What do you think when you see 'RYA Volunteer Award nominations open'? Do you wonder who you could nominate and then dismiss it as too hard? Perhaps you think you couldn't possibly choose so don't do anything? Or maybe it doesn't even register with you at all.

Every year 10+ Midlands club volunteers - exactly like the people at your club - head to London to receive an RYA Volunteer Award from HRH The Princess Royal after their clubs wanted to go above and beyond in showing their gratitude. Yet, amazingly 64% of Midlands clubs have never nominated anyone for an award. 

The thing about the Awards is they can be perceived to be there to recognise those longest-standing volunteers who have dedicated years of time and effort to their clubs. But, while one of the awards - the RYA Lifetime Commitment Award - is exactly that, there are a number of other categories where you will absolutely have deserving candidates you could consider thanking through this much-more public platform.

For example, got someone who's led on a specific project that's transformed an element of your club? Nominate them for an RYA Outstanding Contribution award. Got youngsters under 25 that do incredible things to support your activities? Put them up for an RYA Youth Award? There are other options too.

Not only does the individual winner(s) get much wider recognition for their efforts, but the awards attract significant local media interest, shining a spotlight on and raising the profile of your club too.


Be like Poppy

Last year, Staunton Harold SC's Poppy Penhaul-Smith was one of only two RYA Youth Award winners presented by Her Royal Highness.

Now 19, lifelong sailor Poppy, lives with the chronic condition, Cystic Fibrosis, and advocates the importance of volunteering in improving her mental health. Yet to her club, Poppy's involvement has simply meant that many people who might have given up sailing after hitting a wall during the learning process have carried on due to her skill in guiding them through this 'sticky' patch.

She also led the training of the club's junior powerboaters as Staunton Harold entered the Honda RYA Youth RIB Championship for the first time, and already a Dinghy and Powerboat Instructor, Poppy qualified as a Senior Instructor last year. She tells us what winning an award meant to her.

1. How did you start helping out at the club?

I was about 12. On days I wasn't in the mood to race and if there was something else going on, I'd jump in and lend a hand. I also didn’t have a growth spurt at a young age, so for a long time I was the perfect size to stick in the front of an Optimist to help teach or to give demos to children who were finding it difficult. I still just about fit in the front of one now, provided I lie down when tacking or gybing!

2. What gives you most satisfaction?

I love seeing the improvement of students and being able to look out onto the water and go ‘I taught them how to sail’. I'll often be asked to help the nervous students, who were usually thinking of quitting because they'd had a bad experience. I have never been prepared to let someone give up because of one bad experience. The bigger the challenge, the better. In a way, these are my favourite people to teach because it's a big challenge to get them back to loving the sport, but you feel huge accomplishment when you do.

3. How did it feel to win the award?

Like my club really values the many years of hard work I’ve put into it and it was a great way of them saying thank you. It's also that the RYA recognises the time and effort we all put into the volunteering and teaching aspects of sailing. I think more young people should win and attend these awards, as it would show how diverse the sailing, teaching and volunteering worlds are. This would be more representative of the sport's demographic and acknowledge a wider group of people.

4. Tell us about the day itself

I went with my mum and stepdad and we arrived in London the night before to make an occasion of it. During the ceremony I was concentrating on not tripping over my dress walking up to the stage! Thankfully I didn’t and HRH asked me when I started sailing, how I got into it and what areas I teach. Before lunch it was great to network with other clubs and RYA members and find out why others had won their awards. I also spoke to someone about an potential opportunity on a J109 when I go to Southampton University in September.

5. Why do you value your volunteering so much?

Due to my Cystic Fibrosis, mental health can sometimes be an issue or worry. CF is a disease that attacks the digestive system and slowly shuts down the lungs. I take about 30-40 tablets a day, use nebulisers and inhalers and often have to have intravenous antibiotics. The current life expectancy of somebody with CF is about 40 and in everything I do in life, I want to prove that you really can do anything, even if there are some pretty huge obstacles in the way! Teaching people the sport I love helps stop me being stuck inside my own head, which gives me a better perspective on my problems. I talk about this in my blog Sticking Two Fingers Up To CF

What to do now

Everything you need to know about categories and how to nominate can be found here - RYA Volunteer Awards. Nominations close on Friday 05 April so get your thinking caps on now. When you are ready, our handy Top 10 Tips on writing a killer nomination can help keep you on track. Download it here now - RYA Volunteer Awards - 10 Top Tips. Good luck!