Want more young sailing volunteers? You need to invite them.

Published on May 17th, 2015

by Nick Hayes, Sailing Magazine
Sailing ranks among country churches, Amish barns and potlucks as institutions substantially built and shaped by volunteers. Their work is all around us and it is mighty impressive.

Volunteers teach the classes where many of us learned to sail. Every summer an army of volunteer sailing instructors span out across the country to teach newcomers to rig, launch, trim, drive and dock. Whenever the weather doesn’t permit, ad hoc sailing classes move indoors to spaces that volunteers built. A sailing center near me boasts 70,000 hours contributed by volunteers helping children and adults learn to sail during its history.

Volunteers influence our safety standards and act to ensure them. Communities of concerned citizen-sailors coordinate seminars to show how to properly wear a life jacket or fire a flare. Volunteers monitor the radio and will often jump to the aid of a fellow sailor in distress. We sailors gain confidence because other sailors have our backs.

Volunteers built the sailing clubs where we are members. In fact, my family’s club was built and rebuilt many times over in more than 100 years, each time by volunteers. Whenever a building or a dock was deemed insufficient, or damaged in a storm, men and women met, planned, collected donations and swung hammers until something newer, better or safer was in place.

Volunteers organize and administer the games we play. In a coordinated dance that happens many times each summer on every American city waterfront, teams of volunteers set racing rules and race courses, brave seasickness and boredom aboard small anchored boats or get wet hauling chain and setting race marks. They start and stop clocks and record results, and they sometimes act as judge and jury when participants argue.

And volunteers do smaller things. They’re there when we arrive at a new dock and need a hand to catch lines and tie off. They make lunches for junior events. They take first-timers sailing. They write newsletters, promote events, flip burgers and pour rum at parties.

Let’s raise that red plastic cup and thank sailing’s volunteers!

They are everywhere. But they’re old. Kind and committed but concerned about the future. They’ll often tell you that they don’t know who’s going to take over. They see too few young volunteers. They’re worried that a legacy of altruism, spanning generations, may be lost.

We’re witness to a different American experience for generations born after 1980, where it’s more convenient to rent a pro to get you in and out of a weekend activity than contribute to the activity in return for access to it. Or, if you can’t afford a pro, it can be easier not to go at all. It might seem that America is becoming less civic.

Before you assume I’m about to rant about lazy young people, I promise, I will not.

Nick has another idea… read on.

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