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“PTBO saved our club” – What could it do for you?

There’s less than one month left to sign up for PTBO 2019. If you haven’t already registered your event, sign up before 04 March to take full advantage of the resources and support available to RYA affiliated clubs.

In last month’s Clubroom we featured a case study from East Lothian Yacht Club exploring lessons learnt from their Push the Boat Out open days. In the lead up to PTBO 2019, we will be looking at clubs who have had a particularly successful PTBO experience. Whether it be promotion in the lead up to their event, the taster day itself or retention activities and follow up after the event, we’ll be sharing examples of best practice.

Taking a small club to the next level

Steeped in history, Babbacombe Corinthian Sailing Club’s headquarters was first established on Oddicombe Beach in Torbay in the 1930s, in an old fisherman’s hut whose original stone walls form the bottom storey of the present clubhouse. Its first Push the Boat Out event took place in 2014, at a time when its membership was at a low point of under 100. Running 58 tasters, it attracted 12 new members in that first year - a huge morale boost - and the club has been involved in every Push the Boat Out event since.

Jan Hester, Vice Commodore has been an enthusiastic organiser of PTBO since its inception and shares the club’s experiences of making PTBO a success:

What is the format of your Push the Boat Out events?

“Last year we offered two Saturdays in May for free tasters. You could book a slot using our online form or you could just turn up. We had all our instructors in attendance, and they took up to four boats out at any one time. We also had two safety boats out for tasters.

When people who had pre-registered arrived, they were given a life jacket and they borrowed any extra clothing necessary for a comfortable experience. We also gave them a tally wrist band and asked them to return it after their session – to make sure we didn’t forget anyone! Those who turned up on-spec were asked to fill out the registration form before they were given a slot.

Once they returned from their taster session, they were asked whether they enjoyed their experience and were given an information pack. They were told about an RYA course that was coming up (we organised one for the beginning of June) and also about the junior OnBoard sessions we run on a Friday night. We invited them up to our top clubhouse for a welcome evening the following week where we had a free buffet and talked to them about the club.

After both events had been completed, we emailed everyone who had a taster to thank them for coming and to remind them about the welcome evening the following week. We also reiterated what we had to offer – for example, crewing opportunities, RYA level 1 & 2 and RYA safety boat courses – as well as the price of membership and what it covers.

This year BCSC is running PTBO on just one Saturday - 25 May between 11am and 3pm - offering free dinghy sailing under the direct supervision of our RYA instructors. We are also offering adults a chance to take a ride in one of our safety boats. This is all made possible by the pool of volunteers who drive our safety boats, act as beach masters and generally assist our activities – and we are always looking for more!

We will again follow up on the day with new members’ welcome events and further opportunities to enrol on RYA beginner sailing courses for adults and juniors.”

How did you promote the event?

“We promoted through local radio, our local newspaper, on our website and Facebook. We also distributed posters around our local community and posted them on both our clubhouses. We targeted our local hospital and local government office too. This has been very successful in the past and so we are doing similar again this year, and we ask all our members to promote it through friends and family.

This year, we will also be inviting back all those who came for a PTBO taster and enjoyed the experience in 2018, but who didn’t take up an offer at the time.”

How did this impact your membership?

“We credit PTBO for breathing new life into the club and helping to get membership back up to over 300 full members. The importance of recruiting new members is, in part, that they increase the numbers of potential volunteers. We have four committee members, two long-serving bar helpers, two beachmasters, one senior dinghy instructor and one junior member who is now an assistant instructor as well as several safety boat drivers, all of whom first came to a PTBO event. In addition, a 2016 recruit, who is now a dinghy instructor, has taken over the club’s website and Facebook pages, making a huge difference to club communications.

If we were a bigger club, we could keep building membership consistently with these annual events – everyone loves it! Children get involved, their parents then volunteer on the safety boats, and then they want to learn to sail too, so whole families join up. As a smaller club, we are now using PTBO as a way to maintain our membership levels.”

What changes did you implement based on learnings from the previous year?

“We’ve learned a lot since 2014. It takes about 20 volunteers to run a good PTBO event, but just doing tasters isn’t enough: we got lovely people, but some didn’t stay, for one reason or another. Every year, we’ve kept refining our offer– we know we need to give them something straightaway but need to make sure they like sailing and our club before we ‘invest’ in them. So, we give people who enjoyed tasters the opportunity to crew immediately after PTBO, before running an RYA Level 1 & 2 course for them later in the season.

PTBO saved our club – and now we are discovering and developing the things that work for our members. Last year, we did a membership survey, to ensure we’re offering what people want so that we keep them motivated and enthusiastic about sailing. The somewhat surprising result was a fairly radical change to our timetable, with less racing and more social sailing events. We are also finding the RYA’s club development webinars very helpful in opening out our horizons and refining our ‘recipe’.”

Aside from providing training courses and implementing the club racing pathway, how have you integrated new members?

“Apart from sailing, we have a varied social calendar from Burns’ Night to food evenings as well as entertainment evenings. We encourage new members to help out as we are all volunteers, and it gives them a chance to give back and get involved in the club family.”

Clubroom top tips

  • Your members are your best advocates – in the lead up to your PTBO event make sure they are promoting the club and open day to friends and family. On the day itself get them involved! PTBO is a great way for your club to pull together, celebrate and showcase everything you have to offer - if morale is high, visitors will notice and be more interested in getting involved.
  • Follow on activities - it’s a great idea to schedule further opportunities for visitors to return to the club, do some more sailing and get to know you and your membership. Avoid wasted investment in courses by giving visitors a chance to crew or have another go back out on-the-water before you run any courses specifically for newcomers.
  • Step back and review – if you’ve previously held a PTBO open day, the most important thing you can do is review what worked and what didn’t. Make sure you know what you want from the day and think about the best way to achieve it. Are you looking for an influx of new members or just to maintain your membership? Think about capacity, your club needs and how best to sell what you have to offer.

What are you waiting for? Activator sign up closes on Monday 04 March. Sign up now.

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