Recent surveys have indicated that ‘Sailing Clubs’ may need to become ‘Water Recreation Centres’ . . . at least in attitude if not in name.
An aging demographic and changing attitudes to use of free time, predicts falling numbers for the traditional sailing club membership model.
To tackle this problem, the RYA Affiliated Clubs Conferences, supported by Gallagher, were hosted across the country at the end of last year, featuring key note speakers and a suite of workshops from the RYA and partners.
The conferences were the most popular yet, with a 48% increase in booking numbers and a 20% growth in the number of clubs represented since 2016. A confirmation perhaps that the predictions are beginning to hit home.
RYA RDO Manager Guy Malpas said: “The RYA Affiliated Clubs Conferences provide a fantastic opportunity for clubs to network, share success stories and discuss the things that have a real impact – both in our clubs and in the sport.”
Following on from the Conferences a recent series of RYA webinars have explored: The Future of Dinghy Sailing, Pay and Play, Alternative Activity formats, and growing membership and club activity through effective marketing and communications.
But a point that seems to be hiding in the background is that we are also seeing a natural move to splitting dedicated racing sailors from recreational sailors.
The post war boom in dinghy sailing was very racing driven, with many clubs formed at that time comprising of people looking to race their new dinghies (at club level). Whether that was an Enterprise, GP14, etc., or the more ‘extreme’ Hornet and Fireballs that were bring built as DIY or professional builds.
Most of the classes we know as the bedrock of the sport, formed during the 50s & 60s and peaked in the 90s. And then came the game changer that was the government providing the funds to turn amateur sportsmen into professionals . . . and resulting in the all-conquering Olympic teams from 2000 onwards.
It is this professionalisation of the top end of the sport (particularly in the UK) that seems to have led to the split, subtle at first, but gathering pace as it was no longer enough to compete at your local club if you wanted to progress to Olympic competition.
The switch to an Olympic class for the 18 months before the Games was no longer sufficient time to raise your technique, and ever more importantly, your physical fitness.
And the top sailors drifted away from local club and open meeting participation to more professional coached training and dedicated pro events.
This was happening just as there was also change in working habits and in social activities, enhanced by the life changing technical innovation of the Internet.
Although it was not realised in the beginning, the computerisation of work practices and the blurring of work/social lines, with the development of smartphones and various on-line social networks, was having the greatest change to lifestyles since the industrial revolution.
Can we turn the clock back? Do we need to?
Should we just write that brief period off as “the way we were” and move on . . . a clean sheet reboot. The high street is not the only place having to face a revolution.