A Junior Sailing Guide For Parents
George Yioulos, West Coast Sailing
So your kid is interested in sailing? Congratulations! Kids are fickle these days, with so many distractions available. Sailing can be a great way for a young person to spend their time outdoors, learn new skills, and make new friends. Because sailing is dependent on weather and the environment, kids learn more than being in a gym all day with a ball. The sport of Sailing can be fun, social, and adventurous while encourage values of teamwork, sportsmanship, and sound decision making. When taught well and supported, it can build a positive and lifelong passion. The benefits are endless!
Here are the three important steps you should take to get a child involved in sailing:
Research local sailing instruction with your kid
Sign up for a course, even if just a week long.
Get yourself Un-involved (especially if you're a sailor yourself).
If you live even remotely near a body of water, chances are there is a camp, club, or some other program that offers sailing instruction. There are generally two types of organizations, those that offer formal sailing classes or instruction and those that “offer sailing” in a more recreational sense. As an example, the former might be an established Yacht Club with certified sailing instructors, and the later might be a summer camp that offers sailing as one of its many outdoor activities. Both are valid ways to try out Sailing. Depending on the interests of your child, one might be better than the other. A good resource to check out is the US Sailing Accredited Sailing Programs list. If you are unfamiliar, US Sailing is the governing body for Sailing in the United States. Camps, Boy Scout groups and other organizations tend to have less rigorous, but still have some certified sailing instructors. Just do your research on what seems to be the best fit for you and your child.
Second, sign up for a course. Take the plunge and let them run wild. Even if it's just a week of half-day instruction. Don’t overthink it, don’t stress about the details and don’t try to supervise - leave it to the trained professional staff! If your kid has as much fun as most, let them sign up for another course as soon as possible. Momentum builds momentum, and compounds the learning and enjoyment for them. Finally, remember that learning to sail is a chance for your kid to build social skills and independence on their own. If you're a sailor yourself, that’s great, but try to remember what it was like when you first started out. You don't want to overwhelm your child, especially when they are getting started. Junior instructors know best. Let them do the work and be supportive of your kid having fun on the water.
Now that you've signed your kid up for a sailing class, there are a few additional things to consider. The first is safety. Sailing is quite safe, especially with trained instructors and certificated programs. That said, it’s a water activity in a changeable outdoor environment, so some precautions aren’t out of place. While the program or course may suggest specific items, there are several pieces of gear and clothing recommended for any sailor:
Life Jacket - USCG certified. It should fit snugly but not so tight as to be uncomfortable.
Helmet - More and more kids are wearing helmets while sailing. Check program recommendations.
Clothing - You will most likely be doing this in the summertime, so keeping UV off is more important than keeping warm. It’s an outdoor sport though, and conditions change - so feel free to ask the program if there is anything specific they will want your kid to wear.
An additional topic to be aware of is that of boat selection. There is a lot of debate in the sailing world on the best physical sailboat to teach young sailors in. If you've signed your child up for a basic sailing course, don't worry too much about this. There is no ‘perfect’ sailboat, but our feeling here is that the very old boats used to teach sailing for the last 60+ years are certainly not the best boats at all to sail. Stores like ours have deep feelings about what boat is right or wrong. You know the truth though? It doesn’t matter a whole lot for young sailors just getting involved. In time, it will matter, and matter a lot, but for now, as long as the boat is maintained to a good standard, you shouldn’t stress a lot about the model it is.
The final and most important piece of advice: the sailing experience is about your child having fun!
A parents role here is to encourage and enable their child to experience and enjoy sailing. It is not about you reliving your past or projecting your competitive desires on them. Sailing is one of the few sports you can just do. This is your chance to allow your child to learn new skills, experience the outdoors, meet new people and become independent, while also being a part of a larger team setting. Sailing can be taken with them anywhere in the world, in so many ways. We encourage parents to sit back, let their kid get good quality instruction and hopefully develop a love of the sport over time. If your kids are anything like most, when they are left alone with a fun activity, with their friends, there is a good chance they’ll have a lot of fun.
That’s the whole point of getting kids Sailing.