Inventive Solutions To COVID-19

09 Nov 20

During the period when clubs were able to re-open, a few Sailability venues were able to provide boating opportunities – as well as much needed social interaction - to members and volunteers alike.

Along the way there were many challenges to getting on the water in a Covid-secure way. Here we reflect on the solutions, innovative practice, and strategies which venues implemented.

Assess and test

Taking it step by step is important. Covid-19 teams at venues up and down the country have been confirming what is permitted, assessing risk and deciding how activity might happen.

Frensham Pond Sailability in Surrey assessed their written protocols and procedures by conducting a Sailing Test Day. Volunteers and sailors were approached to gauge their interest in taking part, as Sailing Captain Kate Whyatt explains: “Many of our members are at higher risk of serious illness from Covid, so we were careful to give the message that this is all voluntary and no one is being pressurised, either to return to sailing or volunteering.”

Chesil Sailability also decided to run a trial sailing session. Two Trustees put themselves forward as guinea pigs, as David Griffith explains: “Despite having written down a very extensive risk assessment where we walked through a session, we also decided to run a trial. Two people observed this, and in particular, watched out for transmission risk. You can write it in a document but what you see in your mind’s eye and what actually happens on the dock are two different things.”

Staunton Harold Sailability conducted dummy exercises with layouts as well as revising instructions for safety crew. Once satisfied, Staunton then took the next step of publishing these plans so that all families could read all the new changes prior to booking any sessions.


David at Chesil added that they wanted to keep all volunteers fully informed: “Before we went back to the water, we placed a risk assessment on the website which any volunteer could see. This was also changed twice as a result of the test session so this was well worth conducting.”

Video has proved another way to communicate new ways of working effectively. Volunteers and members can gain information easily without having to do lots of reading, and is a great way to visually show the changes in location and reassure people about visiting the venue.

 All Aboard Watersports in Bristol produced a very effective video for Volunteers with helpful guidance about visiting their site.


Staunton Harold also created a video which they posted on social media which helped volunteers who were feeling anxious about returning as it clearly showed what people needed to do when they arrived on site. 

Controlling numbers

Controlling the number of people on site was a new challenge and many turned to technology.

Rutland found pre-booking of slots to be a good solution and allocated slots on the same day, so members knew when to go online and book.

New Forest Sailability used WhatsApp to keep sailors and safety boat drives up to date with bookings and availability and their online booking system meant sailors could arrange the same slots as their friends.

Frensham used pre-planned time slots, with boats launched at 5 – 10 minute intervals. As Kate explains: “It is a bit like choreographing a complicated dance as boats are leaving and then returning to the jetties at the appropriate time, and in order. It is all working well, and the volunteers and sailors are all amazing in the way that they are adapting to these new working practices.”

“If something is everybody’s job, it’s no-bodies job.” 

Queen Mary Sailability found it helped to pre-plan volunteer roles, as Andrew Craig explains: “We pre-plan roles in advance and organise into bubbles of no more than six which includes the sailors they will be working with. These bubbles operate from meeting and greeting, through boating and sailing to tea and a chat afterwards.”

Chesil introduced the role of a COVID Officer. As David explains: “We found that when people are given a task they are very good at keeping their distance but when there’s down time between tasks they start to gravitate towards each other. So the appointment of our COVID Officer acts as our conscience for that.”

 Chesil's COVID-19 Officer can be seen here to the left wearing red.

Frensham organised volunteers into teams of two, with each team being responsible for specific boats and their associated sailors. Sailors that need assistance are required to bring a household member/carer with them.

At All-Aboard in Bristol, a ‘meeter and greeter’ is stationed on the dockside, where there are two-metre sections marked off for people waiting.

Rutland never directly asked avolunteer to do anything, as Pauline explains: “We really wanted volunteers tofeel under no pressure to return. So once a month we said just let us know ifyou want to become involved and just let me know if you’re ready to volunteer.”

Hands, face and space

One of the biggest challenges facing anyone wantingto deliver Sailability activity has been sticking to social distancing, giventhe amount of support some people need to get on the water.

Creating seating areas to organise lunchtimes orfor each family bubble worked well for Rutland and Staunton Harold. One waysystems and signage helped. Signs need to be clear and easy to understand butthat didn’t stop Pauline Harrison, Chairperson at Rutland from making it fun:“I kept changing our signs to please keep one reindeer apart and please keepone cow apart. It sounds trivial but it really helps set the tone”.

 Families are kept safe with seating areas spread out at Staunton Harold Sailability 

Briefings were done at a distance and includeddetails on Covid-procedures. Ways of getting people in wheelchairs to thepontoon were adapted.

Family bubbles went boating together, decks onlarger boats were marked out in 2m sections, independent sailors were able toget out on the water on their own, capacity was reduced in longboats.

Tasks that volunteers used to do, were managed at adistance. Volunteers at Staunton Harold Sailability watched participantsputting on their life jackets and asked people to demonstrate they were oncorrectly and safely. Safer from a socially distanced perspective andincreasing independence.

Staunton had quite a large challenge to overcomewhen it came to helping wheelchair users or partially sighted participants andthose with cerebral palsy etc on the water without close contact fromvolunteers. The club put out a plea for help and the Pontoon and Dock Companyresponded and have now installed a new pontoon. A fantastic result.Moving the new pontoon into position at Staunton Harold Sailability  

Hoists presented many challenges but careful use ofcarers and family members for some of the close contact work while volunteersoperate the hoist or keeping the boat secure has worked in a number of places.Face coverings of course have been another mitigation.  Chesil's COVID-19 Officer oversees a hoist in operation 

Planning for next season

Venues are already planning this winter for thedifferent scenarios they may face in the Spring - from more lockdowns, agradual easing of restrictions, to a vaccine victory.

Rutland and Staunton will be training familymembers to use the hoists. Staunton will also be providing more training onsafety management on the water and are also considering how they can improvekeeping families warm and dry whilst outside. Whilst Queen Mary is looking totrain more Longboat helms during the winter months.

Gill at All-Aboard is very clear on the mostimportant bit of advice she would offer to others: “Start small! We had justthree sailors in the first week and learned with them what was safe and whatworked, and now it’s building. Keep control of the numbers because theneverybody feels comfortable.”

 Frensham Sailability successfully demonstrate how to social distance