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Getting Whole Family Involved with Junior Sailing

Published on February 9th, 2016

In 48° North Magazine, which is dedicated to covering the sailing scene in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, Andrew Nelson offers some suggestions on how to turn junior sailors into life sailors…

Some of my fondest memories growing up were sailing with my dad and the crew of White Squall. It wasn’t about winning, but having fun and spending time with my extended “boat family.” Eating mildly warm beef stew out of mug and sleeping aboard the night before the race were all part of the experience.

Today, fewer and fewer junior sailors come from sailing families or have access to boats outside of class hours. That means most young sailors now never get to enjoy sailing with their parents. While that’s a troubling sign for the long term health of our sport, there are plenty of junior sailing programs trying to reverse this trend and get families on the water together again.

To the increasingly busy American family, junior sailing is often just one more stop on the minivan’s route to work. At the end of the day, sailors are whisked away, perhaps changing in the car as the family rushes Suzy to her soccer game. At the end of the week-long “learn to sail” program, little Suzy goes home and puts her completion certificate on the refrigerator. There it hangs next to the other awards she earned from rock climbing, jujitsu, and math camp. Next week she’s off to a week-long music camp.

It’s hard for an activity to stick when it’s just one of many that a child is constantly bombarded with. Sure there are those children who get really excited about sailing and want to do nothing else, but they are the exception. And in the world of junior sailing we rely heavily on these exceptions!

However, if we really want to develop more lifelong sailors we need to engage children and parents together, so that sailing becomes more than just another activity; sailing becomes family time. How is this possible when most junior sailors come from families that don’t sail?

This takes some creativity on the part of junior sailing programs, and depends largely on what resources they have at their disposal and how much flexibility they have in their schedule to add additional events and activities.

Sail Sand Point, for example has been very successful with their “Mommy (or Daddy) and Me” sailing course, where parent and child learn to sail together on a small boat. This is an empowering experience for the young sailor who often teaches mom a thing or two along the way.

Graduates of “Mommy (or Daddy) and Me” can take advantage of Sail Sand Point’s rental program and go sailing together on their own time, making it a special experience they can continue to share long after the course is over. With Sail Sand Point’s affordable rental rates, their family doesn’t have own a boat to be part of the sailing community. – Full story

Andrew Nelson is Youth Sailing Director at The Sailing Foundation. He lives in Tacoma with his wife Ashley and their dog Bosun.

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