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"The demand is there, people want to try sailing" - How can you make your PTBO a success?

With just a few weeks to go until Push the Boat Out (PTBO) kicks off for another year, we share our final case study to help you get ready for your event(s).

Sharing the secret of success

Rudyard Lake Sailing Club (RLSC) is a thriving and active sailing club situated alongside Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, between Macclesfield and Leek. With their PTBO open day at the heart of their membership efforts, the club have successfully grown demand for sailing and arrested a decline in membership.

So how have they done it? The club have enjoyed bumper open day turn outs thanks to their PTBO know-how. Commodore, Ian Lee says: “The demand is out there, people do want to try sailing,” but how do we get them into our clubs? Here are his top tips for running a successful PTBO…

What was the format of your Push the Boat Out event?

We have our Push the Boat Out event on our annual Open Day, held on May Bank Holiday Monday every year. Most people are off, and as it's always the same day our members can plan around it. That helps with volunteer planning and the event also becomes a staple on the local 'what's on' calendar.

We have a queueing system where, once people are registered, they get a ticket. They are then free to explore the club and buy refreshments from our galley. This is the perfect chance for them to get a real feel for what you and your members are about before they even get on the water.

We then call the numbers in blocks of 10 to get kitted out with buoyancy aids. Once they’ve sailed we have a buoyancy aid removal point as they leave the pontoon, and they are carried back up to the kitting out point. Again, this presents a slick, professional organisation that knows what it's doing. All in all, we now have a working system that's easy and less stressful for our guests AND our volunteers.

As Commodore, people often look to you for the final say. But when I was being asked to make decisions on everything I struggled to keep on top of them all. Now we also split responsibility and decision-making on the day. The land elements fall under my remit, with my Vice Commodore organising everything water-based, including dinghies, safety boats and pontoon management. This helped everything run more smoothly.

How did you promote your event?

We have enjoyed particular success with Facebook and Facebook advertising, and in 2017 were recognised for our achievement in communications as an RYA Club of the Year finalist. (Note from ed: Read how they did that - The case for Facebook advertising) But as effective as Facebook can be, never underestimate the power of local banners. Sometimes the tried and trusted things are tried and trusted for a reason.

How did this impact your membership?

At the same time as getting new people through the doors, we had to stop people leaving the club. We focused a lot of effort into looking after both the newcomers and our current members. We worked hard on removing the silos in the club. We previously had a separate junior section with their families on Saturdays and the racers on Sunday, but these have become more integrated with more juniors racing and several juniors now beating our adults. We introduced the role of a Novice Rep too, to help integrate new sailing members into the club, which led to increased participation in sailing, not just membership, especially for juniors and novices.

What changes did you implement based on learnings from previous years?

First impressions count - It sounds obvious but someone will make up their mind about your club way before they get on the water. That's why parking has been such a big thing for us. Our club is located one mile down a single-track road. On my first try of PTBO we managed to clog up the road for miles around! So we now partner with a local school (closed on Bank Holiday) and borrow a minibus from a local Scout group to run a shuttle bus to/from the club. 

Know your offer - Sometimes it's easy to confuse what you want visitors to do on the day. We run so many different activities there is a temptation to try to make everyone aware of everything. But that can be counter-productive if the ultimate call to action, whether that be to sign-up members or for training courses etc, is diluted or lost. We decided to focus on sign-ups to training courses and offered more training courses on the basis that once you have people learning to sail then you can tell them about everything else they could do.

Keep learning - Sometimes honest reflection isn't easy but it is important for continuous improvement. We've tried to take all feedback, positive and negative, on board year-on-year to keep learning and making what we do as a club better for its long-term health. We now have a stable membership of around 260 members and if we can maintain or grow that further we will be delighted.


Clubroom top tips

  • Be clear and consistent – You love your club, that’s why you spend so much time there, so give your visitors a reason to fall in love with it too. It’s important to make sure all of your volunteers are on the same page. What do you, as a club, want to achieve from your open day and what message do you want visitors to go away with?
  • Delegate – Rather than one person taking responsibility for everything on the day (usually the Commodore), divide tasks and areas of responsibility amongst your committee and volunteer force. Everything is likely to run a lot more smoothly when you split the workload amongst your team and give ownership to dedicated individuals.
  • Share your success! – Lastly, make sure to share details of your event on social media, to your membership through e-newsletters, posters etc and with the RYA! Your RYA Regional Communicator is on hand to assist with promotion, can feature good news stories and can also help you reach the local press and gain media coverage of your event to promote your club. We’ll also share all the best images and stories through our social channels. We can’t wait to see what you all get up to!

As you organise your last minute preparations, make sure to check out the resources available in Club Zone. You can also catch up on the rest of the Clubroom PTBO series below:

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