water.

SESCA’s established buddy system that mitigates the need for a safety boat worked well to facilitate getting members on the water, and the Club introduced a new WhatsApp group for Buddy Sailing so members can easily communicate with each other about the times when adults will be at the lake. New members were made welcome with support for them to launch their own boats or become familiar with the club’s hire fleet. This included ensuring they were safe on the water. Many joined with paddlesport experience, keen to migrate to sailing with courses later in the year – the club seeing an increase of 20% in membership during the year. The club was able to do all this whilst fully observing the restrictions for social distancing and the safe use of shared resources.

Looking ahead to the 2021 season, preparations are well in hand to start on Monday, 29 March. The increased membership from the 2020 season has led to a particular increase in interest in kayaking; paddleboarding and start to sail courses. To meet this demand, the Club has purchased four more kayaks; six childrens’ Optimist dinghies and a paddleboard to augment the Club’s existing hire and training fleet and planned an ambitious training programme headed up by professional RYA sailing instructors. It is a great feature of the Club that you do not need to have your own dinghy or kayak to sail or paddle, as the Club has a large fleet of boats, which are available for hire to members. The Club has also further enhanced its facilities with a new and extended main jetty, which provides better docking arrangements, particularly for disabled sailors, while the Club’s outside picnic area has also been greatly improved.

The latest RYA guidance on COVID-19 can be found here: