RYA Northern Ireland: How we’re changing the face of female sailing

RYA Northern Ireland to implement a range of schemes aimed at driving female participation and performance in sailing
08 Feb 24
Women Bahia sailing

When Navigating The Future, RYA Northern Ireland’s five-year strategy, was launched in 2023, we outlined diversity as one of our key strategy goals.

Currently, only 36.7% of Northern Irish club members are female, highlighting that we have a long way to go before achieving equality, but we are working hard to achieve this goal.

Throughout 2024, a range of RYANI Ireland initiatives will aim to improve the experiences of sailing for women from a grassroots to a performance level.

Dr Emma Vickers’ research

Shortly after the launch of the strategy, we published independent research carried out by Dr Emma Vickers which allowed us to establish a much clearer picture of female sailing in Northern Ireland.

The research established that routes into the sport for beginner level adult females are difficult, with many engaging for short periods and dropping out quickly.

On top of that, the research revealed women in pathway squads feel that their opportunities to pursue sailing as a career are limited and feel pushed out of the competitive side of the sport too young.

Women On Water

This programme allows clubs to target underrepresented groups that are interested in boating from lifelong boaters to newbies that are trying for the first time.

Women On Water is at the heart of our approach to improving diversity. We are proud of the work which has already been done, as the research caried out by Dr Emma Vickers described the experiences of those involved as “overwhelmingly positive.”

Participants also hailed the programmes as a great way to meet new friends for life, giving them the initial confidence to get into sailing.

Crucially, each club can tailor the programme to suit the types of boats available at the club. For example, Women on Water programmes have been successful at places such as East Antrim Boat Club, with their Ladies That Launch Programme or at Donaghadee Sailing Club with their Women On Water Wednesdays programme.

While each club may take a unique approach to Women On Water, we recommend that you get in touch with RYA Northern Ireland as we can provide support to help make your scheme become as successful as possible.

For more details about Women On Water, please get in touch with Lisa.McCaffrey@rya.org.uk .

Women On Water Development Programme

On top of existing the Women On Water programmes in Northern Ireland, we will be running a Women On Water Development Programme. This will help to further progress the work which is already being done to engage women at all levels of the sport.

This will consist of 4-week blocks of training which will start in May at the next Women On Water Festival and continue to August 2024. Research shows there needs to be more support after the summer months for those involved in the pathway. We also want to create a learning environment that is safe, supportive and enables the women to develop their skills led by an ambassador within the programme.

These will also be run at a lower cost to encourage participation and buy from as many people as possible.

We will be looking for host clubs to get involved in this programme and support more female participation across the sport. Applications to host will be the week commencing 1 April and will close 1 June at 12 noon.

Women On Water Festival

The Women On Water Festival is an annual event run by RYA Northern Ireland which has been running since 2019.

Those who attend the day get the chance to try a range of different types of sailing boat, as well as the opportunity to give powerboating a go.

Last year, we had a hugely successful day at Donaghadee Sailing Club, with 46 women attending the event. Only 10 of these people were registered club members, highlighting how important the day is for introducing women to water sports for the first time.

This year, the festival will take place at Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club on Saturday 11 May. The event is for women aged 18 or over and registration will open soon.

Female Focus Camp

The Women and Girls research conducted by Dr Emma Vickers shows that there needs to be more support for women and girls involved in all pathway routes within sailing, from club level racing, right through to the performance pathway.

Our Female Focused Camp follows the theme of the "Olympic Pathway", covering topics like menstrual cycles in sport, fitness, inspiring female role models in sailing (coaches/athletes), race training and the discussion around the Olympic Pathway.

The weekend is aimed to:

  • Showcase performance-based training, racing and coaching specifically for junior and youth females (ages U21 - 12yrs)
  • Female role models across the pathway (this is extremely limited in Northern Ireland)
  • Encouragement to train, compete outside their club, try different boats and have the knowledge of what it takes to pursue performance pathway.

In addition to the female focused camp this year, we will also be running a U-21 mixed camp next year.

More details about the dates of our female focussed camp including which coaches will be present and how to apply will be released soon.

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