Discussing the health of sailing

Published on November 25th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
The Yacht Racing Forum bills itself as the leading annual conference for the business of sailing and yacht racing, and while it’s quite an industry who’s-who, its focus had so often been on furthering professional sailing initiatives rather than supporting the larger sport.

However, the forum has been shifting its sights, with the 2019 edition on November 25-26 in Bilbao, Spain including some topics that touch the base.

Stan Honey, record breaking navigator and multi-Emmy Award winning pioneer in televised sports broadcasting, spoke on how he sees electronic umpiring trickling down from the America’s Cup and SailGP to even club racing level, thanks to the power and potential of next generation smart phone technology.

Stan and I discussed this idea, as he wondered whether it could encourage participation by providing needed rules support in times of conflict on the race course. Do people not race because they aren’t comfortable with the racing rules?

Certainly our sport is better when everyone understands how to play it, but I do worry how the addition of technology detracts from the sailing experience.

One of the sessions was titled, Youth sailing: can we win back the lost generation (18-35), reverse the decline in participation and bring new sailors into the sport?” with the questions to be covered including:

• How do we grow the sport in a declining market?
• What factors do we feel are the cause of this and how might we try to reverse the trend?
• Is virtual sailing a satisfying alternative?
• What classes are best adapted to young sailors?
• What professional opportunities does the sport offer to youngsters willing to work in the sailing industry?

My view on this has always been that if there is an interest for a youth sailor to become a life sailor, than that youth sailor needs to be introduced to the type of sailing they may enjoy as an adult.

The sport is varied – dinghies, keelboats, multihulls, boards – and I experienced it all before I turned 18 years old. Those experiences kept me interested, pushed my knowledge as a sailor, and shaped my road forward into the sport. However, the focus today has narrowed which limits stimulation for long term retention.

Another session was titled, “Is social media killing the art of storytelling and ‘cheapening’ the quality of coverage? Or is it a blessing for the sport, providing visibility and new opportunities to be creative?”

Since our launch in 1997, we have closely witnessed how the internet has impacted communication within the sport, and social media has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. While it is easy to use and can provide immediate nuggets, it cannot replace existing communication tools but rather supplement them.

Our reliance on communication devices has not helped us communicate, and storytelling has suffered though this evolution. There is an immense opportunity to share our sport as long as we leverage the strengths of all the available tools.

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