You might now be thinking about to how get OnBoard back on the water safely. But the past couple of months have seen clubs and centres thinking outside the box so that when lockdown eased they still had OnBoarders eager to get afloat.

And, inadvertently, these clubs have also discovered something to endure way beyond lockdown and that could make OnBoard a genuine year-round programme.

OnBoard Online

Lockdown hit just at the point OnBoard clubs were getting ready for the season. Amongst this there were youngsters who had only learned to sail last year, groups who were poised to start this spring, and sailors who were at the point of moving into club junior and/or start racing activities.

When OnBoard suddenly ceased, these young people were potentially prime candidates to be lost to sailing. With a well-established routine or affinity for the sport yet to be developed, what was their motivation to stay involved? As the world went virtual so countless new rivals for their attention emerged.

This was the situation facing Green Withens Watersports Centre, the West Yorkshire County Scout water activity centre. Their OnBoard Saturday Club runs 11am-4pm from Easter to the end of October.

When lockdown struck, Green Withens were just coming to the end of their winter programme. This included preparing their 39-strong dinghy and powerboat fleet for the season, running a First Aid course and completing a Scout Navigation Badge, using RYA materials and charts.

For the centre’s contact, Susan Haigh and lead instructors Ian Crosland and Andrew Haigh, it was a no-brainer to immediately move as much they could online.

Susan explains: “I’m a Guide leader too, and we were asking the same question as to how we could keep this group of kids together. So we went straight onto Zoom in our regular Saturday morning slot.

“Initially the OnBoard sailors just seemed pleased to see each other. They missed each other, which is why we introduced a winter programme about three years ago. We have developed a pattern of doing a quiz (nautical, First Aid, general) and a couple of Virtual Regatta races one week followed by a full racing session the next.

“This has been met with enthusiasm, and one week we did seven races back-to-back over a good couple of hours. But the young people’s IT and gaming skills put the adults at the back of the fleet! We’ve also done other water-related activities, including using the #SailFromHome videos on weather forecasting, for example.”

Up to 10 Scouts have joined each weekly session, the youngest of whom is 12. Alongside this Green Withens have also had a group of six older Scouts (14+ years) and three adults doing the theory element of their Assistant Instructor course. This has included each candidate putting together a presentation on one aspect of the ‘Five Essentials’ and presenting it to the rest of the group on Zoom.

The online OnBoard sessions are coordinated via email with parents and, for the older ones, the young person themselves, while there is also a closed Facebook Group where activities are posted and promoted. For Green Withens, not only has this continued the sailors’ involvement after winter but has also given them food for thought about how they might be able to add to their winter programme next year.

Every cloud…

As strange as it sounds in March, winter was at the forefront of Philip Reeves’ mind when he set up online OnBoard lockdown sessions for his Sail Birmingham group. Sail Birmingham is the training centre of Midland SC on Edgbaston Reservoir in the heart of England’s second city, and Philip had only taken over as Sail Birmingham Manager a couple of weeks before lockdown.

Establishing a vibrant, sustainable OnBoard club, that fed into the sailing club, was immediately one of his top priorities. But when we went into lockdown he used the opportunity to start trialing online activities that could sustain engagement and also be used to introduce new youngsters to sailing during the off-season.

Philip explains: “I wanted to put together a slide pack of information, videos, illustrations and ‘how to’ guides young people could do at their own pace in the winter. It could be used to keep new OnBoarders involved or by groups lined up to start in the spring so by the time they come to the centre they already have the background of how to learn to sail. Lockdown’s given me the chance to run a pilot.”

Philip pulled together a host of resources from different sources and started running twice weekly half-hour sessions - at 10am on Mondays and Thursdays - on Zoom for up to five sailors aged eight to 13. This has included utilising the RYA #SailFromHome videos and worksheets and RS Sailing’s cork boats activity.

Not knowing the group, Philip used the early sessions as a fun fact-finding mission, ‘testing’ their knowledge up to the Stage 3 level they had all completed. But this had wider benefits too.

He continues: “On Zoom everyone can interact. The kids have especially liked using the whiteboard when we’ve been talking about parts of the boat or rules. It’s ended up being much more of a discussion, a two-way conversation, rather than just me showing them. I’m asking questions and they talk me through and explain.”

The Zoom session links are sent to a parents’ WhatsApp group and they get their children set up online with Philip. He admits the sessions have not been without challenges, particularly concentration. But they have provided valuable learning about Zoom’s potential for both junior and adult training over the winter. He has also been trialing more formal adult theory online training alongside OnBoard.

Lockdown may have provided a false start to the sailing season. But if the learning that emerges from this period endures and strengthens clubs’ OnBoard activities into the future, will we ultimately reflect on 2020 as a year gained not wasted?