Strategy needed to attract youth sailors

Published on January 26th, 2024

When youth sailing in the USA introduced age-based boats and events in the 1980s, it grew participation and expanded the scope of high school sailing. But in doing so, it created a separate silo for this age group that hastened awareness and activity elsewhere in the sport.

The knock-on effect is when young sailors age out of their programming, they may not know how to continue in the sport. What once was a natural progression from prams to established local fleets of one design and keelboat activity was broken.

To mend the system, Charles Heimler shares this observation:

I recently helped at the 2024 Snipe Junior Worlds, which was a weeklong championship for under 21-year-olds in Miami, FL. Forty-six international teams from seven continents sailed in the event, with three American teams in this double-handed dinghy taking the top places followed by two Spanish teams.

The Snipe Miami fleet has revived participation in this classic hard-chined boat with an under 30 regatta and available charters. Miami has for nearly half a century hosted the best that Snipe sailing has to offer here during winter regattas.

What does this have to do with Finns, my primary boat for the past two decades?

What I realized from this event is that every sailing class must recruit young people to sail the boat and have a deliberate program of finding potential sailors, matching them with available boats, and either teaching or coaching them to have a great time sailing the boats in fun, social, challenging regattas.

The Snipe class, which has the advantages of having a boat that accommodates family-teams, youth teams, couples teams, adult teams, has for a long time provided this platform, and for the past two years has witnessed a marvelous surge in participation.

Meanwhile, the Finn class has devolved into mostly a Master’s class (over 40) after it was dropped from the Olympics. Young men striving to make their Olympic team came out in numbers nearly 100 worldwide to attend the high-level regattas but now they’ve left for other pursuits.

For the Finn class to continue to the next generation, it must have a deliberate strategy for bringing into the Finn class both masters sailors, young adults, under-23s, and under 40s.

The Finn Silver Cup, also known as the U23 World Championship, is a decades-old perpetual trophy, that is a ready-made platform to promote this revitalized youth movement. The 2024 Silver Cup will be held in conjunction with the Gold Cup (World Championship) in Denmark August 31-September 7.

Last year, I helped a young American come to the Silver Cup in Italy. He gathered private sponsorship and scholarships from the USA Finn Association to help cover his costs. It was a collective effort by U.S. Finn sailors to enable his journey.

I envision all 27+ countries in the Finn community to do the same—sponsor a youth for the Silver Cup. This is the Finn Youth Challenge—and I’m issuing it to all Finn sailors worldwide.

Which countries and sailors with meet this challenge? Contact me for more info:

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