Sailing clubs across the RYA 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 research: ‘Children and Sailing: A research evaluation for the Royal Yachting Association and the Andrew Simpson Foundation’ was conducted by UCL researchers, and identifies how OnBoard contributes to the development of life skills such as creativity, teamwork, determination, communication, independence and confidence. It also highlights 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.

Whilst OnBoard activity in the East Region has been affected by the current situation, with only limited sailing taking place this year, the Clubs & Centres recognise the benefit to their young sailors, and are looking forward to getting back on the water.

The Royal Hospital School in Holbrook, Suffolk, is among the clubs and activity centres providing RYA OnBoard in the region to have welcomed the report’s findings as emphasising the skills they see developed in their sailors. Having recently held a Sailing Week, where their Year 7 pupils were taught Stage 1, the pupils agreed that sailing had been an enriching experience – in their own words, the pupils said: “This week, I did not just learn how to sail, I learnt self-belief and bravery;” “It was a nice experience to teach me independence” and “This sailing week has been the best experience ever! I suggest sailing to ANYONE who wants to do it!”

Snettisham Beach Sailing Club in Norfolk also provides OnBoard sailing sessions for its members, although activities were curtailed in 2020. Jane Ellison, from the Club said:

“We would usually run a Wednesday Club for junior members from May to the end of August but, as we weren’t able to start this in May, we decided to run some online sessions instead to try and keep our younger members engaged and enthused about sailing and involved the young sailors making boats, or running around the house to find objects for the session – we really made the most of the RYA’s ‘Sail from Home’ videos and resources too. By August we were able to get back on the water and everyone that took part online was really excited to get back to the club and go sailing again! Feedback from the children and parents was that they really looked forward to the sessions each week and they welcomed the interaction with each other at a time everyone was feeling so isolated.”

SBSC’s OnBoard programme sees young sailors introduced to sailing and provided with progression from beginner through to racer, along with a number of school sessions as part of activities. Despite the challenges of 2020, the Club found ways to keep young sailors engaged, including running online and afloat sessions as well as scaled-back Cadet weeks. Jane said: “In total 68 children took part across the 2 weeks. It was so lovely to be able to offer some on the water activity and the children were brilliant at adapting to the changes and lack of changing facilities/social distancing etc whilst at the club.”

Toppers sailing for SBSC Cadet Week 

Similarly, Blackwater Sailing Club based in Essex have seen OnBoard activities affected due to Covid-19, but nevertheless have enjoyed a reasonably busy summer, with a restricted cadet and club week, and over the coming weeks will be running sessions for new cadet members and young sailors to enable them the opportunity to get sailing – and are looking forward to using their newly built Clubhouse in the future.

Blackwater SC's new Clubhouse 

Meanwhile, Robert Hancock, a Senior Instructor at Horning Sailing Club in Norfolk, which has been part of RYA OnBoard since 2009, said: “We really see the difference in young people learning to sail, and parents often comment that the skills and confidence they gain through sailing spill through to different areas of their life, with many having gone on to use these skills in their careers later in life. It’s great to see these benefits recognised in the report.”

Toppers and a Wayfarer sailing on a river 

Jen Miller, RYA East OnBoard lead, added:

“Many young sailors have benefited from learning to sail at the multitude of OnBoard Clubs across the region. Not only are they learning to sail through the RYA Youth Sailing Scheme, but they are also developing their life skills through character-building attributes. With a focus on building confidence, communication, creativity, determination, independence and teamwork, this has presented a great opportunity to both develop club members but also to reach out to schools and other external groups, inviting them to learn to sail and in turn helping clubs to grow.

Clubs have seen how the children have benefited from this greatly. Feedback from Instructors, Parents and the children themselves tells us how much this works. In addition, the instructors have had the opportunity to develop their skills, improving their ability to support as well as instruct the children.”

Other venues offering RYA OnBoard in the East region include: 8th Norwich Sea Scouts, Aldeburgh Yacht Club, Alton Water Sports Centre, Blackwater Sailing Club, Brogborough Boardsailing Club, Bury Lake Young Mariners, Deben Yacht Club, East Anglian Sailing Trust, ESSA Water Activities Centre, Fairlands Valley Sailing Centre, Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club, Grafham Water Centre, Grafham Water Sailing Club, Hertford County Yacht Club, Horning Sailing Club, Hunts Sailing Club, Nancy Oldfield Trust, Nene Outdoors, Neptune Sailing, Norfolk Punt Club, Norfolk Schools Sailing Association, Oulton Broad Water Sports Centre, Priory Sailing Club, Royal Harwich Yacht Club, Rickmansworth Sailing Club, Slaughden Sailing Club, Snettisham Beach Sailing Club, Royal Hospital School, Walton & Frinton Yacht Club and Whitlingham 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, said: “We’re so pleased the UCL research team drew the conclusions 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. 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 can visit www.rya.org.uk/go/onboard