Growing Sailing as a Sport and Recreation for All

A presentation for the Qingdao International Sailing Summit Forum by David Staley (AUS)


·         Sailing is widely perceived as being complicated, expensive and exclusive.  This has been a significant barrier to participation for a large proportion of the world's population groups and has contributed to the negative growth in the sport.  According to researcher Nick Hayes, author of the book "Saving Sailing", participation has declined 40% over the past 10 years in the USA. 


The only areas showing growth internationally are school sailing, community sailing programs and programs for people with a disability.  These programs do not rely on private boat ownership, rather the programs supply the equipment.  And they are attracting groups of people not traditionally involved in the sport. 


So how can we make sailing more inclusive of people or all abilities, ages and backgrounds?  I believe it is through the better design of equipment and facilities, how the sport and its participation and development programs are structured, and by fostering inclusive attitudes among the sport's officials.


·         Access should not disadvantage anyone going about their everyday life. With the rapid ageing of the world's population, we must begin to address the issues that exclude a large percentage of individuals from participating in things that most of us take for granted.


There are some notable US Census Bureau projections for 2050:

45% of the population 46+ years

25% people with a disability (one quarter of the population)

52% female

How many of groups are we attracting to sailing now as new participants?


These figures reflects the fact that the global population is ageing and there are more people with a disability living active lives.  Is this an opportunity to provide them with a healthy and rewarding recreation and sport?  It sure is if we have the right equipment, facilities and approach.


·         Universal Design has already been applied in sailing to make equipment and facilities more accessible. 

The seven principles of Universal Design were developed by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers at The Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University.


Awareness of and attention to these principles will ensure equipment is accessible and inclusive and programs can enable everyone to participate together regardless of their age, ability, gender or financial status.


·         These seven principles have been applied in the design of the Access classes of sailboats used extensively by Sailability and inclusive community sailing programs worldwide.  These small keelboats are very stable and easy to sail, providing non-threatening and confidence building early experiences in sailing. 


·         A variety of additional equipment is available for these boats to enable people with severe disabilities to sail independently.


·         The growth of club-based Sailability and accessible sailing programs over the past twenty years has provided sport and recreation opportunities for people with a disability - a group that now represents 10% - 20%of the world's population (depending upon how you interpret the word 'disability').


Sailability commenced in Great Britain in 1980s and has grown to more than 350 programs in 14 countries worldwide. 


·      Most of these programs are based at mainstream yacht clubs but participants are rarely fully integrated within the sailing and social activities of the club.  In recent years, the "Sailing For Everyone" approach to total inclusion of people of all ages and abilities has replaced the original "disabled sailing program" approach. 

·      As people with disabilities and others participating in the various programs start to be seen simply as 'sailors' rather than 'Sailability Participants', the barriers to full inclusion are breaking down. 


·         As an extension of this idea, the emergence of the International Access Class Association over the past 5 years is an example of how a class association can provide an inclusive development pathway for people not traditionally attracted to sailing.


Chris Mitchell designed the first  Access 'Dinghy' in 1994 using the principles of Universal Design.  The Class was not affiliated with ISAF until 2005 but has already grown to 10 National Class Associations. 


  • There are four Access Classes, designed for universal use, to make an introduction to sailing easy, safe and fun, but with events that offer plenty of challenges for more experienced sailors.


·         The class has just held its 2nd World Championships in the UK.  The event attracted 100 sailors from 10 nations - sailors with a disability and able-bods all competing together. 


·         Inclusive Clubs are those that are opening their doors wide to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds - and growing participation in the process.  Here are a few examples:


o   Rutland Sailing Club, in the UK Central Midlands, was the birthplace of Sailability.  It is a large dinghy and catamaran club, but also has a number of smaller keelboat classes.  The Sailability program has become an integral part of the clubs' activities.  As a result, the facilities are very accessible and sailors of all ages and abilities are included in the racing program.  Rutland Sailing Club hosted the 2010 Access Class World Championships.


o   Docklands Yacht Club is located on the edge of Melbourne's Central Business District in a redevelopment precinct.  Since amalgamating with Sailability Docklands in 2006, the club has adopted the "Sailing For Everyone" philosophy and is now focused on an inclusive Community Sailing Program using its fleet of Access sailboats. 


o   Piers Park Sailing Centre is situated across Boston Harbour from the Central Business District adjacent to Logan International Airport.  It is one of five Community Sailing Centres in the central Boston area.  The Centre provides its range of small keelboats for the use of members and program participants.  Adult membership fees and support from the municipality and sponsors enables juniors to pay a nominal annual fee. 


o   Ai Hang Hai is a new program established by the Qingdao Yachting Association with support from the Qingdao Municipal Government.  Its objectives are to:

-   Provide an affordable, inviting and accessible entry into recreational sailing for the people of Qingdao

-   Enable a broad cross-section of the community to participate - children, youth, adults, older persons and people with a disability

-   Foster community inclusion of these different groups participating together at a mainstream yacht club

-   Develop pathways for those who wish to progress their skills in recreational and competitive sailing

This is an ideal approach to promoting inclusion and growing participation.


·         A National Model for Inclusion. 

We are all familiar with the "participation pyramid"

·         It takes little change in graphics to make our sport model inclusive.  But what will make it really work is a change of thinking. 


·         Here are some ideas about what Provincial and National Sailing Authorities can do to provide the structure and support to make sailing more inclusive and attractive to a wider group of participants:

-   First of all, there needs to be leadership and direction to establish the basis for creating inclusive participation programs or community sailing programs - a framework for clubs and organisations to work with

-   It is essential that the sport communicates the development pathways, including clubs & participation programs, training & coaching programs, classes, events, in an easy to understand manner via whatever media works best

-   Inclusion education needs to be provided for senior decision makers at all levels of the sport all the way down to club officials & management staff, race officials, instructors & coaches.  This is the key to changing attitudes within the sport and opening our doors to non-traditional groups

-   Finally, ongoing advice and support needs to be provided for provincial associations, clubs, classes and programs


·         Here are some website links that you may find useful


In Conclusion

Compared to most other sports, sailing has a flying head start on the development of mainstream inclusion.  This presents a significant opportunity for leadership. 


I invite you all to take the information from this Sailing Summit and be part of growing our wonderful sport, attracting and including new people of all ages, abilities, gender and background.

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