We all know OnBoard does so much more for young people than just simply teach them to sail. But now a landmark study by the Institute of Education at University College London (UCL) has proved it!

‘Children and Sailing: A research evaluation for the RYA’ was conducted by UCL researchers to examine the consequences of participation in the OnBoard programme. Last year, 371 young people (aged 8-17) from 19 schools 14 sailing clubs and centres completed before (baseline) and after (follow-up) questionnaires to assess the impact of being part of OnBoard. 11 instructors, teachers and parents/carers were interviewed too.

The ‘broader learning’ study OnBoard undertook with the University of Winchester and Prof. Bill Lucas in 2017 identified how sailing builds six core character strengths in young people - creativity, teamwork, determination, communication, independence and confidence.

This broadly supports the evidence that physical activity tends to correlate with other benefits, including increased wellbeing and self-esteem, and is associated with increases to happiness, life satisfaction, confidence, and cognitive functioning.

Now the UCL report has concluded it has shown there are a number of ways in which being part of the OnBoard programme has a positive impact on young lives beyond learning sailing techniques and moving towards developing life skills.

Opening new doors

One of the biggest findings was how OnBoard offers young people, who may not otherwise have the opportunity, access to outdoor activities. Most of the children and young people had never sailed before, despite the sailing sites being located in 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. This matters because, in their view, it can give children and young people new perspectives about the world and suggest possible life goals.

Key findings...

  • OnBoard sessions are enjoyed by almost all participants and provide feelings of fun and freedom.
  • The sessions contribute to a participant’s wider personal and social development, including enhanced socialisation with peers and adults, responsibility, concentration on tasks, and maturity.
  • Participants reported feeling more supported by their peers, relaxed, and confident about themselves following an OnBoard session.
  • OnBoard plays an important role in tackling social justice. It provides unique experiences to those from disadvantaged backgrounds and can help to develop self-confidence and further opportunities.
  • Teamwork, communication and confidence are attributes, which are particularly developed within OnBoard sessions.

One parent said: "I’ve seen a huge difference in my eldest. He’s always quite shy. He’s very risk aware. Whereas he got here and he just got straight stuck in. I think for him it’s a huge difference, teamwork, working together, confidence in coming in and chatting to everybody."

A teacher added: "I have definitely seen a lot of their confidence improve, and I think they have learned how to assert themselves a bit more. They are in a pair working with someone and one of them has got to decide what they are going to do or who is going to do what. You can see some of them who probably wouldn’t take much control or take the lead of things at school, but out here they are 'do this, pick that up, pull that in'."

88% felt that sailing/windsurfing showed them they could do new things if they tried.

84% liked being around the water more following an OnBoard session than before.

82% were better able to work as a team with other people.

81% felt more confident in themselves.

80% felt they were better able to think creatively.

76% felt better able to do some things independently.

The report continued: “It was clear from the interviews with instructors, teachers and parents and from the focus groups undertaken with children and young people that OnBoard was seen as playing an important role in tackling social disadvantage.”

Hannah Cockle, RYA OnBoard Operations Officer, said: “We’re so pleased the UCL research team drew the conclusions that reinforced our own beliefs about the potential of OnBoard to positively impact young lives.

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

“To reach and engage with more young people, whether that’s through schools, parents or other youth organisations, we have to be able to support the claims we make about the power of OnBoard. We’ve seen over many years the difference being OnBoard can make to young people over time, now this reports proves it.”