Push The Boat Out (PTBO) is back for the whole of May.

Over 25,000 people UK-wide got afloat during PTBO last year after the RYA Club Member Survey in 2016 confirmed more people than ever are discovering sailing through open / taster days. Families are a major PTBO target and OnBoard clubs are benefitting. Ripon SC in North Yorkshire is one such club. 

Thanks in part to a family-focused PTBO that saw 300 people attend and 36 family memberships (130 people) sold that weekend, last year Ripon's youth and junior participation swelled to over 60% - 176 sailors of which 72 attended more than five events (sailing, social, work parties, pre-sailor, fun sessions). Fiona Spence, Ripon's Junior and Youth Secretary, gives us their top tips on making PTBO work to get kids OnBoard.

1. Agree your event date early

Our 2017 date - Saturday 13 May - was agreed by the club committee in
late 2016 so we had over six months to prepare. Most of the prep work
was completed in parallel to the advertising.

We started heavily promoting the event mid-April, but some adverts were prepped long before then due to publication deadlines. Our event was earlier in the month than the previous year so we had time to process members prior to the first training course over late May Bank Holiday. 

2. Approaching schools and youth groups

We contacted 1,100 schools in our catchment by email, getting the
email addresses from the websites for the four Local Education
Authorities operating in our area. Putting this information into a useable format was time-consuming so started in February. It's a one-time job though.

Personal contacts club members have with people in schools always help too. We also contacted local Scout and Guides groups and the Sea Cadets. As well as PTBO attendance, this can open doors for potential conversations about getting involved in OnBoard at a later date.

3. Target your advertising

We paid for an A5 advert and article in the school bookbag magazine 'Raring2Go'. This was incredibly good value as they also got us posted on so many calendar websites and Facebook pages. We were the top Google search result for 'family sailing' in our area in the week before PTBO. In terms of raising awareness of our event more generally, we put adverts in every local newspaper's 'What's on' section (approx. 10), set up Eventbrite events, advertised on local Facebook group pages, used the Nextdoor App and banners on the approach roads to the club were very effective too. We also asked members to put up posters in local leisure centres etc, send Whatsapp messages to their contacts with the advert/flyer as a photo and share our club's Facebook posts.

4. What messages do you want to communicate

We heavily promoted the social, emotional and mental health aspects of sailing, the family together time, friendship and trying something new. Volunteers received an info-sheet before the event and the morning briefing reiterated these key messages.

5. Use the kids on the day

They are the best people to demonstrate the benefits of sailing for youngsters. We had 20 junior and youth sailors participating in training during PTBO, which prompted questions from visitors about what was going on, how long they had been sailing, what they had done prior to joining the sessions and what they would move on to. Making a show is an absolute must, if you can do this safely, as it sells itself.

6. Remember the little'uns

If families have younger children they need to feel sailing can still be for them all. Part of our club Junior and Youth section includes 'Pre-Sailors' (U7s) where they can enjoy crafts and fun, water safety clubhouse activities and play with the many indoor and outdoor toys we have available. This was incorporated into our PTBO, plus we also had a quiz for children and face painting. There was plenty for families to do while they waited for their taster sail and powerboat ride.

7. The devil is in the detail

Create a welcoming, inclusive environment that greets all family members, from keen potential sailors, those who are more reluctant and Great-Granny. The clubhouse facilities must be as good as you can make them, including spotless changing rooms, toilet training seats, potty and a high chair, to hot showers, up-to-date noticeboards, toys, non-sailor activities and excellent coffee. Volunteers need to sing from the same hymn sheet and boundaries of what is and isn't available need to be clear. Don't promise what you can't deliver!

8. Make it easy to join there and then

We waived our joining fee if they signed up over the weekend. Training courses could be booked on the day once membership was paid. Joiners could pay on the day by PayPal, BACS or via invoice for settlement when they returned home.

9. Find out why people came

Informal feedback from volunteers on the day, and new members since, indicates people were looking for a sport/social activity they could participate in as a family rather than mum and dad standing on the sidelines. Knowing this means we can use it as a key focus in our event marketing this year.

10. Do Push The Boat Out, but don't treat it as a quick, easy membership fix

It's an effective way of getting new people trying sailing and increasing membership. But the day is hard work and takes effort to organise while the systems, courses and facilities must be in place to support the new members. These new members are typically beginners so will inevitably dilute the club's experience pool, place high demands on the training team and club resources and also require greater 'support and maintenance' than perhaps a new member who is a lifelong sailor. Our 2017 stats are pretty amazing and PTBO is one part of our success story as we've worked hard on other aspects to increase participation. But we definitely recommend PTBO to other clubs; for us it continues to be more successful each time we do it. 

*photographs © Gail Jackson 2017,  video © Andy Cheetham 2017