Building the Female Base in Sailing

Published on October 11th, 2017

Ian Walker, Director of Racing at the Royal Yachting Association and winning skipper in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race, talks sailing, the pathway, mixed team rules and how he hopes to increase participation and standard of women’s sailing.

Ian Walker

How do you see the pathway for women in sailing working?

Certainly at the junior level it’s great with lots of opportunities but I think the challenge for men and women is how you get beyond that age range. There’s a big drop out at the end of the youth sailing and before you go on to the next stage, whether that be Olympic sailing, offshore races or even club racing in keelboats

How do you think the sailing pathway has changed?

If you go back 30 years, most people used to have a trade alongside their sailing. Maybe they were a sailmaker or a mast builder or they were into electronics or working on boats as a rigger or whatever. These people would then sail alongside their trade, but now recently it’s become more professional and people are sailing full-time and maybe not having that trade to back them up.

Also, the professional sailing world has been shrinking. It may appear that it’s increasing because there’s more events but it’s not. The Volvo has fewer people taking part, the America’s Cup has hardly any sailors taking part now, there’s no Admirals Cup, etc. So I think it’s very hard to get up for men and women, but especially hard for women.

We need to think about what opportunities that are in the industry for both men and women, but particularly for the women, so they can see there’s a career for them that’s not just sailing but actually working inside the sailing world.

What are your thoughts on the mixed team rule in this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race?

I think Volvo was quite smart. Let’s be clear and say that if they hadn’t brought in the rule to incentivize teams to include women crew then there would have been fewer women or maybe even no women involved in this race. Certainly it’s a shame there isn’t another all-female boat, but I think if we really want to increase the standard in women’s sailing, the women do need to sail with the men.

We’re seeing that in in Olympic Sailing now with the Nacra 17, and we know that by 2024 we have to have equal participation at the Olympics between men and women. In my role at the RYA, one of the things we need to do is increase the participation, and the standard, of the women across the board.


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