Yorkshire club members honoured in RYA Volunteer Awards

Presentations by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal in London
23 Nov 23

RYA Volunteer Awards 2023

Seven dedicated club members from Yorkshire have been recognised for their exceptional contribution to the sport in the 2023 RYA Volunteer Awards.

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is the sport’s national governing body and a total of 81 accolades were given this year to volunteers of all ages from across the UK to celebrate their dedication and commitment to sailing and boating. 

The awards were presented by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, President of the RYA, in a ceremony at the Grade II listed One Great George Street in London.

Within the RYA Community Awards category for those supporting the grassroots of the sport were: Chris Wright and Jamie & Nicky Kerslake of Ripon Sailing Club; Vince Grealy of Yorkshire Dales Sailing Club; John Mellor of the Wayfarer Association and Yorkshire Dales Sailing Club; Matt Thomas of Otley Sailing Club; and Stuart Francis-Burnett of Beaver Sailing Club.

Lifetime Commitment Award – Chris Wright

Chris has been a member of Ripon SC near Knaresborough for more than two decades and as Club Secretary for many years, his input was critical to ensuring the club’s survival. Using his experience to guide its officers, he still keeps a close eye on the running of the busy club today.

In its citation for the award, the club added: “Chris is unstinting in his efforts to support and encourage both new and existing members. Offering advice, both to the committee and other members as required, he also manages the club’s extensive trophy collection. Chris shows little sign of slowing down, remaining active both on and off the water.”

Chris, of Wetherby, is a member of the club’s twice-weekly radio controlled model yacht racing groups, including setting out and recovering the course buoys, and has additionally been a land yachting enthusiast, attending 34 world and European championships. He said: “I used to do some instructing and race coaching as well but now do general jobs around the club, like looking after the pontoons and the many trophies, of which there are more than 50, and I now have an encyclopaedic knowledge of those! I’ve always tried to volunteer because like any club it relies on its members to keep things going.”

Chris Wright  is presented with an RYA Volunteer Award by HRH The Princess Royal.

Joint Outstanding Contribution Award - Jamie and Nicky Kerslake

Keen sailors Jamie and Nicky Kerslake from York have between them sacrificed a huge amount of their own time on the water to benefit Ripon SC and its members. Jamie became Commodore in 2019 and his wife Nicky soon took over the role of Membership Secretary. Since then, the couple have meticulously steered the club through difficult times, particularly during the pandemic. 

In its citation for the award, the club added: “Jamie’s vision and commitment allowed activities to resume quickly and safely after lockdowns. His quiet leadership has helped the club bond and flourish. Many club improvement projects were completed under his helm, and he also became a Senior Instructor and Race Coach.

“It is a credit to Nicky that membership numbers have remained at their 2019 level. As well as being the first port of call for many prospective members, Nicky has helped existing members get the most out of their club by providing guidance and signposting to events and activities. She has also assisted with organising social events and training and coaching sessions.”

Jamie is currently Rear Commodore and plans to complete Powerboat Instructor qualifications next year to further support the club’s training. He said the couple were “delighted and humbled” to be nominated for the award, adding: “Our volunteering journey now continues along a different path with the club, but we remain committed to the future of our sport and club, as do many others such as Chris who put in countless volunteer hours - it is a team effort.

“Going forward I plan to focus on training. I like teaching people to sail and the club is a place where you can spend time and get a lot out of being there. It is a little oasis in the middle of North Yorkshire. It’s not the biggest or wildest piece of water, but it’s a place where people who love sailing can come together, from novices through to world champions, and enjoy the sport.”

Jamie and Nicky Kerslake are presented with an RYA Volunteer Award by HRH The Princess Royal.

Outstanding Contribution Award – Vince Grealy

Vince joined Yorkshire Dales SC as a windsurfing member in 2016 and two years later volunteered to redesign the website to help to promote and grow the club. He also trained as a Windsurfing Instructor and joined the training team and club management committee.

In its citation for the award, the club said: “Vince has not only revamped the club website and booking system but also completely rejuvenated the club’s windsurf training delivery. He has taken the lead in organising beginner training sessions, re-introduced improver sessions for both adults and young people, enabled the development of advanced level clinics and initiated delivery of formal RYA Start Windsurf courses for the first time. He has also improved the range of windsurf training boards and rigs and has completely reorganised the storage and kit hire systems. His enthusiasm, commitment and competence have been key to the growth of RYA training and windsurfing membership at the club.”

Vince, who lives in Harrogate, said: “The award was a surprise and it’s lovely to be recognised. I got involved with the website because I thought I could do it and it was an opportunity to take something that was broken and fix it. That aside, about a third of the club’s members are windsurfers and we’re pretty much entirely about having fun and we help each other out. I get a kick out of teaching people and sharing the passion for having fun on the water!”

Vince Grealy is presented with an RYA Volunteer Award by HRH The Princess Royal.

Lifetime Commitment Award – John Mellor

John is a member of Yorkshire Dales SC and received a Lifetime Commitment Award in recognition of his exceptional commitment to the UK Wayfarer Association (UKWA).

Wayfarer dinghies can be used for racing, cruising and family sailing, and John’s many roles with the class association have included serving as Chair, Cruising Secretary, e-news editor and, since 2009, Rules and Technical Chair. An Honorary Life Member, he has been a regular presenter at the UKWA Annual Cruising Conference and is Chief Measurer.

He organises the popular annual Family Festival and particularly enjoys providing training and sharing his cruising skills, including leading flotillas in locations like Scotland and the Lakes.

In nominating him for the award, the Association said: “John provides unstinting support for other Wayfarer sailors, always ‘tuned-in’ to others, anticipating needs or anxieties and addressing these in a friendly and often humorous way. He gives support to the inclusion of female and family sailing and novices, providing an environment in which all feel comfortable. A strong advocate of traditional skills and sailing for all budgets, John’s non-judgemental approach permeates throughout the Association and has resulted in a growing membership of all ages and abilities.”

John, who lives in Wetherby and describes himself as a young 75, said: “I’m an always looking forward and never back sort of person and the Wayfarer is a very capable boat which takes me on adventures. I can be on the west coast of Scotland sailing from island to island, sleep out in the boat with a tent over it, bring it home on a trailer and then race it in a national championship. When we’re up in Scotland we go to idyllic beaches with beautiful wild flowers and turquoise seas. Who wouldn’t want to do that? I think that dinghy cruising is one of the last quite adventurous things in life that you can still do. When you are out at sea with limited communications away from it all you have to be self-reliant.” 

John Mellor is presented with an RYA Volunteer Award by HRH The Princess Royal.

Lifetime Commitment Award – Matt Thomas

Matt joined Otley SC 20 years ago and has been a dedicated volunteer on working parties, where his enthusiasm and technical knowledge are invaluable. He trained as a Dinghy and Powerboat Instructor, progressed to Senior Instructor and since 2013 has been Chief Instructor, only pausing for a year to crew a leg of the of round the world Clipper Race. He has also served as Vice Commodore and Commodore and is a member of the Management Team and Board of Directors.

The club added in its citation for the award: “Matt identified opportunities to spread the word and encouraged others, including his daughters, to become dinghy instructors. His whole family volunteered and for many years were the driving force behind the Youth Club and Junior Sailing Week. Matt’s commitment, expertise and initiative push the club forward. He leads by example and ensures the club delivers a safe, efficient and effective service to both members and visitors.”

Matt, who lives in Leeds, said: “I’ve volunteered throughout my life and it’s just something I’ve always done. I get a lot of pleasure from the number of people turned from non-sailors into sailors and the children who have gone on to sail better than I do, who are competing at a national and international level. When I first started I was going along taking my kids to youth club and had no qualifications. They asked if I’d like to help so I became an assistant instructor, and it all went from there. It’s good to get involved rather than just stand by and watch.”

Matt Thomas is presented with an RYA Volunteer Award by HRH The Princess Royal.

Outstanding Contribution Award – Stuart Francis-Burnett

Stuart has been a member of Beaver SC for over 15 years and has been instrumental in the development of the Streaker dinghy fleet as well as attracting many new sailors in a variety of different boats. Over the past five years he has made a significant effort to encourage his fellow sailors, children and fleet racers to get out on the water.

In its citation for the award, the club added: “Stuart challenges and supports fleet racers to improve their boat handling and racing skills and he is always happy to help with rigging and launching to ensure that everyone makes it to the start in a timely manner. He also helps with race officer duties and maintenance jobs. Sailors are never disappointed at prizegivings as Stuart always ensures that there are awards for everyone. He runs the highly active club Facebook page and his photographs of the action are inspirational to others. A reliable, helpful and trustworthy sailor, he has developed a strong sense of camaraderie and community within the club.”

Stuart, who lives in Doncaster, said: “I’m not well off or the best sailor and when I went to a big competitions, the prizes only went down to third place, so I thought everybody ought to get a little something to say thank you for coming, even if it was just a chocolate orange or a sponge for drying out their boat! I started putting things by for prizegivings and it encourages everyone to take part.

“I’m particularly keen to generate a bit of interest with the younger ones. We’re of an age group at the club where we need to start encouraging the next generation of families. I live 15 minutes away so I try to help all I can and likewise people help me out. I just love sailing and I’m a great believer in what you give, you get back 10-fold, and at a volunteer-run club like ours, that’s important.”

Francis Stuart Burnett is presented with an RYA Volunteer Award by HRH The Princess Royal.


RYA Director of Sport Development Rob Clark paid tribute to the enormous impact made by volunteers at the heart of the sport, adding: “Whether it’s encouraging newcomers to give it a try, looking after facilities so people can get afloat safely, running weekend racing, or fundraising for equipment so more people can be introduced to the joys of being on the water – there really is a rewarding role for everyone in our communities.”

RYA CEO Sara Sutcliffe MBE said: “Our sport relies so much on the goodwill and skills of volunteers at every level, without whom the opportunities to get involved in boating would be greatly reduced. It’s so humbling to hear of the many examples of selfless commitment our award recipients have shown – in many cases spanning decades – and they represent many thousands more who give their time to support boating in whatever way, great or small. Our grateful thanks go to them all.”

Volunteering is the heart of RYA and club activity – find out more about the benefits and the many ways to get involved at RYA Volunteering.