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Yachting Australia research report
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The Publisher
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Mar 19, 2012, 11:01 AM

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DATA TO HELP SHAPE FUTURE OF SAILING
Yachting Australia has released the findings of a research report into the perceptions of sailing in Australia. Developed over six months by leading sports and entertainment consultancy firm gemba, the report will shape future Yachting Australia and yacht club programs to increase membership and participation.

Funding for the research project was provided by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and was conducted between September and November last year and involved a quantitative survey sent to nearly 30,000 people, including club members, a series of focus group meetings, primarily with people not currently in the sport, and workshops with key stakeholders including Yachting Australia and the BIA.

In releasing the report Yachting Australia CEO Phil Jones said that the information will be used to shape a number of future programs and initiatives.

"In working with the ASC on the Participation initiatives in our Strategic Plan, we jointly identified the lack of solid data and evidence into the levels of participation in sailing, and what the drivers and barriers were to increasing it," Jones said. "Whilst there are plenty of opinions in the sailing community, we really needed solid and objective information about what club members and the Australian public think of our sport.

"There are no big surprises to what many people would have guessed, but there are lots of insights and identified priorities that will enable us to be much more effective in growing participation," said Yachting Australia Sport Development Director, Ross Kilborn. "The report identifies the roll out of a national junior program, targeting seven year olds as our highest priority, closely followed by the development of an entry brand and program to improve communication with all Australians."

The top six insights in the Report Summary are:
- Australians generally have a low rate of both participation in, and passion for, sailing (we rank 34th and 37th respectively amongst all sports)
- Sailing is perceived as an 'exclusive' sport while not being seen as very 'accessible'. Yacht Clubs are generally not welcoming, and are for older people only
- On average, the starting age of sailing is much higher than other sports with established junior programs
- Primary and Secondary school age children, and young families have the highest interest in participating in sailing in the future
- Relaxation is consistently the most important reason for participation in sailing among both current sailors and those interested in sailing. New participants are interested in a social, relaxed activity rather than competition, the later tending to be more important to current club members.
- The main barrier for future participation is the perceived cost of sailing. Boat ownership, maintenance, storage costs, and annual membership payment, are expensive, especially for a family.

Full report: http://www.yachting.org.au/?Page=58965




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Mar 19, 2012, 11:02 AM

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My guess is the results of this survey would be similar if conducted in the United States. However, what I wonder about is how different would the results of this survey be if conducted 30 years ago. Comments welcome.

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt


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Mar 19, 2012, 11:03 AM

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From Steve Gregory:
Following the Australian survey and editor's comment, I contend that their problems are what we also see in the U.S., and that few of the survey findings have changed in the past 20-30 years. And that, to me, makes me question the design of the survey.

I don't think the Aussies needed to spend any money to learn that clubs are viewed as exclusive, that sailing is meant to be relaxing, or that a barrier to entry is the complexity for involvement. These aren't new issues. What the Aussies needed to be asking is why these issues are different today than in the past.

My guess is that the free market of our sport, which has encouraged the heightening cost and commitment to participate, is partly to blame. Did we really need carbon gear and moulded sails? The other part of the blame is on liability, which has crushed our free spirit for adventure. We are now a society of worriers.

If we could spend less and worry less, our sport would thrive again. Remember, other than a small percentage of pro sailors who pinch owners for a daily rate, we sail for recreation. But we have allowed the sport to become more stressful than our work life. And that is killing it.


From Andy Zimbaldi, S/C Newport Harbor Yacht Club:
Craig, your query about whether the study would be similar in the US is interesting. Actually, US sailing associations and yacht clubs have done a lot of work on this subject and the findings are very similar to those in Australia. Big crisis in our sport in the US. And much exacerbated for yacht clubs. The average age in most yacht clubs is rising precipitously as younger people are disinclined to make the financial and time commitments to a yacht club membership. Our sport is at an interesting crossroads.





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Mar 19, 2012, 11:03 AM

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I wonder how closely yacht clubs are now looking at their junior programs. They are more diverse and comprehensive than ever, but are these programs fulfilling their purpose? The mission statement of my club's program is "to develop knowledgeable youth sailors and to instill in them a love for the sport of sailing that will serve as a foundation for the future of the Club." Are junior programs still the source for future club members?

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt


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Mar 19, 2012, 11:05 AM

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From BJ Jones:
Concerning the comment from Andy Zimbaldi about aging of yacht club membership, we made an attempt at Lake Norman Yacht Club several years ago to address this by drastically lowering the membership costs for younger prospective members. We are a lake YC on Lake Norman, just north of Charlotte, NC and are probably no different from many clubs trying to deal with an aging membership.

Previously we had an under 30 membership dues and initiation price and an over 30 price that were different, but not by much. We had maybe one or two under 30's in 5 years join. We then totally revamped our dues and initiation structure for the under 30's to make it much easier and enticing to join.

For a member just out of college, we made the dues $125 and initiation the same. The structure was then adjusted upwards each year by a bit until it got to where at 29, it was the same as before. Our reasoning was that we weren't getting any young members anyway, and we wanted them in the future so it wasn't really costing us anything to have them join now.

We definitely have more under 30's join than we did before and they are actively involved.


From Ken Bertino:
Steve Gregory's comments hit a chord with me. The amateur sailor and owner are taking this all a little too seriously.

I have, as have many others who've sailed with pro sailors. And while it is good, it is not always fun but we learn from it. We learn from the experience, but do we grow the sport because of it? Or do we take that approach onto the next boat we sail on with all amateur sailors and demand too much from the owner and crew? I am not trying to cast aspersions but ask, is this a part of the problem when it comes to racing?

The other issues about clubs, access, costs have been around for many, many, many years. Yachts clubs have their place and in my opinion are a good tradition for our sport. Public sailing is more available now than ever. And yes, boat ownership is expensive?


From Glenn Selvin:
Regarding the Australian survey that cites the cost of sailing, a close friend just spent a whopping $1300 on a Lido 14, and he can't wait for summer races to start! For bang for the buck, $1300 is a steal, and certainly isn't exclusive.

I, on the other hand sail a Finn, and yes, $10,000 is pretty stupid for a 15' boat. Indeed, the price of the boat is keeping people from sailing them.

But the best answer to people who think sailing is too expensive? Show them a picture of a small boat like a Lido, Sunfish, Laser, or even a Cal 20! And the old Ericksons, Islanders, Cals? A bargain!


From Rob McNeal:
I live in Bayshore Gardens, Florida, which is a small canal community with a neighborhood not-for-profit marina (no facilities - only slips). The marina was intended for residents only, but due to the economy and a lack of slip holders, it's open to anyone at this time.

Many of us who sail (and have powerboats) belong to the 52 year old Bayshore Gardens YC. This club is a relatively informal group averaging anywhere from 30 to 60 members a year, most of whom don't even have a boat. Our yearly dues are under $20. And we do struggle for membership.

When I talk to people about the fun we have and possibly joining us, I am careful to no longer lead with the phrase "Yacht Club". I have visibly seen the negative reaction when I use that phrase, which means I then have to try to explain how our little YC is not what they perceive a YC to be - specifically elitist and expensive.

No survey could be clearer to me. There is certainly a place for the formal YC to be - but there aren't many places for those that cannot afford it and want to be much less formal about it and still have a sailing experience.

We are lucky to also have the Sarasota Sailing Squadron in this area (which BTW has a tremendous kids sailing program). I suspect the choice long ago to use "Sailing Squadron" as opposed to "Yacht Club" may have been intentional there too.


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Mar 19, 2012, 11:09 AM

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From Stu Johnstone:
Fascinating reading the latest Yachting Australia Sailing survey. I believe many of the "top six insights" are a recipe for what has been done by our family over the course of time -- how to grow sailing as a recreation first to include family and friends, then worry about evolving interests like cruising and racing later.

It's a universal challenge to attract and keep people involved in the "joy" of sailing - that's what attracted me to sailing in the first place. Few recreational pursuits allow the participant to simply be one with nature -- listening, feeling, seeing nature in all its quietness and magnificence. Perhaps hiking in remote mountains, listening to the breeze rustle trees and taking in the magnificent vistas or cross-country skiing through the deep woods listening to snow falling off trees and the skis crunching the snow underneath, are just some examples.

In other words, "relaxation is consistently the most important reason for participation in sailing". I'm not surprised, it's the best way to escape the pressure of day-to-day living and enjoy the beauty of nature, the sea, the wind and waves at your fingertips -- and even better to share with a loved one or friends.

That sailing has to be "accessible" and "not expensive" goes without saying. Over time, we've worked hard to develop and help grow public/ private partnerships for sailing programs and events -- the US Youth Championship in 470s/420s and Lasers, SAIL Wilmette (off-the-beach sailing in boardsailing, catamarans, Sunfish for children & adults), SAIL Newport (youth & adult sailing in Opti's, 420s, J/22s) and J/World Sailing Schools (J/24s, J/80s for adults with 35,000+ graduates). These programs are all inexpensive, don't require "yacht club" membership and most offer boat rentals daily or via memberships.

Similarly, as a family business we've supported innumerable sailing clubs, yacht clubs in their efforts to grow sailing in their communities -- J/22, J/24 and J/80 sailing programs abound across America, Europe and China. In fact, "club-owned" boats help offset the barrier-to-entry for boat costs & ownership -- a primary factor why J/Boats recently developed the new "baby J" -- the J/70.

It has to be "fun" to sail, "easy to sail" and both boys & girls and adults need to be confident in safely handling the boat. If they're not having "fun" sailing, they won't come back and share it with friends. Plus, "accessibility" also means "trailer-ability" -- something the J/70 was designed to address for those wishing to ramp-launch boats anywhere -- imagine, you dream about sailing in many places and now you can. Perhaps the J/70 is the ultimate freedom machine- the horizon is your destiny. :)


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Mar 19, 2012, 11:36 AM

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From Dawn Riley, Executive Director, Oakcliff Sailing Center:
Craig, I couldn't help but reply to your question:

"I wonder how closely yacht clubs are now looking at their junior programs. They are more diverse and comprehensive than ever, but are these programs fulfilling their purpose? The mission statement of my club's program is 'to develop knowledgeable youth sailors and to instill in them a love for the sport of sailing that will serve as a foundation for the future of the Club.' Are junior programs still the source for future club members?"

I believe that the junior programs are very much the key to future members and in part to the future of our sport. The other component to the future is the growing community programs.

Perhaps even 40% of the new sailors come through this path. But we can't just train kids and expect them to slot into the open slots vacated by older members. They need to be involved in the decision making of the clubs, and at the risk of scaring some lawyers and insurance agents, be trained and then be allowed to assume the responsibility of sailing across lakes and bays and even oceans.

The other thing that I totally believe in is club-owned boats as well as good coaching. And in case you haven't heard; Oakcliff Sailing Center has all of this. It is working, and man is it fun to see the super enthusiasm of the people - young and old - who come sail and train with us!


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Mar 19, 2012, 11:37 AM

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Dawn and I traded emails on this topic, where I noted how junior programs could be more effective if there was a continuous path from beginner sailing toward open/adult sailing. "Yes," she noted. "I agree that the success of junior sailing has inadvertently broken that path." If the mission of junior programs is to help fill the sport with participants, creating a bridge to recruit youth sailors into open/adult sailing would then seem vital.

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt




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Mar 20, 2012, 8:33 AM

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From Alex Arnold:
Since the participants in a club's junior program are, most likely, children of members, I'd think that they're already introduced to sailing. I don't think that's the growth area of sailing about which people have been talking. How do we get the "totally green" folks involved?


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Mar 20, 2012, 12:12 PM

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From Christopher Princing:
Dawn Riley makes some great points and she and her organization are certainly at the top of this effort to move kids into sailing. We live in a different world now. When I was a kid 25 years ago, we played school sports and then come summertime we spent the summer hanging out with our family. I was lucky as that meant I got to go sailing on a Sunfish every weekend along with my twin brother Matt.

Today, the kids all play on travel sports teams, and the culture is you play year round. If you decide not to play, you risk being left out of the cool kid group and being "drafted" in the next season by a team you don't want to be on. These travel teams put incredible pressure on the parents to sign their kids up for the whole year - sometimes in multiple leagues and the parents end up in hotel rooms, at out of town venues every other weekend for 12 months of the year. It is no wonder our sport is getting smaller; how can these parents be expected to introduce their children to sailing or afford it.

My daughter is now 6 years old. She has been sailing since she was 2 months old. She likes to sail, but the pressure of playing soccer is already real for us. Some of her friends have signed up for summer soccer and she is asking us about it. We have committed to doing family stuff over the summer and will see how it goes; that means going up to Tawas Bay (Lake Huron) and sailing and playing on the beach.

My biggest fear is chasing her away from sailing by putting too much pressure on her. We don't have a junior program at Tawas Bay Yacht Club, but we do have Opti's and we do have some good parents including my wife, Jennifer, who take the kids out and have fun. My daughter get's her own boat this summer, an old wooden Opti that my friends and I rebuild last winter, I hope she has fun with it and enjoys a lifetime of sailing.




Bruce Thompson
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Mar 21, 2012, 5:40 AM

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I would point out that what you are describing is a linkage between Junior programs and long established one design classes at the same parent club. At the Chicago Corinthian YC, we have had great success in linking to Rhodes 19 Fleet 12. Once a month they invite the kids to sail their boats. So we have an evening with lots of smiling kids in Rhodes 19s. From that some of the older kids have started racing as crew and leveraged from that, some of the parents have bought R-19s for family sailing. So there is a whole continuum of options.

We saw the results at the Rhodes 19 Nationals in 2011, where there was a range of Junior Fleeters, past and present, up to about age 28 crewing. And some of those older kids are excellent prospects to buy second hand boats for themselves as they get established financially. If you know the right people, and have done your time as a crew, you might even get the chance to buy one of those 40 year old boats for a song.


cheap_trick
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Apr 9, 2012, 9:59 PM

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Where I sail in Australia we do have some well-established junior programs which are producing a high level of talent from among it's ranks, which is awesome!

However, it seems that, like any sport, the kids face the pressure of being 'cool' - therefore, we are losing many of them to the Olympic development squad (not necessarily because that's the class they want to sail, but because that's the class their mates/parents say they should sail) and then they find the pressure is too much and leave the sport for good.

I have the utmost respect for the people who choose to go down that track (I know I could never handle the pressure) but I think they have really got to want it. So many parents are living their dreams through their kids - one parent I know is a former olympic sailor, therefore his kids had no choice but to go into the olympic development squad, even though they don't want to and don't like the pressure.

Also, it's become 'cool' to sail skiffs here, so all of the kids in the junior program just assume that they will be able to come out of the junior boats straight into a skiff - mostly this is not the case as the skill level required to sail a high-performance boat is not there yet. So then they leave the sport because all of their older mates who sail skiffs tell them they are not cool enough.

This is a shame but I think that has a part to do with the low numbers of people participating in sailing in this country - it is difficult to keep the kids in the sport. Also, I do agree with the article that some clubs are very 'exclusive' and unwelcoming - particularly the ones with an olympic focus - those of us who do not sail olympic classes are made to feel as though we are not even welcome at those clubs because we sail the 'wrong' boat. This is really closed-minded in my opinion & is detrimental to the sport as a whole.


Bruce Thompson
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Apr 10, 2012, 5:17 AM

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Nothing is as cool to a child as to be treated like an adult. Our juniors are introduced to adult sailors at an early age. We have one boy, who has a learning disability caused by a hard delivery at birth, who has progressed from pram sailer, to Opti sailor, to jib trimmer on his dad's J-105 for the Wednesday night beercan races. He is now about 12 years old. He has even been seen steering Dad's J-105!

Having learned to face their initial fears and start having fun, they become useful assets to an adult crew. We have two daily goals

1) Have fun!
2) Learn something new each day, because KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!


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