For parents wanting to take their young sailor on the road to an event, car-topping or trailing a boat to a different club for the first time can be a daunting prospect - but sailing at a new venue can also be a hugely rewarding experience.

Children who get hooked on the sport often want to improve their racing skills by attending training and racing events at other clubs - which for parents who have never taken a boat on tour before raises a number of questions about how best to do this.

As Fiona Spence, Youth & Junior Sailing Secretary at Ripon Sailing Club, explains: “It’s extremely daunting on a whole number of levels but the rewards for me are that you sail at new places, see different areas of the country, meet new people and make new friends.

"And for children it’s great because it's an adventure. They get to have new experiences which stand them in good stead socially, and they need to have a bit of resilience, take some responsibility and be organised. It teaches them incredible life skills.

"Then when you come back to your own club you’ve broadened your horizons. It makes you appreciate your home club, you bring back fresh ideas, and you can see the bigger picture.”

Fiona says that for first-time travellers it can be helpful to buddy up with someone who's done it before and perhaps has a trailer big enough for more than one boat, while those wanting to car-top or trail their own boat may want to ask seasoned travellers at their club for advice.

Janet and David Bates from Ripon SC car-topped their son Tom's boat for the first time in summer 2018 so he could compete at the RS Tera Worlds at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy. Tom fell in love with the sport after an RYA Level 1&2 course and was wanting to travel more to take part in events.

"We're not sailors or even campers so it was a completely new experience for us," says Janet. "But they've been so encouraging at the club and the sailing community is so supportive; everyone has time for us and answers our questions.

"We'd never even put a roof box on top of our car but when your children want to do something you put your reservations to one side, so we just did our research about what weight our car will take and bought some Thule roof bars, and the first time we put the boat on at the club people helped us to lift it. We tried it on a short drive back from the club to get our confidence and then the first away trip was 300 miles to Weymouth!

"It is nerve-racking but if you think about it calmly and you've got your straps and spare straps and you do that little trail run to get in your comfort zone, and stop after not very long to check it all, it's actually so easy. If anyone's got any doubts, just go for it, because if we can do it anyone can do it!"

To help first-time travellers take to the road with their sailor and boat, Fiona has helped RYA North East to compile a checklist of tips:

  • Car-topping v. trailing: If you are not very tall, you may find it easier to get a boat on and off a trailer than the roof of a car. Trailing may also be more suitable for your car.
  • Weight: Check in your car manual whether yours is suitable for the weight you propose roof-racking, and likewise if trailing, ensure the trailer/boat weight does not exceed the gross limit for the car. Most cars have a maximum weight they can tow, usually listed in the handbook or specification sheet. Alternatively the vehicle’s ‘gross train weight’ of the fully loaded car plus trailer may be listed on the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate, normally under the bonnet or inside the driver’s door.
  • Road trailers: For towing you will need a road trailer. “Combi” trailers are those which fit the dinghy trolley used in the boat park, others are generic road/boat trailers, so check they are a suitable size for your dinghy. If you think another child in the family may also soon want to start sailing/travelling, look out for a double or triple-stacker; some come with a handy box at the bottom for throwing in sailing and camping kit.
  • Driving licence: There are rules on what you can tow depending on when you passed your test. Check you have a driving licence that allows you to tow your trailer - if you passed your test before 1 January 1997 you’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg MAM (Maximum Authorised Mass). If you passed your test after this date you may need to take an additional test. Visit to find out more.
  • Tow bar: When fitting a tow bar to your car it needs to be ‘type approved’, meaning it meets EU regulations and is designed for your car. Use a breakaway cable or secondary coupling in case the trailer becomes detached from the car.
  • Tyres: Your trailer must have road-legal tyres and also have a spare wheel, which you must carry with you when you travel!
  • Loading: The weight needs to be distributed evenly on the roof or over the trailer axle; not towards the tow bar hitch as this will affect safety and steering.
  • Tying down: Use straps or ropes to tie down the boat and again, ask other club members who regularly travel for their advice; if roof-racking make sure the bars are man enough for the job! Ensure the boat is also tied down front and back to prevent it sliding forwards or backwards off your car or trailer, for example in the event of an emergency stop. No matter how well you’ve secured your boat, this is good for belt-and-braces safety.
  • Ratchet straps: If you are using these do not ratchet them so tight that they start to crush the hull. Many sailors use ropes - with bits of carpet underneath at contact points - to avoid damaging their boat.
  • Lessons: Ask seasoned travellers at your club for tips; if you are nervous about towing for the first time, take a short trip around the block first to gain some confidence, or better still have a lesson with a driving school which specialises in trailers; this can also really help with learning how to reverse a trailer.
  • Number plate: Legally you must have a working lighting board with the correct number plate for your car. Check the lights actually work before you set off!
  • Rules of the road: Towing cars are not allowed in the outside fast lane on a motorway and the speed limit is 60mph; on dual carriageways the speed limit is 60mph, and on single-carriageway roads the speed limit is reduced to 50mph. Leave extra stopping distance between you and the car in front.
  • Safety checks: There is a handy guide here.  

Fiona adds: “My advice to new members is don’t do this when you're in a hurry, take a trip around the block and get used to driving a trailer, even before you put the boat on it, and take it steady. Also factor in an extra hour once you're there to unload and sort out your event entry."

As a relatively new parent to the sport, Janet adds the following advice: "Get involved when you get there, even if you're a non-sailor and it's only on shore with a radio passing on messages, do as much as you can. Just being there and talking to other parents and helping the children is great because you learn so much and it's a good way to make friends.

"It's a fantastic atmosphere, the sailing community is great to be around, and for me as a mum, seeing Tom's face when he comes off the water just makes it all worthwhile. Their sense of achievement is rewarding and enabling him to do what he's so passionate about is fab.

"I never thought for a second when we joined Ripon two years ago we'd have done all this. I just thought he'd sail at Ripon. But it's been amazing and we've loved it!"