Within days of the Prime Minister announcing that watersports were now a permitted form of recreation, members of Ripon Sailing Club were back on the water.
Having already set up a Coronavirus sub-committee working on a return to sailing for when lockdown restrictions eased, the club was able to re-open on 17 May 2020.
“We were back that Sunday but had a head start,” says commodore Jamie Kerslake. “We don’t have a water authority as a landlord or some of the restrictions other clubs have in terms of safety cover, and we’d already done a lot of the planning work.”
A Covid-19 Action Planning Document combined RYA guidance with the specific needs of the club, with a timeline and risk assessments for each expected phase of reopening.
Drawn up by a club sub-committee comprising Jamie, systems manager Stuart O’Rourke and committee member John Shirtliff, the plan built on Ripon’s existing risk assessments to focus on how Covid-19 would affect different areas - including the water, club house, car park and boat park - covering issues like cross-contamination, touch points and aerial transmission.
Following ratification by the main club committee, the necessary physical changes were made to the site - such as notices, hand sanitiser and roping off social areas like the club room - allowing members to get back on the water with the committee reinforcing the message that the aim was to deliver a considerate and conservative, safe return to sailing.
Communication was key to the success of Ripon’s approach. The Covid-19 plan was made available via the club website members’ portal, an all-members email and supporting social media.
As Jamie explains: “Strong communication with members is so important. If you engage, you empower, and people don’t feel like they’re left out. It’s also important to raise awareness because there’s a risk to the club if your membership don’t do what you’re asking them to do. It’s been heartening to see that people returning to the club have been properly socially distanced and have taken on board all the advice and information we’ve given them and followed the rules.
“When it comes full circle to the end of the membership year, if members feel they’ve been engaged and informed about what the committee and the club have been doing and why, then I think those people will feel more inclined to renew their membership, even if though they’ve had those weeks of not being able to access the club and the facilities like they normally would.”
The club, which owns its own land, also made a point of liaising with all its other stakeholders: the RYA regionally and nationally; the land agent responsible for a field leased by the club and some of the water rights; Gallaghers for insurance; and the borough council for any local restrictions.
There’s been a lot to do to make the club’s activities as Covid-19 secure as possible. Ripon has made use of all the RYA support available, including ideas from other clubs via the RYA North East Club Development Forums and saving an extra £1,200 in rates relief thanks to RYA legal services.
“You just have to engage or make that call, and wade through the guidance,” says Jamie. “My other bit of advice is spread the load. You need three or more people working on it because we’re in this for the long haul and if you try and do too much, too soon, you’ll burn out. And take one step at a time. Do one thing really well before more moving on to the next.”
Ripon SC started out by allowing individual recreational sailing with no rescue cover. In line with what the club allowed pre-Covid 19, it encourages buddy sailing but does not insist on it, and has hammered home the mantra that people should sail within their limits.
Next, in order to be inclusive for newer and less confident sailors, the club started developing risk assessments and a Safer Working document for its boat house and safety boats, with the aim of offering on-the-water support over specific hours at the weekends: one coach per boat for training and double-manning by two people from the same family for rescue cover.
Each safety boat now has 3 screw top containers - one for the crew, one for the driver and one for a bin - and three sets of PPE. If there is a need to get within 2m of a sailor, the PPE can be used and disposed of into the bin tub. Jamie says the club is also up-skilling safety crew through training on techniques such as accurately throwing a tow line.
“We don’t want people to fall out of love with the sport and for some of our members, it’s important to have that knowledge that if it all goes horribly wrong, someone can help you out. It’s a really big part of encouraging people to the club so they will want to renew their membership.”
Covid-19 planning is now a continuous process for the club in response to feedback from members and ongoing changes in government guidelines. Among its latest risk assessments has been the designation of a specific place for radio controlled sailing for a socially distanced group of up to 6 members at a time, who can use a safety boat to lay marks with procedures for sanitising and packing away equipment afterwards.
“A lot of our RC sailors are slightly older so it’s really good if they can get out for some fresh air and see a few faces again. We just have to take these little things as small victories,” says Jamie. “The feedback from members so far has been fantastic and we’ve been sharing that with those giving a lot of volunteer hours so they know it’s appreciated.
“It’s now a case of our Covid-19 sub-committee continuing to have a weekly review of our activities, to discuss how it’s been going and to ask ourselves where we go next, so that when government guidance changes we can be responsive to what comes out.”
For all the latest guidance visit the RYA Return to Boating hub which has resources to help members and the wider boating community prepare for a safe return to the water. Information is regularly updated in response to changing government guidelines and is for RYA members and recreational boaters, clubs and classes, recognised training centres and RYA technical services.
There will also be regular ongoing RYA North East Club Development Forums providing an opportunity for clubs to share ideas across the various return-to-boating themes and keep up to date with changing government advice through the Covid-19 pandemic.
RYA North East Regional Development Officer Sam Usher is also available to help and can be contacted here by clubs and centres seeking further guidance. Keep up to date with all the latest news from around the region via Sam's blogs at our Regional Development Updates hub or follow @RYANorthEast on Facebook and Twitter.