Getting back OnBoard as we live with COVID-19

27 Jul 20

It’s probably no surprise to learn over the past two months the Return to Boating page has been one of most popular on the RYA website. Since boating as a form of exercise has gradually been permitted again across the UK, clubs have gone to great lengths to interpret Government guidance and implement COVID- 19 protocols to get back on the water.

It was never going to be easy. The guidance can be confusing and is often not specific enough to clarify the exact limitations in every walk of life. Every club and centre has its own considerations, and centres have different challenges to clubs.

Yet by adhering to the fundamental principles of minimising the risk of infection, respecting the ideals of being considerate and conservative in our return to boating and following Government guidance, OnBoard activity has begun to re-start.

Bury Lake Young Mariners, in Hertfordshire, is one OnBoard club that’s been very proactive in helping their members know what to expect when they come sailing again. Through a walkthrough video posted on their YouTube and Instagram channels, participants are taken step by step through the new processes.


Having restarted general sailing for members on Saturday 4 July, the site kicked off lessons a few days later and now have the capacity to teach 25 students a day. So how did they get to this point?

“I was a bit worried at first,” Principal / Chief Instructor, Rob Arthur, admits. “I thought ‘What do I know about all this!’ But as we started working through the guidance, and hearing about what other sites were doing or thinking through the RYA club development webinars, we saw how we could make it work for us.

“Even before lockdown started easing, we were doing things like adapting our standard operating procedures (SOP) and thinking about instructing. Initially we were going to go big quickly, but it became obvious it would be safer to start small and see how we got on. From the first few weeks, it’s working out quite nicely.”

Getting ready

Rob acknowledges one of the biggest things Bury Lakes had in their favour was ready-made manpower. As a youth organisation, they have lots of young instructors, who through lockdown, have not had a lot to do. When help was needed to get everything set up and ready to go, there were many willing pairs of hands to call on.

The site has been divided into five areas with an instructor and five students per area. Five groups of five can be on site at any one time and sailors are allocated a boat, its kit and buoyancy aid, which they label and keep in an allocated box in the boatshed. Each area is marked out with tape.

With all activity shifting to single-handers, apart from boats for families and the option to use kayaks and Stand Up Paddleboards, Rob is producing instructor cards at the start of each week, giving his team tips and ideas as to how to adapt sessions, games and other things they can do within social distancing measures.

Each instructor gets a COVID pack of two masks and two sets of gloves plus advice on how to get someone into a boat safely should they need recovering. Rob also recognises they are “lucky” in that their lake is quite sheltered and not deep – it’s possible to stand in most areas – which has helped work out the safety aspects.

He does admit, however, enforcing the one-way system around the boatshed, which due to its layout was already in operation before COVID, remains an ongoing challenge. Extra signage and a warden are in place to try to keep things flowing.

Seizing the positives

To date it’s only been individuals, not groups, that have got back afloat, with OnBoarders taking advantage of the same general sailing opportunities as club members and young sailors continuing with Stage 1 and 2 courses.

Realistically Rob doesn’t see Bury Lake being able to get their school and Scout groups back out until September, if things continue on the same pathway. But one of the positives they are seeing since restart is individuals, who would normally only sail as part of their group, stepping outside of their comfort zone and coming down independently to sail on their own.

“This is really encouraging in terms of their local term involvement at the club and in sailing past their group involvement,” Rob says.

It is still early days, and Rob and his team are already thinking about what comes next; how can they increase capacity when there are only so many boats and so much space? But for now, he’s just delighted to see people enjoying the water again.

Rob concludes: “I think for now we’ve got something that’s working and through this process everyone has learned how lucky we are in terms of the people we have available to help. There will be other problems to solve and challenges to overcome ahead, but we’re confident we have a good system in place to build on.”

Help for you to get back OnBoard

Whether you’re a club or training centre, and wherever you are in the UK, stay up to date with the latest advice and guidance for you at the RYA’s Return to Boating page.

The RYA’s YouTube channel is also being updated regularly and has heaps of useful videos on the hottest return to boating topics, such as what the latest easing of Government restrictions in England means for your club, communications, safely restarting training activity, returning to racing and loads more.

Meanwhile if you have any questions specific to returning to OnBoard, drop Hannah Cockle, RYA OnBoard Operations Officer, an email to - be considerate, be conservative and, most importantly, stay safe.