As the first easing of lockdown began in May, and clubs were able to consider covid-secure ways of getting members out on the water, Plymouth Youth Sailing (PYS) started developing and implementing a plan. It formed a sub-group of its main committee to review government and RYA guidelines, attend RYA online forums and create new additions to standard operating procedures.

The club’s risk assessment was aided by a walk-through with two committee members and an outside expert who acted as a ‘critical friend’. The resulting recommendations were taken back to the committee, who agreed to expenditure of around £700 for social distancing signage (on the slipway and rigging area), gloves, sanitisers and additional masthead floats.  

Communication was key; as PYS does not own the site it uses, the team worked with the landlord on the rental agreement for site usage, and contacted volunteers to create a list of those who wanted to be involved in restarting boating, and the skills they could offer.  

Selecting sailors and volunteers

Having decided that the first experimental session would comprise four young people, the team identified a group of members who were good sailors (able to rig their own boats and launch) and who would listen and pause when needed (to ensure that any problems could be solved safely). It was also decided that there would be only two volunteers on the water, an SI and a DI, in two powerboats. Going against the normal way of working at PYS, the volunteers were to be selected in advance and the young people were to be told which of the club boats they were going to use, to ensure safety and remove any complications.  

At this point, the team contacted parents and asked that they, and their children, signed a form containing a code of conduct and a medical declaration if they wanted to participate. The volunteers also had to sign this form.  

Planning the session

Two alternative dates were earmarked for the first session, to allow for the best weather, and both were for mid-week afternoons so that the public slipway would be less busy. Once the date was confirmed, the volunteers and the covid sub-group had another walk-through.  

On the day of the session, the boats were sprayed with disinfectant even though they had not been used, because they may have been touched by others. Safety kits were made up by each volunteer for the boat he/she was using, so that only the volunteer using the boat touched any of its equipment. The sailing equipment was labelled, using coloured tape, to show matching boom, hull, mast, rudder etc., so reducing the risk of cross contamination.  

Extra equipment, including some disposable ice packs in case of injury, was put in RIBS using gloves, masks and face shields. The young people themselves brought in small first aid kits so that they could self-administer if necessary.    

Making it happen

On the day, the young people arrived already in their sailing kit. They were briefed at the entrance to the site – they weren’t allowed in the kit store, where only one volunteer was permitted to at any one time. There was lots of hand gel available, and volunteers wore gloves throughout.  

As the young people rigged the boats, a volunteer acted as beachmaster, visually inspecting boats, ensuring distancing and liaising with the public. Masthead floats were added to all the boats, even though this would not normally happen for these sailors in these conditions.  

 

The youngsters launched the boats themselves, with large distances between them, and a volunteer pulled the trailers back up the slipway. A conservative approach was adopted, keeping the sailors closer to base than they would normally be in good weather.  

One boat needed attention during the session. Normally, the DI would just come alongside and fix it, but to maintain distance the young sailor was coached to sail to a mooring buoy, and to fix it himself. 

At the end of the session, the boats were recovered in a planned order so that trollies were ready.   

Was it good?

All the work to get youngsters back on the water seems to be paying off. Luke (16) said: “It was great to get out even if it was raining - makes me feel much better!” And Lorine (16) added: “I was supposed to take my GCSEs this year. I was disappointed not doing them and also not being able to go on the water, which has made this time a bit unhappy. Going back on the water is great and lifts my spirits. Thanks to everyone for making it happen.”  

Grace, one of the volunteers, commented: “There was a lot of work put into this to make it happen, but you can see from the kids’ faces it’s worth it and I didn’t know how much I missed being out on the water, even if it’s in a safety boat!”  

Doing it again

PYS ran another session the following week, involving the same young sailors, but introducing some new volunteers, so a larger pool of up-to-speed volunteers could be built to run sessions.  

The plan is now to bring in more youngsters but maintain a gap of over 72 hours between sessions, even after cleaning the boats, to ensure any virus is eradicated.  

Learning points from PYS

  • It takes longer to rig, because distance is maintained in sheds and storage areas.
  • More preparation is needed at the start of a session, to set up RIBs, clean boats, etc.
  • Pause before going to help someone; do you need to get close, or can it be done at a distance?
  • For larger groups, stagger arrival times for participants to reduce pinch point congestion.
  • Plan to review the process with volunteers once the participants have left – this is vital to learning.
  • The actual on-the-water part was the easiest, and not that different than ‘normal’.
  • Take it easy and don’t push it - small steps!  

A final quote from the PYS team shows just how positive this activity has been:

“The reason we exist is to support young people, whether it’s competition, wellbeing or any other reason the young people have. It’s worth putting in the effort, especially at this time, when they need a pick-up so they can feel good about themselves. We are not able to run sessions as per the club’s normal ethos (choice in what to sail and choice on what to learn), but the young people realise this and have been great helping us sort out how to deliver within the guidelines, and the smiles and thank yous make it worthwhile.”