Getting on the water this summer in the East Region

Sailing is something that can be for all ages – and it’s never too early or late to learn to sail. Being on the water can help with so many developmental skills, particularly for young people, as the RYA OnBoard programme has shown. Research carried out in 2017 in conjunction with Professor Bill Lucas of the University of Westminster, found that sailing build six core character strengths in young people – these being creativity, teamwork, determination, communication, independence and confidence. These are demonstrated in their droves by 5-year-old Ellie Butler-Baines who can often be found on the water – either sailing her Yellow Mirror at Grafham Water Sailing Club or, this Summer, sailing on her father’s Spitfire catamaran, joining in with Sunday morning racing.

Inheriting a love of sailing from both her parents, Ellie has enjoyed being on the water all her life, and has always been on or around boats. This year she has started to show an interest in learning to steer on her own, and is both determined and fearless on the water. Her Mum, Ali, said: “By being on the water this has given Ellie so much confidence, (maybe too much sometimes!), she is confident in water which is partly down to weekly swimming lessons, but she has been immersed to this wonderful world, that is up for grabs for any individual.  Sailing doesn’t have to be for people who have lots of money, you can easily access RYA courses from inland venues such as Grafham Water or, if you want to sail at sea, there are coastal venues too.” She added “Ellie is a very determined little girl and her sailing has definitely been a positive attribute to starting school this year, as she comes to the end of her first year in her local Primary School, there is a definite change in her confidence levels. This is just the start, here’s hoping for more adventures, wherever they may take us!”

It’s also never too late to learn – despite having lived close to the water in Brightlingsea for 60 years, it was only when she was in her 70s that Carol Eldridge took the plunge and, encouraged by friends, attended a Discover Sailing day at Colne Yacht Club. From that moment, she was hooked and has thoroughly enjoyed the experience, not just learning to sail, but learning about boat maintenance too – Carol has even tryed paddleboarding and enjoys being close to wildlife, having seen porpoises, seals and birds from the Essex Coast. To anyone thinking about trying sailing, she says “Just give it a go – it’s got to be on your bucket list. If you don’t try it, you won’t know how much you love it.”

If you’re just thinking about getting into sailing, the first thing you’ll be thinking about is how and where, and often this question will be resolved with one answer – a sailing club. A sailing club is a great place to start, with a community of like-minded sailing enthusiasts with plenty of experience and encouragement on hand. There is a lot of choice, with over 1000 Clubs across the UK and a significant number of these in the East Region, but it can be daunting to know where to start. One of the really special aspects of sailing in the East Region is that each Club brings a unique offer to a prospective member, so the first thing you might want to think about is what you want from your sailing experience – is there a particular type of sailing that you are attracted to? 

For example, if you’re looking to get into big boat sailing and offshore yacht racing, you’ll usually be looking at a club based on the sea off the East Coast, whereas on the other hand, if you’re looking for a more sedate leisurely sail, you might consider an inland lake or Broad, or something in the middle. Clubs may cater for both smaller dinghies or bigger yachts, or one or the other, so this is something to bear in mind. There are also considerations in terms of whether the club is coastal (bear in mind this may be tidal, which may mean that the times of activities vary according to the tides), on rivers (which may mean that there is river traffic to contend with), or lakes (which can be sheltered). 

It’s also important to consider what you’re looking for a club to provide. Do you wish to undertake formal training, or learn informally with experienced members? If formal qualifications are a desire, you’ll want to look for an RYA Recognised Training Centre. Those which are particularly geared up towards activity for young people will be RYA OnBoard Clubs, part of the RYA’s children’s sailing and windsurfing programme. They offer children the opportunity to try watersports through their local club or centre in a safe, fun and structured environment. Alternatively, if you are looking for your child to progress through the racing pathway, you might look for a British Youth Sailing Recognised Club. This programme celebrates clubs that allow junior sailors to develop their sailing and racing skills and encourage young sailors at grassroots level to stay in the sport. The RYA’s Sailability Programme is ideal to inspire disabled people to go boating and reduce the barriers people face to getting out on the water.

You might also want to think about opportunities to get involved in volunteering (is it a volunteer-run or staffed club), what the learning opportunities are (e.g. one-off courses, regular club nights, crewing opportunities, women on the water groups) and whether the club has diversified activities – for example, many have now branched into broader water-based activities including canoeing, rowing and paddleboarding – and even model yacht racing – which can appeal to different members of the family. Clubs are friendly places for all – whether it be a person attending alone, a family group, and everyone in between.

Of course, it’s easy to think that it’s all about being on the water, but being part of a club is so much more than that. The social aspect of sailing is really important and is one of the main reasons why individuals remain part of clubs – building friendships and shared experiences. It’s a great idea to visit a few clubs, and with plenty of Discover Sailing and Open Days planned for this summer, this is a brilliant opportunity to get a feel for clubs and what they can offer. 

To find out about Discover Sailing events this summer visit or to start your sailing adventure on the East Region visit

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