RYA Training: Making a difference

18 Dec 20

Since 1970, RYA training has been making a difference to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

Whether it's a new career pathway, overcoming the challenges of a disability and gaining independence, or discovering the joy of boating and watersports for the very first time, RYA training creates life-changing opportunities for many of its students. 

Here we find out more about the impact of RYA training by speaking to some of the charities, centres and individuals that have witnessed the broader benefits of RYA courses over the past 50 years…

Getting young people afloat

With dedicated youth training schemes for dinghy sailing and windsurfing, and standardised minimum age requirements for all RYA courses, there are plenty of opportunities for children as young as 8-12 years old to get started on the water with RYA training - in some cases even earlier.

We all know about the physical and mental health benefits of getting active, especially outdoors. But a recent landmark study undertaken by the RYA in partnership with the Andrew Simpson Foundation, and conducted by the Institute of Education at University College London, showed that the benefits of watersports are much broader.


Sailing and windsurfing are not only lots of fun but can help young people develop important life skills like teamwork, communication and confidence.

Run through RYA recognised training centres, the RYA’s OnBoard programme aims to provide safe, fun and equal access to sailing and windsurfing for anyone aged 8-18. Since its launch in 2005, more than 900,000 OnBoard beginner sessions have been run across the country.

“OnBoard is all about getting out there and enjoying the water,” explains Jack Walling, Senior Instructor at Dinton Activity Centre in Wokingham.

“It’s fantastic from an instructing point of view because you have the same kids returning week after week, so you get to see them develop which is really rewarding. We’ve had young people subject to bullying at school and sailing has been a bit of an escape from all that.”

Skills for life

And it’s not just small boat sailing making a difference, Ocean Youth Trust South (OYT South) delivers RYA Start Yachting and RYA Competent Crew training onboard their 23-metre sail training vessel, Prolific. Many of the vulnerable young people who sail with the charity struggle with self-esteem.

OYT South Business Manager, Caroline White, has seen first-hand how structured RYA training can significantly boost confidence, enhance personal development and change the lives of disadvantaged young people for the better.

"An RYA certificate can mean far more than a basic sailing qualification. It represents transferable skills that have wider relevance,” she explains. “To earn the qualification, a young person has to be able to listen, concentrate, work in a team, practise things that they might find challenging, take responsibility when asked, and much more.

"It shows students that they CAN learn successfully and master new skills...It may also give them evidence to show a prospective employer when they have little else to offer."

Georgia, a local student, had struggled with mainstream schooling due to anxiety, but a voyage with OYT South led her to an exciting career at sea.

"From the outset, she impressed the skipper and all of the staff with her enthusiasm and competence on board," says Caroline. "She was invited back for volunteer training, and over the years, we have seen her anxiety diminish markedly. She joined us as a Staff Cadet at the age of 20 and at the end of her first season with us had gained the RYA Day Skipper theory and practical qualifications."

Something for sailors young and old

Whether you’re 7 or 70, trying something new can be a daunting prospect, but RYA courses provide the skills and knowledge to stay safe, have fun and feel confident on the water. Best of all, the RYA pathways mean you can start at a level that suits you.

For many, an RYA course will be the start of a lifelong hobby or even a new career. For 73-year-old, Margaret Norris, it was both.

“Finding sailing has made me the person I am today,” she says. “At 42 I came to it late in life and worked my way through the RYA Dinghy courses, which were fantastic building blocks to my second career.

“Age is never a barrier, it’s just a physical state. As long as you can move across the boat there’s no reason why you can’t learn how to sail. I think it’s the most amazing thing to do and I’m still learning.

“RYA training is fantastic because once you get in at the bottom level you can learn in building blocks and keep going. The possibilities are endless.”


Many clubs and centres run initiatives for people of all ages and abilities. As well as programmes like RYA OnBoard for younger boaters, many offer dedicated opportunities for older participants too.

At Islington Boat Club, people aged over 50 can join the club's 'Upper Deckers' group and enrol on the RYA Inland Waterways Helmsman course, Crew course and Diesel Engine course

"The courses are of great value to people who are new to boating, as well as self-taught boaters who are experiencing difficulty with the way they negotiate the canal," explains John Freed, Principal and Chief Instructor at Islington Boat Club.

In response, the club has received a deluge of positive feedback; one member commented: "Your wonderful helmsman course saved this not quite so young person a lot of trouble!"

John also mentions the generosity of their older students who usually give back to the club as volunteers once they have completed their training.

Creating equal opportunities

Since its launch in 1996, the RYA’s Sailability programme has been helping people with disabilities get on the water and enjoy the freedom that sailing offers.

In 2004, the RYA’s training courses were also made more accessible to disabled sailors with Sailability sites encouraged to become RYA training centres, and in the same year, the RYA Dinghy Sailing courses were adapted for visually impaired (VI) sailors.

In more recent years, the RYA has worked hard to ensure all course materials are as accessible as possible, including their books and eBooks. Today, RYA eBooks are published in compliance with the highest possible accessibility standard (WCAG 2.0), and this year also saw the introduction of the first RYA Audiobooks.

Lucy Hodges MBE, is just one of many VI sailors that have benefitted over the years and credits her success to her own RYA training.

“Sailing feels like freedom,” she explains. “You fold up the white cane and you’re stepping out. It’s a great sense of achievement, a massive buzz.

“The way the RYA has designed the courses to lead you through every stage, especially being able to prepare coursework online, or listen to course audiobooks has made sailing much more accessible.

“It’s learning the skills correctly and knowing that no matter what happens that you can cope, that you’re in control.”


Today, there are more than 200 RYA Sailability sites across the UK, many of which are also recognised training centres.

Head Outdoors, a charity launched by Hengistbury Head Outdoors Education Centre in 2018, uses RYA Sailability and training to support young people with mental health issues. The courses enable students to acquire new skills, earn a qualification, and feel a huge sense of achievement.

"They [students] make progress in things that are not just academic or to do with their mental health. When they get back to the unit you can see in their manner, how they're feeling, they're much more upbeat," says Erin Jones, Head of Numeracy at Quay School.

"I get a lot of freedom. You're actually making your own decisions instead of them being made for you," says Jack, a participant of one of the charity's schemes.


Powerboating for all

The launch of RYA Powerability in 2017 now means powerboat training and certification is available to people with more restricting disabilities too. 

Before the introduction of this course, skippering a powerboat may have been difficult for people with limited mobility. But RYA Powerability empowers students to take control of a powerboat without even touching the steering wheel, as Rachel Andrews, RYA Chief Instructor of the Powerboat training scheme, explains:

"Powerability overcomes physical limitations by effectively making the skipper the manager of the boat. In much the same way that the captain of a container ship never touches the controls, a skipper can complete tasks themselves or clearly instruct crew to carry out actions enabling the safe travel and manoeuvring of a boat under power.

"The scheme enables people to achieve an RYA certificate by recognising the skills they do have as a crew or as a helm, removing any barriers, to reinforce learning and achievement and build confidence on the water."

So whatever your age, ability or interest, there really is an RYA course for everyone and you never know where it might take you. To celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the RYA’s training schemes, we’ve been sharing your favourite RYA training memories and stories throughout the year, read more at www.rya.org.uk/go/50years

50 Years of RYA Training

The RYA introduced the dinghy and coaching schemes in 1970 to help clubs and sailing schools by providing a national syllabus and method of learning to sail. Fifty years on, the RYA has a network of more than 2,400 training centres in 58 countries and supports the delivery of over 100 courses.

Read about the 50th anniversary celebrations at www.rya.org.uk/go/50years. Or to join the millions of boaters who have trained with the RYA, visit www.rya.org.uk/training.