Staying safe in a digital sailing world

21 Jul 20

If you'd never heard of Zoom, House Party or Discord at the start of this year, those words, amongst many others, have become part of our every day language as we live this if not 'new', at least, 'now' normal. But, just as safeguarding is as much as part of OnBoard on the water, so it must be online too. 

Like many clubs and centres, Rudyard Lake SC pivoted its junior activities online when lockdown struck. The Staffordshire club introduced a Virtual Regatta series, which instantly proved popular with many racing members but the juniors weren’t getting involved. So instead, they identified six themes that could be run as Zoom OnBoard sessions – Knots, Points of Sail, Five Essentials, Clouds, Beaufort Scale and Rules of the Road.

The first session was creating a knot board and a few days before, the sailors were told what resources to bring. Then for 45 minutes from 10am on Saturday, the SI running the session got them talking, tying and sticking their knots to their boards. They were then set a task for the following week, and the first part of the next session recapped what they had done previously before moving on. This set the pattern for the next 10 weeks.

No fewer than 12-13 sailors joined the sessions each week. But with the young people getting as much out seeing their friends and the social time they spent online as doing the actual activities, how did Rudyard Lake make sure parents knew their kids were being looked after in the same way they would expect at the club? 

Tricia Ordsmith, the club’s President and lead instructor for the junior section, explains: "Before we started any of the online sessions, the instructor team had a discussion with the club Safeguarding Officer and agreed a standard introduction for each session. For example, at the beginning of each session we reminded everyone the session was being recorded and if they wanted to they could switch off their camera. 

"At Rudyard, the parents are actively involved in the running of the usual junior sessions, so when we moved to virtual sessions it was natural they were invited to stay and join in. Some did and enjoyed learning new information, others were only present to help with the log on to Zoom. Afterwards a link to the session recording was sent to the parents, with a reminder of the week's task so they could share with their children."

What do you need to do?

Safeguarding is the action taken to promote the welfare of children, defined as anyone under the age of 18 under the Children Act 1989, and protect them from harm. That Act also states children’s welfare is paramount and that is everybody's responsibility. It’s important for your club and the sport's future that children and young people have an enjoyable experience, both on and off the water. 

In OnBoard, you might think of safeguarding as doing a risk assessment, following good operating procedures, checking boats, equipment, weather and tides and making sure everyone wears a lifejacket or buoyancy aid. 

But, with COVID-19 still with us, and many clubs and centres inadvertently discovering brilliant ways to keep their young sailors engaged online - opening up new possibilities for the off-season and bad weather days - there is an ongoing need to understand your safeguarding obligations in protecting young people in 'closed' digital environments. This could be anything from Zoom, to WhatsApp and Facebook groups for example.  

If this is a route you are taking, or something you are looking to do more of in the future, then are you doing everything you can to ensure the young people in the sessions are safe.

If you're not sure you have every boxed ticked, organisations such as Think You KnowUK Safer Internet Centre and the NSPCC offer some great advice and guidance to people who work or volunteer with children, as well as to parents/carers to help educate young people to use the internet safely, responsibly and positively.

Meanwhile, this Zoom blog - Best Practices for Securing Your Virtual Classroom - is as relevant to online OnBoard sessions as it is teaching.

What else should we be thinking about?

Social media is slightly different to most of the closed environments we've been talking about so far that it's mainly conducted in public. However, safeguarding is just as important for those involved in running or managing club or centre social media accounts. 

The RYA's 'Club Guide to Social Media Use With Children and Young People' is a brilliant starting point for things to think about. It includes advice on putting together online safety and social media policies, key Dos and Don'ts, guidance on use of photography and imagery, and lots of useful signposting to other organisations who specialise in internet safety and child protection.

The 'Safeguarding Children & Adults at Risk' section of the RYA website is also full of information and advice on all things safeguarding, including access to the RYA's Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy and Guidelines, what to do if you're worried, criminal records disclosures, training and more.

Here you can also download safeguarding posters to either put up around your site and/or share on social media so young people know what to do and where to turn if they are feeling unhappy, worried, unsafe or concerned about something they or another young person is experiencing.

If you have any further questions or want advice on any safeguarding issues please contact the RYA Safeguarding Officer, Andrea Gates, at