Evolution of OnBoard

21 Nov 20

Since its introduction 15 years ago, OnBoard continues to grow each year. Before this year’s pandemic took hold, we were averaging close to 100,000 new sailing experiences taking place each year – a fantastic achievement.

However, OnBoard is much more than simply learning a skill. We want youngsters to grow as individuals and stay within the sport for life – certainly for much longer than simply attending a session here and there.

Resources making an impact

Did you know that since it’s relaunch in 2017, OnBoard has developed various resources including session cards, provided numerous training opportunities and worked with the Institute of Education at University College London (UCL) to produce a landmark study, all with the aim of helping OnBoard venues to grow and retain youngsters in our sport?

OnBoard clubs and venues - which have taken advantage of all these resources - are now seeing the fruition of their hard work. With many reporting big increases in new youngsters joining OnBoard sessions as well as older juniors staying in the sport.

Based in East Sussex, Buzz Active runs three locations and offers sailing activities from its Eastbourne activity centre. The non-profit organisation has been involved with OnBoard since the very beginning and has embraced all of the various initiatives over the years to help grow their OnBoard members and junior sailors.

In the last three years Buzz’s Saturday’s OnBoard sessions have grown by an impressive 250% and Tuesday’s sessions have grown by a whopping 433%.

So what resources did they use and how did they do it?

Character attributes

We often hear from clubs and Instructors that they know children gain so much more than just learning to sail. We are now able to prove this through our work with Professor Bill Lucas and the UCL report, which identified six character attributes: creativity, teamwork, determination, communication, independence and confidence.

To see these in black and white has huge benefits, as Katy Hanton, Buzz Active Lead Instructor said: “To have the attributes so clearly set down and researched, well this has been fantastic for us and definitely instrumental in the growth of our juniors in the last few years especially.”


Educating parents

Buzz believes that having the character attributes written down on paper and ready to show parents has been extremely helpful. As Katy continues: “To show parents that even at such a young age, their children can gain all these character attributes, that it is tried, tested and proven, and not just something one of our instructors is saying makes a big difference.

“In particular, we have discovered that parents new to sailing have never thought about this. They have been quite amazed to see how much more their kids can get from sailing. Parents are now telling us that they have seen some quite big changes in how their children are approaching their sailing and in other areas of their life.” 

Sessions cards

OnBoard’s session cards – which cover RYA Stages 1&2 and bridge that 'gap' to further Stages - help support instructors to incorporate these character attributes into sessions whilst also linking back to the National Curriculum. The cards are designed to give even the most experienced instructors lots of great ideas for games, interactive activities and bad weather alternatives.

Buzz uses the cards a lot in the junior sailing sessions and have found them to be particularly helpful for new instructors who have been able to smoothly link in the sessions with the attributes.

As the juniors work towards their Stage 2, Buzz asks the young sailors to help choose from the session cards what they would like to work on. As a group they discuss what they would like to do and then Buzz uses the appropriate session card to run the session.

Katy said: “Giving the Juniors ownership over some of their sessions has proved extremely successful: the children are thrilled to be involved with the decision-making process and are fully engaged in the session.”

OnBoard Development Days

Buzz has attended many OnBoard Development Days over the years and finds them to be an excellent way of keeping up-to-date.

Designed to support lead instructors & key individuals involved in the running of OnBoard programmes across a region, they typically showcase many of the techniques, ideas and games available in the OnBoard resources. These usually include interactive quizzes and sessions based around creativity and teamwork.

With face to face training currently not possible, we hope to reintroduce these next year. Whilst this year, we have embraced what is possible online and offered regional virtual training sessions. You can read more about the virtual training sessions in this article here.


Inter-club communication

Buzz found this year’s RYA Regional Forums to be particularly helpful as Katy explains: “The forums provide an open platform and are an effective way to come together with other clubs in our area. This has been particularly useful during regional Covid-19 restrictions with venues in the same Geographic location operating under the same restrictions.

Community vibe

Buzz Active has worked hard to create a friendly atmosphere which involves the whole family, and has found that this brings another level which instructors need to embrace, as Katy adds: “There’s so much more than just teaching a skill to keeping youngsters within our sport. By being warm and welcoming to all our families we are creating a small friendly community which kids and parents respond really well to.”

OnBoard support

Many clubs, including Buzz, find that once youngsters are competent sailors, without something to keep them engaged, they frequently leave.

Buzz was lacking the next avenue to push them in but found an answer: racing.

The centre put together a local inter-club regatta series with six other clubs in the local area and found help from Hannah Cockle, the OnBoard Operations Officer, and RYA OnBoard invaluable: “Our racing programme has been absolutely instrumental in keeping juniors engaged. This would not have been so successful if it had not been for OnBoard’s help and Hannah in particular, who has helped with the promotional support and bringing the clubs together.

“Having the RYA and OnBoard’s backing has been crucial.”

The majority of Buzz’s 13 and 14 year olds now stay on and take part in activities including intermediate racing and assistant instructor courses.

OnBoard as a Sounding Board

Katy found that discussing problems and issues with Hannah Cockle, the RYA OnBoard Operations Officer, to be extremely helpful.

As OnBoard is a national programme, Hannah is able to offer advice and suggest solutions that have worked for clubs elsewhere, whilst the RYA regional OnBoard Sailing Development Officers are able to give more specific advice based on the geographic area for the area that clubs are located in.

Katy said: “It really doesn’t matter if you are based in the South or North, a commercial centre like us, or a small sailing club, there is a lot we can all learn from each other.”

Getting back OnBoard

At the start of this season there were 20 regular juniors at Buzz. At the end they were averaging 62 juniors every Saturday – an incredible achievement.

This is more than double what has been achieved in previous years. Buzz believes this is due to several reasons: more people in the local area enjoying Staycations, current juniors at the start of the season telling their friends they should learn to sail, a re-organisation of sessions – and the support from OnBoard and the wider RYA in facilitating online regional forums where clubs could come together and discuss ideas on how to conduct sessions that met Covid-19 restrictions.

Pre Covid-19, Buzz ran Junior sessions on a Saturday with a mix of abilities and organised the children due to their sailing abilities.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions of groups of six, Buzz broke this down and introduced beginner ‘Academy sessions’ on Saturday mornings and advanced ‘Intermediate sessions’ in the afternoon. This also meant that children arrived at staggered start times.

Buzz also found that many of their older juniors were unable to return to other sporting activities, (perhaps due to it taking place indoors or social distancing reasons). This gave them a new-found appreciation for sailing. As Katy commented: “Some of our Juniors directed their energies into becoming assistant instructors. This has massively benefited our younger sailors too as it has shown them that if they stick with it, they can become advanced sailors and get into instructing too.”

“The children have been ecstatic, and their enthusiasm has been of the chart! A whole new level of appreciation of what sailing can offer.”


Preparing for 2021

Buzz’s positive approach and flexible attitude to Covid-19 restrictions enabled their OnBoard sessions to take place his year. However, they found that some of their changes were a little too successful: some weekends the new Academy and Intermediate sessions were fully booked.

So over the winter, the venue is looking to split up the sessions again and introduce extra evening sessions in the week. This will allow Buzz to run the OnBoard sessions whether there are Covid-19 restrictions in place or not.

Keeping juniors engaged is key so Buzz is also looking to introduce junior team racing for next season. The plan is that this can take place within any Covid-19 restrictions as there will be fewer boats involved but crucially still gives a competitive edge to hook in the older juniors.

Buzz has also found that their juniors are more likely to continue sailing if they have a friend to enjoy sailing with – so will be introducing, if restrictions allow, a Bring a Friend day.

One last word from Buzz Active

Katy added: “The OnBoard resources have helped change and improve a lot of things for us. It would have been a much bigger struggle if we were not able to have the resources at hand, and it’s all thanks to OnBoard.”

“It’s been a challenge at times but it’s really worth it to see the sheer amount of kids we have got out on the water this year. To see how much they have enjoyed being out on the water is very rewarding.”

“I recommend that all OnBoard clubs and venues take advantage of the resources available like we have - we have had a marked increase over the past couple of years in particular and part of this has been due to the fantastic support from Hannah and the wider RYA OnBoard team.”