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Get Your Kids Sailing

2: When to start

‘The best age to start varies from individual to individual,’ says John Thorn, the RYA’s national sailing coach. ‘The key thing is if they’re interested it’s probably time to let them do it, but don’t push them if they’re not interested. Parents have to be very careful that they don’t put their children off — the biggest challenge is to let each child develop at his or her own pace, without pushing too hard.’ It often pays to wait until the warmer months before you give their first learn to sail session — trying in March when it’s cold, wet and windy may be counter-productive.

‘The youngest is probably around six to seven, although eight can be quite young because at some point they’re going to get cold and wet,’ says Thorn. ‘But it’s not the same for everyone, some don’t take to it until they’re 12, or even in their early teens. Some of our best sailors didn’t start until this age. Getting friends involved is a secret as well — kids like to be around their friends and if they learn to sail at the same time it gives them something to share.’

Sailing takes place in a potentially very hazardous environment, so it’s vital to ensure that safety standards are maintained at all times. Both the RYA and individual centres foster a culture of creating a very safe environment, and RYArecognised centres are inspected annually. This attitude contributes enormously to making sailing statistically a relatively safe sport, with fewer injuries than many others — even football has its share of broken legs and injuries.

Another priority according to Thorn is to, ‘Make it enjoyable! It’s probably best not to do it yourself — teaching any of your family to drive is a potentially rocky road, whether it’s your wife, husband, son or daughter, and exactly the same principle applies to learning to sail. Hand them over to an RYA centre, whether it’s in this country or overseas — there are lots of great enthusiastic instructors, who make it fun and won’t push them.’

The big overseas centres account for a lot of learning to sail activity. They offer oceans of fun, in a laid-back atmosphere and most are very well geared up for catering for the diverse needs of all family members. On the whole they tend to run versions of the RYA’s basic beginners’ courses, and at the end of the week there’s a presentation when people get certificates and prizes. In addition, they can be a good way of introducing children who are not naturally competitive to racing, through fun end-of-week regattas.

Previous page:1 Introduction

There’s an endless variety of possibilities for getting children started in sailing

Next page:3 Starting to race

Crewing for a more experienced child can be an excellent way forward

More articles on starting sailing or racing