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Moving with the times - One club's journey to Club of the Year Finalist

This year’s RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year Awards supported by Gallagher, were the biggest ever! With 11 deserving finalists, a boats and coaching prize package from RS Sailing and just one trophy up for grabs – the competition was fiercer than ever before.

The RYA awards panel were blown away by the fantastic work, innovation and outstanding achievement of all 11 finalists. And we’ll be running a series of case studies in Clubroom, looking at each club and of course just why they were selected as a 2019 finalist.

Eastern champions

Based near Maldon, on the tidal Blackwater Estuary, Blackwater Sailing Club (BSC) were selected as East Region Finalist in this year’s awards. Since establishment in 1899, the club have evolved with the times, endeavoring to keep up with current socio-economic trends. The clubhouse and facilities are fully accessible to all and have benefited from significant investment by members over the years.

Here BSC Publicity Officer, Chris Brown, explains what makes their club different and shares some top tips for COTY success.

Run by members, for the members

Fully owned and run by its members, BSC relies on volunteers to deliver all of their activity which is varied and targeted at the entire membership.

Chris explains: “We are a self-help club with only one full-time employee and members volunteering for many roles. As well as the usual committee positions, we also hold frequent ‘work parties’ for maintenance of our building, extensive grounds and associated facilities. This has worked really well for us and I’m sure some members enjoy the camaraderie of the winter work parties just as much as the other social occasions that we run.”

Activity, activity, activity.

The club is hive of activity all week, and all year round. As well as action on the river and training lake, they run a lunch club, socials and many other informal get-togethers.

“We think it’s really important to include activities other than sailing and we run a variety of social events throughout the year. Our ‘Club Week’ is particularly popular, the racing each day is an excellent spectator event and there are a variety of social events every evening. This year we will be holding an activity challenge, a quiz, a wine tasting evening and a Caribbean event – before it all comes to a close with a DIY BBQ.

“This will be followed by our regatta, with the traditional greasy pole competition, swimming races and a crabbing competition for the children.

“We also run cadet training for Oppies, Lasers, Toppers and Fevas on the river and our large man-made training lake all year round. In fact we held a very successful event this weekend!”

Boosting membership

Having run a successful Push the Boat Out campaign with over 500 taster sessions, the club welcomed over 100 new members to their 1000 strong membership last year. With so many new members the club is committed to retention and have implemented a number of measures to integrate and nurture beginners.

Integrating new members

Adult beginner courses are offered to all new members as well as non-sailing mums who can often be found volunteering in the galley. This has proved a great success, with most of the participants continuing to sail.

The ‘Dummies Guide’ to Blackwater Sailing Club has helped new members easily integrate into club life. Following beginner courses, the club has also introduced short course racing to help bridge the gap into club racing. Members can also enjoy a Friday sailors’ group and Wayfarer evenings.

Chris says: “New members are often introduced by friends and we’ve found that experienced sailors tend to gravitate naturally to their particular class of sailing. Others who are new to sailing - or perhaps returning after a long break - often come along to our Friday sailing group, which is less crowded, and less intimidating than the weekends which can be very busy.

“On these occasions, beginners get the opportunity to experience social sailing in other member’s boats, or club boats, giving them a chance to try many different types before they invest in their own.

“Most importantly we ensure that there are always sailing opportunities for people of all abilities. Fun sailing with short races on Friday for beginners and anyone that wants to get involved – tea and cake always feature on Fridays too! And we hold series racing at the weekend, as well as one off trophy races for progressing and more experienced sailors.”

The Club of the Year experience

“We entered the Club of the Year Awards in an attempt to get recognition for our wonderful club, run by the members, for the members – and very successfully we think!” said Chris.

“We are very proud of our win for the Eastern region, and believe that the process has really helped to promote our club, as well as sailing more generally in the Blackwater area.”

Regional Development Officer Robbie Bell added: “It was great to see Blackwater Sailing Club’s success in the Club of the Year 2019 Awards. It’s a fantastic achievement for an East Region Club, and well-deserved recognition for all their efforts - congratulations!”

It could be you!

Applications for the 2020 Club of the Year Awards will open later this year, make sure to keep an eye on Clubroom for further announcements.

To find out more about the awards visit

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