Sailing is not just an elitist sport but also a platform for education, access, and a conduit for change. By Charlotte Longley and Jen Guimaraes
For years, sailing has been viewed as simply a recreational sport reserved for the upper echelons of society – those people with the means and access to join their local yacht club or boathouse. And yet, the opportunities that sailing can provide can have a far greater impact on society than simply leisure. Whether it’s used as an educational tool, a means to create access, or a platform to instill valuable life skills, the world of sailing shouldn’t be reserved for the elite – it should be open to everyone.
With a desire to find a way to make that happen, organizations like Community Sailing Center in Burlington, VT, Downtown Sailing Center in Baltimore, MD, and Hudson River Community Sailing in Manhattan, NY (among others), started a revolution to change the perception of what sailing is and to help it reach a new potential – one that educates, inspires, and supports community growth. While the spark of this movement began at least a decade ago, it’s only been in the last four or five years that this new vision of sailing has really started to take shape.
With a focus on providing access to their local bodies of water through educational programming, these community-based sailing centers are breaking down the barriers that many in their communities face – whether it’s financial, physical, or skills-based. Through partnerships with local schools, other non-profits, similarly minded organizations, and initiatives like Reach and Grow Sailing from US Sailing, these centers are helping people gain access to, and eventually become stewards of, their local bodies of water.
A driving factor for change for many of these organizations was the realization that there were many people in their community who had never had an on-water experience. Most people live less than a few miles away and still don’t have the access or the skills to enjoy it. And so, new programs were designed to create access for all.
In Burlington, the Community Sailing Center sought to solve one part of the problem by creating a program that would help youth get out on the water during the school day, utilizing sailing to learn more about their local, natural environment. In 2008, the CSC developed a STEM-based curriculum that aligned with state standards to launch the first Floating Classroom for 4th and 5th graders. This hands-on program allows local youth the opportunity to learn about lake ecology, physics, weather, and teamwork all while aboard a sailboat. This program not only provides a unique inquiry-based learning opportunity it also gives many of the kids their first taste of sailing. Since then, the CSC has partnered closely with the Burlington School District and utilized US Sailing’s Reach program to improve the curriculum and align it to Next Generation Science Standards.
Hudson River Community Sailing offers the Sail Academy, a year long academic after school program, which was designed to help underserved New York teens build their math and science skills using sailing and boat building as the medium. During the program, participants learn math, science, and leadership skills through hands-on lessons taught by trained instructors. They learn stewardship of their belongings, develop leadership skills through participation, and many earn their NYS safe boating certificate at the end of the program.
Outside of youth and teens, these organizations also realized that there needed to be more program opportunities for people with disabilities. The Downtown Sailing Center offers twice monthly sessions to teach disabled people how to sail through their Access-Ability program, which includes a year-end regatta to celebrate all of their accomplishments. Participants can learn on adaptive crafts from instructors each session, push their limits, regain their independence, and build confidence knowing that they overcome a challenge and learned something new.
Additional programs (which vary by center) include sailing teams, single-gender programing, integrated summer camps, and youth development courses to support personal growth. Each individual program is designed to get a different group of people out on the water learning about themselves and the world around them, while experiencing the joy of sailing.
These community-based sailing centers are not only creating opportunities for participants to gain life skills such as confidence, leadership, communication, and teamwork, they are also helping participants to gain a better sense of who they are and to find their place in the world and their community.
Sailing is not just a hobby – it’s a platform for change, a medium for education, and a movement supporting the entire community, locally, regionally and nationally.