Land Ahoy

A good dose of fresh air, a chance to gain some life skills and to make new friends sounds a winning combo. Learning to sail ticks all these boxes. So, post Olympics, perhaps it’s time to encourage your child to jump aboard.

omeone who can flag-up the benefits of getting afloat is Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Sailing Development Officer, Victoria Lenz. She lists not only keeping fit, but also, building self-esteem, resilience and independence. Primary school Headteacher Chris Marshall echoes this, having seen pupils taking part in residential sailing trips, “Grow in self-confidence, experiencing both success and pride in their achievement.”

Victoria believes that sailing also ranks as a great shared family activity, “Parents, find it’s a chance for them and their children to enjoy their spare time together,” she says. Adding, “Many also see an improvement in school work, which coincides with a growing interest in their offspring wanting to spend all their spare time sailing,” Whether you sign-up for lessons at a club or at a public watersports site, no previous experience is needed.

Although the starting age is typically eight years, some venues allow younger children to be accompanied in dinghies by experienced sailors. Others may offer short, introductory sessions that encourage water and sailing confidence.

The good news is that you don’t need to splash out on any new kit to get started. Soft soled shoes are recommended, together with an old pair of trousers and a jumper. With changing weather conditions warm gloves might need to be packed one day, sun screen the next. Training centres can provide buoyancy aids, helmets, waterproofs and wetsuits so check with your local
centre before unnecessary expense. RYA approval brings with it peace of mind that a centre is regularly inspected and follows the requirements of its proven National Youth Training Scheme. This is designed to take the under 16s from complete beginners, to accomplished crew members, in four stages. Stages 1 and 2 build a basic understanding of sailing and develop steering and boat handling technique. It usually takes two days to cover each
stage. Having mastered the skills needed to rig, launch and sail in light winds, a youngster will then be ready to move on to Stage 3, which tests their ability to sail confidently by themselves.

Expect games and short races to keep sessions fun for beginners. The all-important log book charts the progress of their seamanship, with Stage certificates awarded. Entry-level dinghies – Optimists, Toppers and Picos – provide safety and stability when going out in groups, children are closely supervised at all times by an instructor and other attendants, before gaining experience in double-handed sailing.

Olivia, step-daughter of sailing enthusiast Chris Whitton, has been sailing at a local club for over five years and now takes the helm at weekends, accompanied by a younger crew member. Chris says, “Buddying-up is great for teamwork and camaraderie. Sailing all year round means that children need to enjoy being outdoors, but I would thoroughly recommend it.”

So, what’s the best way to learn? Perhaps it’s an intensive school holiday session that appeals or the opportunity to build confidence over several weekends. Parents may be required to stay on site during sessions and training costs vary but concessions, Sailability schemes and the RYA’s Onboard programme all increase opportunities to have a go.

As you would expect, practise makes perfect, so it’s worth checking if regular sailing is offered. With this in mind, clubs often provide temporary membership. Indeed, for some families, a good social scene is the clincher, while others enjoy having access to a choice of watersports.

Whether you live miles from the sea, or right on the coast, the south has some of the best venues in the country at which to learn the ropes of small boat sailing. Out on the region’s lakes, rivers and sheltered harbours, these are the perfect conditions for the rookie cadet. And who knows? They could be the next Ben Ainslie in the making. has details of approved sailing centres throughout the UK, offers advice on buying a boat and provides information about family watersport activity holidays.

Learn to sail in London…

Good for water confidence

Seahorse Sailing Club Wembley
One of several clubs that uses the Welsh Harp Reservoir, children from five years can get afloat accompanied by adult sailors on Sunday afternoons and Thursday evenings. Week-long RYA Stage 1 and 2 courses are offered from eight years through Harp Young Sailors (temporary club membership available). Optimists plus other single/ double-hander dinghies are available to use.
078 5520 7476

Good for the club environment

Queen Mary Sailsports, Ashford
Part of the Queen Mary Sailing Club with a 700-acre stretch of raised water. Learn to Sail RYA Stages 1 and 2 are open to non-members and run between April and October over weekends and during school holidays. Summer multi-activity courses and 1:1 training are offered with discounts for club members. Sailors nine years plus can join a Youth Group and hire dinghies (subject to passing RYA Stage 3).
01784 248 881

Good for multi-sports

Docklands Sailing & Watersports Centre
This award-winning venue at Millwall Outer Dock runs RYA courses during Youth Club sessions on Sundays and also April to October on Monday evenings and during half terms. Holiday multi-sports weeks feature kayaking, canoeing and windsurfing. The Youth Afloat scheme offers assisted places for local children. Member/non-member rates apply.
020 7537 2626

Surrey Docks Watersports Centre
With both an inland and tidal facility, RYA Stage 1 (two day) and RYA Stage 2 (three day) is offered to children from eight years during the school holidays. Recreational membership (subject to sailing ability) includes discounted course fees and weekend sailing. Kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing and activity-based birthday parties are available. Sailability access scheme.
020 7237 4009

Thames Young Mariners, Richmond
A 10-acre lake at Ham Local Nature Reserve is the venue for RYA Stages 1 and 2 open courses offered to children from eight years. Run during the summer holidays with a five-day refresher course held in the autumn, the use of boats, wetsuits, buoyancy aids, cagoules and helmets is included. Kayaking, canoeing and raft-building are amongst the other watersports offered in multi-activity sessions.
01372 378 901

Also worth a look…

Aerial Sailing Club, Teddington
020 8977 5834

Thamesmead YMCA Venture Centre
020 8302 5783

Wimbledon Park Watersports Centre
020 8947 4894