Sailing clubs across the RYA Midlands region have welcomed a landmark study by the Institute of Education at University College London (UCL), which highlights the positive impact of the sport on the lives of young people who get on the water through the grassroots RYA OnBoard programme.

Run by the Royal Yachting Association, OnBoard introduces sailing and windsurfing to young people aged 8 to 18 by connecting schools and youth groups with RYA clubs and training, offering low cost sessions promoting equal access to the sport from all social and economic backgrounds and encouraging character development.

The UCL report - ‘Children and Sailing: A research evaluation for the Royal Yachting Association and the Andrew Simpson Foundation’ - shows how OnBoard contributes to the development of life skills such as creativity, teamwork, determination, communication, independence and confidence. It also identifies how sailing and windsurfing correlate with benefits from physical activity generally and how RYA OnBoard plays an important role in tackling social injustice by providing unique experiences, which can help to develop self-confidence and open up further opportunities.

Bartley Sailing Club in Birmingham is among the clubs and activity centres providing RYA OnBoard in the region to have welcomed the report’s findings.

Commodore Simon Hardiman said: “At Bartley SC we have seen real life examples of the benefits that the OnBoard programme and sailing in general bring to young people. There are very few opportunities for children to experience complete freedom and sailing is one of those activities which does exactly that. Our juniors have a wide expanse of water to explore in complete safety where they are in control of their craft and have to continually make decisions as the environment changes around them. The ‘games with aims’ focus keeps it fun whilst building teamwork and life long friendships.”

Juniors who come into the sport through OnBoard at Bartley SC, pictured below during a session before the Coronavirus pandemic, also learn racing and progress to taking part in local and regional regattas. Despite the challenging times of 2020 the club has seen its young sailors continuing to develop their skills and gain confidence while having fun with friends on the water.

Games with aims on the water at Bartley Sailing Club, credit Bartley SCAndrea Longley, Chief Windsurfing Instructor at Burton Sailing Club, said: “I’m delighted to see the benefits of sailing and windsurfing recognised in this impactful report. Of course, none of the findings are a surprise to me as we see the benefits to our juniors every week, however it does remain a surprise to me that we are not inundated with parents and juniors looking to realise some of these benefits themselves. It’s so important to pass this message through to schools and parents and I really hope that through seeing this report, more juniors choose to access the fabulous activities available at local sailing and windsurfing clubs.

“We’ve been really fortunate to have been able to continue to run windsurfing activities recently. It’s the perfect socially distanced sport, and with the support of parents who can drive our powerboats to enable easy pick-up of juniors who might have reached the limit of their energy reserves while on the water, we’ve enjoyed some really wonderful weekends and seen some great progression.”

Burton Sailing Club has seen many of its young sailors and windsurfers developing their racing skills and this month hosted the BYS (British Youth Sailing) Midlands Windsurfing Regional Junior Championships (pictured), which saw some great results for its Foremark Flyers Team15 windsurfers.

Young windsurfers on the water at Burton SC, credit Burton SCAt Olton Mere Sailing Club in Solihull, Chief Instructor Andrew Yates said: “At Olton Mere we find that sailing is a new experience for most and confidence is gained in a very short time. As experience is gained, confidence increases and this helps develop wellbeing and team work. Most importantly it is a fun activity in the fresh air and good exercise.”

Jenny Sturt, Youth & Onboard Coordinator at Hollowell Sailing Club in Northamptonshire, added: “It is good to see the positive impact of OnBoard confirmed by this study. At Hollowell SC we see the benefits that sailing can bring to a wide variety of young people through our sailing tasters, junior start sailing courses and youth coaching. As well as having fun outdoors, many of our young sailors develop their independence, organisational skills, teamwork and confidence through sailing, racing and eventually coaching others.”

Although limited to member-only activities this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic - the picture below showing an OnBoard taster session before social distancing restrictions were introduced in 2020 - the club has been able to run a number of youth coaching sessions to bring on its junior sailors and has also been running racing which is open to members of all ages.

A pre lockdown OnBoard taster session with children enjoying being out in a boat at Hollowell SC, credit Hollowell SCOther venues offering RYA OnBoard in the Midlands region include: Tamworth SC, Swarkestone SC, Sutton SC, Staunton Harold SC, South Staffordshire SC, Shustoke SC, Shropshire SC, Sail & Paddle, Rutland SC, Rudyard Lake SC, Nottinghamshire County SC, Northampton Sea Cadets, Manor Park SC, Lincoln & District Sailing Association, Leicestershire & Rutland Youth Sailing Association, Himley Hall SC, Glossop SC, Girton SC, Draycote Water SC, Cransley SC, Chase SC, Carsington Sports & Leisure, Carsington SC, Banbury SC, Aztec Adventure, Trimpley SC, Midland SC, Blithfield SC, GT Adventure.

The full RYA OnBoard impact report can be read here. Researchers found:

  • OnBoard sessions are enjoyed by almost all participants and engender feelings of fun and freedom
  • The sessions contribute to a participant’s wider personal and social development. This included enhancing their social skills with both peers and adults; maturity; ability to accept responsibility and concentrate on tasks
  • Participants felt more supported by their peers. They also felt more relaxed and confident in themselves following an OnBoard session
  • OnBoard plays an important role in tackling social injustice. It provides unique experiences to those from disadvantaged backgrounds and can help to develop self-confidence and open up further opportunities.
  • OnBoard sessions particularly develop the attributes of teamwork, communication and confidence.

Hannah Cockle, RYA OnBoard Operations Officer, added: “Being on the water creates multiple situations where young people are challenged and tested as they learn a new activity. OnBoard provides a safe and proven structure for this to happen and a great environment to help them to develop the character attributes and capabilities that are so important for success in life.

“Most of the children and young people involved in the project had never sailed before, despite the sailing sites being located next to their own local communities. Teachers highlighted how there can be a perception around whom sailing is open to, but OnBoard gives students access to a type of experience they would not normally get in their everyday lives.”

A total of 371 young people (aged 8-17), from 19 schools and 14 sailing clubs or commercial sailing centres, completed before (baseline) and after (follow-up) questionnaires for the RYA OnBoard Impact Report. Additionally, 11 instructors, teachers and parents/carers were also interviewed by researchers.

Parents, young people, clubs and centres wanting to find out more about how to get involved with OnBoard are invited to visit www.rya.org.uk/go/onboard