Sailing clubs and centres across the RYA North East 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 RYA 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.

Micky Early, Training Principal at Tees & Hartlepool Yacht Club, said: “I agree totally with what the report says and it will be a great tool to take to schools and youth groups to demonstrate the many benefits of sailing for youngsters. We have a large number of youngsters come to us from disadvantaged backgrounds and OnBoard has provided an accessible route for them to come sailing at Tees & Hartlepool Yacht Club. Over the years of being an OnBoard club and offering sailing to youngsters, for me the social benefits have been the most prominent, giving youngsters confidence among their peers and instructors and forming new, long lasting friendships. We haven’t managed many sessions this year but we have had a few Friday evenings with our regular youngsters getting back on the water. Their enthusiasm to get back to the club to go sailing and see friends they haven’t seen all year has been great to witness and be able to facilitate.”

Fiona Spence, Youth & Junior Sailing Secretary at Ripon Sailing Club, said: “I’m pleased the numerous social and developmental benefits of sailing, as well as the obvious sporting aspects, have been recognised by this report. Sailing is uniquely placed to provide a different perspective to young lives and bring common opportunity to all. We have seen the benefits in action within our own membership this summer as the freedom and joy experienced by many out on the water after lockdown really mirrors the report’s findings and the club has seen a surge in interest from families wanting to find an activity that they can all do together.”

Fiona said the club had been busy providing Covid-secure entry level learn-to-sail courses and improver coaching for its members over summer as well as enjoying the return to club racing of its more experienced youth and juniors, and had also just restarted its flagship Kickstarter learn-to-race sessions. She added: “As a parent and long term sailor, my family has been active in the sailing community for a long time. I recognise the benefits sailing has brought to our life experiences and welcome any support, like this report, that encourages others to enjoy the sport and the benefits it offers as much as we have done.”

Three boats on the water with RYA OnBoard at Green Withens Watersports CentreSusan Haigh, OnBoard Coordinator at Green Withens Watersports Centre, part of West Yorkshire County Scouts, said: “The report echoes our feelings at the centre that sailing being a non-mainstream sport is one in which young people can feel at home. A parent commented to us that at last her son had found a sport in which he could participate. It also proves that given responsibility, young people flourish and grow in confidence and authority, as a few of the parents of our assistant instructors noted. Our OnBoard participants attend different Scout groups and different schools and colleges but the friendships add another dimension to their lives.”

The centre (pictured above) ran various activities and training courses for young people and adult volunteers over winter before lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic, subsequently maintaining engagement through Zoom training, socials and virtual regatta racing to support friendships and build confidence with online skills. Working within National Youth Agency guidelines, the centre has since carried out risk assessments with a view to resuming sailing activities, using singlehanded boats to maintain social distancing, when conditions and Covid restrictions allow.

At Halifax Sailing Club, Chief Instructor Sue Lamb said: “We are very proud that we have our longstanding RYA OnBoard sailing. We are the highest sailing club in the country where the wind can sometimes nearly blow you away, and it’s wonderful to see a child progress from being a little scared of the great expanse of water to sailing a dinghy at speed with a new-found confidence. 

“We have a brilliant team of voluntary instructors and helpers who come each Saturday from May to October to teach young people and their parents to sail, although due to Coronavirus we only restarted our OnBoard sessions three weeks ago at our 'sister club' Denholme SC, which is a smaller water and a little lower down so potentially has less wind. We look forward to next year when we can hopefully start to teach new young people at both venues - we already have a waiting list!”

One parent from Halifax SC commented that their daughter had benefited from learning to sail with the club and loved the variety of conditions: “From feeling exciting on really windy days to just playing in the water on calm days. She has developed a quiet confidence from her Saturday sailing which reflects the way in which the club smoothly taught her to sail on her own.”

Caroline Scuffam, spokesperson for North Lincolnshire and Humberside Sailing Club (pictured below) said: "We have definitely seen the positive impact of sailing on our younger members over the years. In many instances we have had the privilege of seeing children mature and grow into young adults and seen how the regular, structured time on the water with coaches, parents and other children, has impacted in a positive way.

“Children quickly learn how to take responsibility for their equipment, communicate effectively with others, make their own decisions out on the water and most importantly have fun! Sailing is great for their physical development and mental health, for social skills and independence. We also see their personalities develop and they learn through good example respect, perseverance and dedication to the sport.

“During this period of Covid-19 we have met regularly as a committee to keep safety as a priority to reduce the risk of infection to our members, and our juniors have been able to come to the club to help with volunteer activities and for sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and SUPing during the latter part of the summer."

A young windsurfer on the water at North Lincs & Humberside Sailing ClubOther venues in the RYA North East region offering OnBoard include: Tynemouth SC, South Shields Sea Cadets, Kielder Water SC and Derwent Reservoir SC; Teesdale Sailing and Watersports Club and Coquet Shorebase Trust; Scaling Dam SC, Filey SC, Bewerley Park Outdoor Education Centre and Thornton Steward SC; Welton Waters Adventure Centre and Grimsby & Cleethorpes YC; Pennine SC, Otley SC, West Riding SC, Leeds Sailing & Activity Centre, Scammonden Water SC and Doe Park Water Activities Centre.

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