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Breaking tradition - how a south coast club found COTY success

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

This is the second in a series of case studies, examining the achievements and examples of best practice from this year’s Club of the Year finalists. Read last month’s feature with Blackwater Sailing Club here.

South coast finalists

Situated at the top of Chichester Harbour - an area of outstanding natural beauty on the south coast - Dell Quay Sailing Club (DQSC) were selected as South Region Finalist in this year’s Club of the Year awards. A hub for family sailing, the club has played a significant part in the lives of many people since being founded in 1925.

Their innovative approach to engaging their membership also saw them recognised as ‘Innovative and Forward Thinking’ by the awards panel this year. Commodore, Sue Nash talks about the special community at DQSC and their COTY experience.

An inclusive community

“Our sense of community is so important, it forms part of our strategy and we believe it helps with our membership retention and recruitment,” explains Sue.

Like many other clubs, DQSC is proudly run by members for members, all of whom are volunteers, including the instructors. Having such an active and engaged membership has helped to build their club community, as well as integrating new members.

“As befits a friendly club, there is a lively social calendar. We have a brilliant galley run by members which is known to provide the best regatta tea on the harbour – the only club to have a 5-Teapot status!” explains Sue.

“We have noticed that one of the best ways to get into the club and its activities is to encourage new members to take on duties in the galley, especially at a club social where they get to know many people, including being part of the great galley team!

“Our ‘Spreading the Load’ campaign has also resulted in other members taking responsibility for various things e.g. Environmental Tsar and a new buildings and grounds maintenance team which again adds to the sense of community.”

A family affair

Addressing membership trends and wider participation challenges, the club have been innovative in their approach to overcoming these obstacles.

Noting growing pressure on working families - and that grandparents are playing an increasing part in activities with their grandchildren while their parents work - DQSC have introduced a multi-generational family membership to accommodate this new ‘family unit’.

The challenge of demographics is one that faces many clubs today,” explains Sue. “Our multi-generational family membership was the result of an increasing trend. It is well known that more and more of us are enjoying an extended active life and this has been mirrored by increasing pressures on working families. We have 36 grandchildren members at the club spread over 18 family memberships.

“Having grandchildren included in family membership means they have the opportunity to learn an activity that sometimes their parents are unable to provide. It’s a good thing for all; children, parents, grandparents and the future of any club.”

Breaking the tradition

Over the last few years, DQSC have implemented a strategy for change, listening to their members and diversifying their offer from racing.

“Although we have a full programme of competitive racing, we have listened to our members and broken with the tradition of being very racing focussed,” says Sue. “We have introduced other ways of getting people on the water with demonstrable success, including refocussing our sailing in company through ‘Fun Fridays’ and dinghy cruises.

“We provide club boats to be borrowed via an online booking system and hope to expand to SUPs soon. We believe paddle sports will increase participation of those family members who are not sailors.

“Victoria Model Yachts racing has also become very popular - with weekly races - and has become one of the largest racing classes at the club.

“Our focus is one of increasing participation, and this has been successful given the popularity of our non-racing activities especially Fun Fridays. The dinghy cruising rallies have been more popular than ever, particularly with families and individuals who want the enjoyment of sailing in company. Over 60 members joined the popular annual camp in 2018.”

Always thinking ahead

As a result of the diversification of club activities, managing safety across the new activities proved challenging. Sue commented: “We now have a ‘Safety on the Water’ policy framework, which reminds all members where responsibility sits. We are proud of the amount of work we have done this year with regards to this and other clubs are asking us for this framework.”

Recognising that for a variety of reasons, members do leave at certain times, DQSC have made it simple for them to rejoin. “We make it easier by waiving the joining fee and also enabling members to put their membership on hold for a year should that help in the short term. They can also receive our eNews to keep themselves informed of what DQSC are doing should they want to stay on the circulation list.”

The Club of the Year experience

We entered the COTY as a way of gaining recognition for those who make our club what it is today – a way of saying thank you,” explains Sue. “As soon as we were aware we were a regional finalist we booked a coach to take some of our volunteers that could attend to the awards presentation at the RYA Dinghy Show. We had a great day!

“Yes we would recommend it – it was great to go as a team of just under 40 members and one of our ‘junior’ Dinghy Instructors, 17-year-old Lizzie Kies collected our award for us on the day. Whether you win or not, to be a finalist is rewarding in itself.”

Club of the Year 2020

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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