Back to boating - A recreational sail for young people at Plymouth Youth Sailing

Youngsters getting to grips with the new normal
30 Jun 20

As the first easing oflockdown began in May, and clubs were able to consider covid-secure ways ofgetting members out on the water, Plymouth Youth Sailing (PYS) started developingand implementing a plan. It formed a sub-group of its main committee to reviewgovernment and RYA guidelines, attend RYA online forums and create newadditions to standard operating procedures.

The club’s risk assessmentwas aided by a walk-through with two committee members and an outside expert whoacted as a ‘critical friend’. The resulting recommendations were taken back tothe committee, who agreed to expenditure of around £700 for social distancing signage(on the slipway and rigging area), gloves, sanitisers and additional mastheadfloats. 

Communication was key; as PYSdoes not own the site it uses, the team worked with the landlord on the rentalagreement for site usage, and contacted volunteers to create a list of thosewho wanted to be involved in restarting boating, and the skills they couldoffer. 

Selecting sailors andvolunteers

Having decided that the firstexperimental session would comprise four young people, the team identified agroup of members who were good sailors (able to rig their own boats and launch)and who would listen and pause when needed (to ensure that any problems couldbe solved safely). It was also decided that there would be only two volunteerson the water, an SI and a DI, in two powerboats. Going against the normal wayof working at PYS, the volunteers were to be selected in advance and the youngpeople were to be told which of the club boats they were going to use, toensure safety and remove any complications. 

At this point, the teamcontacted parents and asked that they, and their children, signed a formcontaining a code of conduct and a medical declaration if they wanted toparticipate. The volunteers also had to sign this form. 

Planning the session

Two alternative dates wereearmarked for the first session, to allow for the best weather, and both werefor mid-week afternoons so that the public slipway would be less busy.Once the date was confirmed,the volunteers and the covid sub-group had another walk-through. 

On the day of the session, theboats were sprayed with disinfectant even though they had not been used, becausethey may have been touched by others. Safety kits were made up by each volunteerfor the boat he/she was using, so that only the volunteer using the boattouched any of its equipment. The sailing equipment was labelled, usingcoloured tape, to show matching boom, hull, mast, rudder etc., so reducing therisk of cross contamination. 

Extra equipment, includingsome disposable ice packs in case of injury, was put in RIBS using gloves,masks and face shields. The young people themselves brought in small first aidkits so that they could self-administer if necessary.  

Making it happen

On the day, the young people arrivedalready in their sailing kit. They were briefed at the entrance to the site –they weren’t allowed in the kit store, where only one volunteer was permittedto at any one time. There was lots of hand gel available, and volunteers woregloves throughout. 

As the young people riggedthe boats, a volunteer acted as beachmaster, visually inspecting boats,ensuring distancing and liaising with the public. Masthead floats were added toall the boats, even though this would not normally happen for these sailors inthese conditions. 


The youngsters launched the boatsthemselves, with large distances between them, and a volunteer pulled thetrailers back up the slipway. A conservative approach was adopted, keeping thesailors closer to base than they would normally be in good weather. 

One boat needed attentionduring the session. Normally, the DI would just come alongside and fix it, butto maintain distance the young sailor was coached to sail to a mooring buoy,and to fix it himself. 

At the end of the session, theboats were recovered in a planned order so that trollies were ready.   

Was it good?

All the work to getyoungsters back on the water seems to be paying off. Luke (16) said: “It was greatto get out even if it was raining - makes me feel much better!” And Lorine (16)added: “I was supposed to take my GCSEs this year. I was disappointed not doingthem and also not being able to go on the water, which has made this time a bitunhappy. Going back on the water is great and lifts my spirits. Thanks toeveryone for making it happen.” 

Grace, one of the volunteers,commented: “There was a lot of work put into this to make it happen, but youcan see from the kids’ faces it’s worth it and I didn’t know how much I missedbeing out on the water, even if it’s in a safety boat!” 

Doing it again

PYS ran another session thefollowing week, involving the same young sailors, but introducing some newvolunteers, so a larger pool of up-to-speed volunteers could be built to run sessions. 

The plan is now to bring inmore youngsters but maintain a gap of over 72 hours between sessions, evenafter cleaning the boats, to ensure any virus is eradicated. 

Learning points from PYS

  • It takes longer to rig, because distance is maintained in sheds and storage areas.
  • More preparation is needed at the start of a session, to set up RIBs, clean boats, etc.
  • Pause before going to help someone; do you need to get close, or can it be done at a distance?
  • For larger groups, stagger arrival times for participants to reduce pinch point congestion.
  • Plan to review the process with volunteers once the participants have left – this is vital to learning.
  • The actual on-the-water part was the easiest, and not that different than ‘normal’.
  • Take it easy and don’t push it - small steps!  

A final quote from the PYSteam shows just how positive this activity has been:

“The reason we exist is tosupport young people, whether it’s competition, wellbeing or any other reasonthe young people have. It’s worth putting in the effort, especially at thistime, when they need a pick-up so they can feel good about themselves. We arenot able to run sessions as per the club’s normal ethos (choice in what to sailand choice on what to learn), but the young people realise this and have beengreat helping us sort out how to deliver within the guidelines, and the smilesand thank yous make it worthwhile.”