South Cerney Sailing Club is a member-only club, normally open 24 hours a day 7 days a week to its membership, and safety is always its top priority. So it has been committed to helping members get back on the water as soon as it is safe, setting up a team to manage the process, and staying in close contact with members, through email newsletters, the website, and the Facebook page, to keep everyone fully informed and updated.

Covid19 team

When lockdown began, the entire executive committee was involved in discussions regarding the restrictions. However, from the early stages they realised that this was too large a group to continually review the constantly changing situation, and a smaller, more agile team comprising the three Flag officers operated during the long period of total lockdown.

Vernon Perkins, the club’s Commodore, explains: “An important part of our ongoing review process was the RYA guidance from online webinars, online resources and support from the local RYA team.

“We have attended all the weekly online workshops from which we received invaluable information that allowed us to take the actions we have, not just from the RYA but other clubs at the workshops.  Also, the resources on the RYA website have been very helpful. The local RDO and SDO have been very supportive.

“When the rumours started to circulate about a relaxation of restrictions, we further modified the Covid19 team, which I led, assisted by two flag officers and one other executive member, our Training Officer and Bosun (a previous commodore and long-standing member). The responsibility for Covid19 management was devolved to this team whilst keeping the relevant committees and membership informed, always taking others’ views into consideration. The team brought in others with specific expertise when needed – for example, when relaxing the restrictions on the Cadet fleet.”

This team is now in regular communication and meets online on a regular basis to document decisions. Online meetings are loosely aligned to the dates of Government restriction reviews, so that changes can be implemented quickly.

Risk assessment/phased approach

The team recognised that, unlike the simple task of locking the club down, reopening was always going to be a significant undertaking and they needed to make cautious and considerate decisions. As a result, using RYA advice and guidance and looking at what other clubs were doing, they had already done a tremendous amount of preparation to identify and document a phased approach to restarting sailing by the time the first easing of lockdown was announced on 10 May.

Specifying criteria for each phase, they shared this roadmap with all members via the club newsletter, social media and website. The pressure from members to open the club was high.

The Covid19 team produced a risk assessment to reflect the activities they could allow and published it in time for the 13 May relaxation of restrictions. 

Vernon adds: “Creation of this initial risk assessment, at the speed we needed to act, relied on one person just taking the reins, being single-minded and doing it. Yes, it took hours. Then the rest of the Covid19 team could support the activity. There is no simple way around this task, and it is very club dependent.”

By further reducing the restrictions steadily as the Government requirements change, it has been possible for the club to enable additional activities over time. 

Five weeks after the start of the relaxation of restrictions, the club is now on its fourth version of the risk assessment, having been able to add activities by employing novel approaches, including:         

  • Making the club Lasers available to all members free-of-charge with a managed quarantine period between uses, which immediately allowed members with double-handed boats to get out on the water.
  • Making the club 420s available for members from the same household who were in the process of going through their RYA Dinghy courses to keep active, free-of-charge.
  • Restarting Cadet activity with social sailing supported by a single-handed RIB on the water to provide the safeguarding support required (not a safety boat for general club activity). The RIB is helmed by an instructor-level member to ensure the higher level of experience needed for single-handed safety recovery.

Social sailing only is permitted, with no club-organised formal racing, coaching, or training as yet. Ad hoc racing among members is encouraged in groups of no more than six people in line with current restrictions, but multiple starts/flights are being used to allow for the success of this activity. These take the form of a single lap races, lots of starts and tactical racing, typically eight races in two hours. 

While the clubhouse, garages, storerooms and changing rooms remain closed, toilets are open for use. Sanitiser has been provided at ‘touch points’ and members are requested to use it all times.

Financial aspects

Fortunately, the club received a Government grant and a rates honeymoon through the local council, which helped to reduce the financial impact of the restrictions.

And the members have been very understanding and supportive. As the club’s membership year runs from November to October, it will be looking at membership fees for next year to see what incentive might be offered to people to renew their membership despite the disruption to sailing this year.

Next steps

The Covid19 team is continuing to monitor and review Covid19 restrictions, the roadmap and risk assessment, implementing new activities and options for members over time through the updated risk assessments. They are looking forward to being able to move to subsequent phases of the roadmap when restrictions allow and, of course, when they feel it is safe for their members to do so.