How do sailing clubs work and why you might want to join

by Chris Kameen on November 11, 2014

Junior sailing at Manly Skiff ClubLike minded people hanging out together

This is my definition of a club and as such each club will be very different. I am a strong advocate of promoting that you don’t need to join a club to go sailing as this is a massive barrier for a large number of people. I love rugby and would love to get more involved but there is no way I’m going to join a rugby club – they might expect me to do something. I’m sure the reality is far from that and you get out what you put in. However we dress this up though, clubs still have a membership policy and it is never going to be clear as to what that policy is!

For the purpose of this article I will focus on dinghy sailing clubs rather than yacht clubs. The main difference between a dinghy and a yacht is its size and thus cost and how many people can go onboard and sail it. All people that sail dinghies are involved in the process of sailing whereas on a yacht there is room for passengers. From a club demographic perspective dinghy clubs tend to have more of the same type of people, often younger with families than yacht clubs.

So how do sailing clubs work?

Most dinghy sailing clubs are run and managed by volunteers and club members who organise the activities of the club, usually through a committee structure, with key roles delegated to individuals for a given period of time. The top job is invariably the “Commodore” often supported by a Vice and a Rear Commodore, – great nautical terms and whilst they might sound quite stuffy, is actually quite quaint in my opinion. “Club Captain” tends to look after the equipment, “treasurer’ obvious and then “Class Captains”.

In the same way that there are lots of different types of car; small two seater sports cars, 5 seater family sedan, SUV etc., so there are sailing dinghies and normally a club will cater for a couple of classes. At Manly Skiff Club they have 4 classes: Manly Junior (6-12 year olds), Flying 11 (10-18 year olds), 13 foot skiff (16-23 year olds) and 16 foot skiffs (16 – If you can still carry it in, you are never too old!)

and finally racing  or sailing secretary. Clubs tend to be about racing and so planning the racing calendar and making sure there are volunteers to man the start boats and lay the sailing course are very important. If a club also has a cruising division or social sailing aspect then this might be organised between the class captain and sailing secretary.

Key things to consider when choosing a sailing club.

Location: Unfortunately this is usually the limiting factor but if you love it you will travel!

RS Quba classType of boats sailed: are the types of boat sailed compatible with the type of sailing that you want to do? Are you the right size/strength for the boat that they sail. I stopped sailing 16 foot skiffs with my wife because we were far too small and not strong enough.

Type of sailing done and when: most clubs in Sydney run racing on a Saturday or Sunday. Your preference might be to do 2 hours on a Wednesday evening cruising.. check out our Twilight product at St George!

Boat Storage: This is ultimately the biggest barrier to sailing in Sydney – there is very little storage for boats, and what storage there is, is reserved only for the classes raced at the clubs and for those that turn up. I agree that sailing clubs shouldn’t be dumping grounds for boats that aren’t used, but at the same time, if clubs are looking to develop their membership they need to address this.

An important thing to note here is my own experience of trying to join a club in Sydney to sail with my wife 10 years ago. We eventually settled on buying a 16 foot skiff so that we could sail in Manly, however there was no storage so we also had to buy a car so that we could tow it 200m from our house to the rigging area. Then sailing it we were way too small, not strong enough or skilled enough. We managed two seasons and we made a lot of friends by being game. Sadly my wife doesn’t sail anymore because the classes sailed are not conducive to the sort of sailing we want to do as a couple. We could go and sail at St George Sailing Club where husband and wife sailing is prevalent, but the distance is too great and the types of boat sailed are still quite physical and high performance… Having said that there is nothing we love more than going for a blast in one of RS Fevas on a windy day – a kids boat that adults can have a ball in!

Why Join a Sailing Club?

Sailing has given me so much – and now a career. For me sailing is a journey, it is a very relaxed form of transport, it is something that I separate completely from racing and sailing clubs are invariably set up for racing. Sadly I think some sailors get so caught up in racing that they forget about the joy of just going sailing. Triple world 14 foot skiff world champion once said to me… “I just love go sailing Chris”.. how cool is that.

The skills that you learn from racing are immense, you learn everything from how a rig works, how to fix things properly, close quarter boat control.. all of these things are learnt on the race course and are very difficult to simulate in a sailing journey, but you could….

The real reason is as follows; I am a member of 4 clubs, each is unique, and the reason I am a member is different in each case but the underlying thread is to do with the friends that I have made. That I have had to tailor my sailing to what is done at that club is a compromise that I have been willing to make.

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