Skip to main content

The Challenge

Creating Lifelong Sailors

The Challenge: Initial participation and retention after basic sail training is declining across the country! This trend began over fifteen years ago, as noted in US Sailing’s publication, American Sailor, that was sent to all members in early 2018, stating “The Pyramid: the sporting model for generations. A wide base of new participants narrows quickly, and only the elite competitors climb to the top of the pyramid. However, what about everyone else? We are seeing too many kids drop-out, in groups”. Due to the Covid interruption, little has been achieved since, in terms of a new model for youth sailing in America. Much of the activity has been limited to sailing and racing dinghies. This limitation has failed to build broader sailing interests and created a dismal dropout rate and loss of what could have been lifelong sailors.

It is time to launch a new model that would involve more aspects of the sailing sport. We must offer youth sailors an opportunity, upon completing their basic sail courses and on the water experience, to learn about other aspects of sailing such as cruising, being part of a sailing team racing on larger boats or exploring and social sailing. By the time they become teens, a few move on to more racing and the beginning of sailing as a crew on larger boats. We believe, by expanding their horizons earlier, to include cruising, big boat sailing and racing, offshore and high-performance sailing, a wider interest in the sport will continue to grow as will their skills and involvement, substantially reducing the current dropout rate.

Not only might such a program keep young sailors interested in continuing to develop their sailing skills but increase the number of young sailors enrolling in sailing schools for such an experience. It could result in the formation of new cruising groups and competitive racing teams. In our sport there are millions of dollars and countless hours of volunteer time invested each year in developing sailors, usually the young. Sadly, much of that investment is soon lost as people move on to other activities, never to return to sailing. Some even depart early, finding little new interest. We must build confident, adaptable sailors with well-rounded skills who can sail any kind of boat safely and successfully. Youth Sailing is the starting point – the point where a lifelong passion is born. We believe one way of closing that gap may be through expanding the breadth of sailing experiences in training programs, involving more than dinghies and racing.

In 2014, US Sailing created a Program Guideline, including Lesson Plans, Curriculums & Resources as a national standard for sailing instruction. It was named, The Junior Big Boat Sailing (JBBS) Program. It provided detailed sailing instruction and experiences for young men and women (14-18) beyond small boat programs. Ideally utilizing a well-out-fitted 35–55-foot sailboat, the program focuses on helping teenage sailors learn the ropes on a big boat platform- or provide an experienced junior sailor the opportunity to apply their small boat sailing skills to a new challenge. The program highlights fun, socialization, and teamwork with the goal of turning teens into valuable crew on cruising boats and racers. This approach should, also, create interest in other aspects of sailing as they move into adulthood.

However, the availability of the boats has proven a roadblock to operating the program for most existing programs..

The Solution: The nonprofit, Pacific Seafaring Foundation, will loan larger training boats, in the 40-60- foot range, to organizations implementing an ‘Exploration’ sail training program and assist in program design to meet the needs of each organization while using the larger boats. For a youth group, there are benefits to expanding the sailing experience to include crewed yachts and exploration of the waters—sailing beyond dinghy racing while emphasizing team building. These programs will be conducted on San Francisco North Bay and South Bay from April to December each year. When available, those who have completed the ‘Exploration’ course may use the boats in sponsored activities such as cruising, team building and the comradery of sailing together. Operating costs are expected to be covered by group and individual donations to the program.