Sprinkle in some new twists

Published on September 27th, 2023

Nothing promotes participation as much as event format. Don Finkle with RCR Yachts offers suggestions from his station in Youngstown, NY:

It is no secret that weekend regattas, other than major events, are a hard sell these days. Weeknight racing is generally strong because it is not hard to get a hall pass from the family for a night out with friends. A local weekend regatta often feels like just another weeknight race except it can interfere with other plans, and the turnouts continue to dwindle. We suggest a couple of solutions to this dilemma.

First, cut back on the number of regattas. This would encourage more participation, and better competition in the remaining events. It will also make the effort of the organizers and volunteers more rewarding. Finances and sponsorship would stand to benefit. What about those events that don’t make the cut? Rotate each year so everyone gets a turn to host, maybe every second or third season. Yes, this will take planning and coordination but in the end everyone would benefit.

Another solution would be to change the type of racing itself. Leave the serious course racing to the major events and those classes that thrive on it. For the masses, emphasize more fun and utilize some new formats. What are the main obstacles to participation? Time and crew availability. Consider starting times that allow for other weekend day activities.

Modern day families often engage in multiple activities on a given weekend, something in the morning, another in the afternoon, and yet something else later in the day or evening. Using the typical wind patterns in your locale, find a time for a few hours of racing that also allows for other activities before or after.

Okay, so we mentioned time constraints; what about the crew aspect? Everyone is busy and we all must make decisions about what we want to spend our time doing, given the usual multiple conflicting opportunities. If you want your crew to choose racing with you, it needs to be more attractive than the alternatives.

One way to do that is to have different racing formats that are new and exciting. Maybe random leg courses, using government marks. Pursuit races. Women, parent-child, youth big boats races. Short-handed events. Our only limitation is our own imagination.

There is no shame in copying what someone else is successfully doing. We anticipate an increase in this type of sailing, as it offers some hope of reversing the declining trend that we are all witnessing. You don’t have to give up your more serious racing at other times, but in between sprinkle in some new twists. It may also reinvigorate and bring back some who have drifted away.

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