It’s training utopia – never having to worry about where you will find instructors. By putting training Assistant Instructors (AIs) at the heart of your OnBoard pathway that reality is within your reach.

“It’s been great to start qualifying those volunteers at an early age, especially because the younger generation of volunteers have more time to offer and are easy for our guests to relate to.” Lou Callaghan is living proof of this approach.

Lou started sailing through Christian Youth Enterprise, near Chichester, and now, seven years after returning to the centre on her gap year, she is Chief Instructor. Alongside Lou, CYE's newest Dinghy Instructor and full-time staff member, Matt Bacon, is a CYE OnBoard graduate.

And they’re not alone - 30 minutes east, Felpham SC boasts no fewer than 42 instructors, with around 90% starting with them as kids.

So where do you start?

By the time they hit their teens, sailing will be battling for an OnBoarder’s attention with a million distractions. Unless they have started taking their sport seriously, most typically through competition, or regular club visits are part of family life, we’ve all seen them drift away.

Introducing opportunities for them to do something different can be a gamechanger for them and you, and inspiring them to become AIs is a definite winner.

So what is an AI?

An AI can assist qualified instructors under the supervision of a Senior Instructor. Dinghy AIs can teach up to Sailing Scheme Level 2 or Youth Sailing Scheme Stage 3 and Windsurfing AIs up to youth Stage 1 and adult Start Windsurfing. Sailors can also qualify as Keelboat and Multihull AIs.

A candidate just needs one of the Sailing Scheme advanced modules or RYA Windsurfing Scheme intermediate non-planing certificate (including beach starting and non-planing gybe clinics), and the recommendation of their RYA Training Centre Principal. The training centre sets its own minimum age with the centre-specific qualification valid for five years.

Felpham started training DAIs about 10 years ago, partly to create a team of ‘buddies’ to sail with beginners. Their primary purpose was to help new sailors, yet to develop awareness of the sea breeze and the unpredictability of waves, avoid a boom bashing.

Now the DAIs are an integral part of the club’s Instructor Team, employed on every Start Sailing Course, while also helping out at their Youth Fridays, Women on Water, Men On Boats and Skill Saturday sessions as well as their Push The Boat Out and OnBoard events.

“Adults are often taken aback with this approach,” Principal, Roger Belton, admits. “At the end of the course they're bowled over by the skill of our young sailors. We had a primary schoolteacher on a Start Sailing course who found it quite astonishing to be taught by a 13-year-old who was one of her pupils a few years previously!”

Meanwhile, CYE make the most of their AI’s ability to effectively communicate with other young people so they assist in land activities and on the water. This season they have been involved with the RYA stages, crewed keelboats and safety boats, skippered boats on day sails and so much more.

How they do it

An AI course requires around 20 hours teaching, covering basic teaching principles, centre procedures and specific training in any unfamiliar equipment. Candidates are assessed on their teaching ability with beginners.

CYE only ran their first AI course in 2018, but it was such a success they will repeat it in October. They aim to run one every other year so the next generation of OnBoarders can come through. The training took place over three Saturdays in Feb/March with a weekend course then held in March, while Felpham’s annual course is run over a weekend during the Easter holidays. CYE’s course was £50 and Felpham’s is also subsidised.

Felpham trains up 6-8 DAIs each year, mostly OnBoarders, and because the programme is now well-established places are often filled before Roger even promotes it. CYE approached six OnBoarders, who were also involved in their Young Guns volunteering programme. One of these was Matt.

He says: “I jumped on this opportunity so fast. I was a very unfit kid, I used to believe I could do no sport but sailing was a big step for me. It made me realise everyone is good at something, you’ve just got to keep trying and I gained confidence and friends I wouldn’t have got in school.

“As an instructor not only have I helped other people build their sailing and life skills, it’s increased my own so much, for example Iʼm now a very capable leader and very confident talking to and instructing groups.”

Roger adds: “All our DAIs are enthusiastic, confident, competent and skilled ambassadors for the sport. They love sailing and passing their knowledge on. Our young sailors love being taught by their peers and it forms some great bonds and friendships.”

Next steps

Training AIs isn’t just about the short-term. By giving youngsters responsibility and opening them up to new experiences at an early age you’re potentially opening up career options for them too. Again this can benefit both you and the sailor as Matt, who aspires to become an SI, is testament too.

Felpham has a pathway to qualify as a Dinghy Instructor once a sailor turns 16 and Roger also encourages one or two to look at becoming SIs too. Young Guns at CYE receive a discount on Powerboat Level 2 and a free First Aid Course to help AI accessibility to becoming a DI.

Lou concludes: “The AI course is an incredible opportunity for any young person to gain additional professional skills to supplement academic achievements. More and more we’re seeing young people who don’t enjoy school excelling outside the classroom through initiatives like OnBoard.

“It’s obviously amazing for us to start a season with six additional AIs, who are fresh and passionate, but it’s even better to have set those six young people up with transferrable skills for life.”