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Welcome sign, not toll booth, nor boom gate

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 9 Feb 13:00 PST
Yes Indeed. Welcome to the the lake, the bay, the harbour, the river, in fact any stretch of water where people sail... © Photo supplied

Quite possibly, and even more so than keels of Unobtanium and constantly dynamic sail membranes filled with Helium, the question of participation in our sport is the proverbial whipping boy of yachting. It is a bit like sticking a rag down a bottle of petrol, lighting it, hurling it as far as you can, seeking immediate shelter behind something solid, and possibly communing with Vyacheslav Molotov himself through transcendental meditation. There'll be no lounge chairs, dinner jackets or LBDs, umbrellas, and swizzle sticks with this particular cocktail party.

Last Monday, Australian Sailing released the new Rule 46, and almost instantly, the Internet lit up like the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Plaza. Yet underlying all of that vitriol was a certain disregard for some important facts. Firstly, there is no 'money grab' by Australian Sailing. Our sport's governing body receives no cash from the use of SailPass. Actually, they are the ones distributing the tool, free of charge mind you, to the clubs for them to access and deploy for their own benefit, and the overall good of the sport. So that certainly looks a lot like clubs getting something back for all their fees.

Equally, it has now been a number of years since a club's affiliation payments have been based purely on membership numbers. Similar clubs all over the country are now paying similar fees. Yes, membership data is a guiding measure, but that is just it: A guide, not a rule.

So then to the reasons for, the messages that need to be understood, and the implementation that is taking place ahead of the new Rule 46 coming into effect next January. One person who is very close to it all is Alistair Murray AM, the Vice President of Australian Sailing, a super-proud Victorian, and a passionate Sandringham Yacht Club (SYC) member, where the origins of the new system were created. He stated, "SYC is proud to have played a leading role in this initiative designed to strengthen sailing."

"I would like to make a few key points about the need to require yacht club membership for people participating in yacht racing:

  • Firstly let me state there is no requirement if you just want to go for a sail/cruise with your mates.
  • If you participate in racing, you should contribute to the club, staff costs, infrastructure, etc, that puts it on for you. It leads to stronger clubs, and a stronger sport.
  • SYC is very proud to have pioneered the SailPass scheme, now being rolled out by many clubs around the country, which enables cheap, short-term ways to introduce people to sailing. A club can charge what it likes for the day, but at Sandringham it is $15 (per day), which is less expensive than any other sporting experience at a club that I know of.
  • 40% of SYC's new member intake comes directly from the SailPass scheme; just wonderful!"

"MOST critically it is a safety measure. Clubs have a duty of care for everyone who is in every race they run, and this includes next of kin details, etc. There have been many examples of clubs not knowing who is even on the water. In a yacht race in WA a couple of years back, two people died when a keel fell off. One wasn't a yacht club member. If he had of been, even covered by a SailPass, his insurance through Australian Sailing would have provided his family with $75K, which would certainly have paid for his funeral."

"There are so many reasons why it is a good idea, and also necessary. Today we received an email from Richard Hewett, CEO of Sandringham Yacht Club, saying 'I would like to commend Australian Sailing on this Rule 46 change... great initiative that strengthens the membership narrative."

Murray closed with, "Our future depends on our clubs!"

Salient points

So the very first thing to draw from that is that if you enter the playing field, you have to be known to the organisers, and pay for the privilege. There are very good reasons why you have to take your nominated seat on a flight, especially for take off and landing. In an emergency, simply saying 'I don't know how many were on board, or what their names are' won't go so well with the first responders, the coroner if involved, and in an ever-increasingly litigious society, the legal eagles and ambulance chasers who are bound to come a knocking shortly thereafter.

Equally, this is not something new. For it has been in circulation for around five years now, and is better than the existing rule which says that after three races you go straight to full membership, no questions asked, or correspondence entered into. Invariably, this is going to require quite the cultural change from certain elements of the existing sailing populace. Yet it is important to note that 'new' entrants via the SailPass system already understand the need for registration, and some level of commitment top the overall scheme. SailPass is an enabler, and all about voluntary compliance. Best of all, it is easy to use.

What is on offer is the way clubs implement it, and no, Australian Sailing cannot mandate what that looks like universally. It is important to note here that it is crucial to offer people something that is flexible, for there are million permutations and combinations available here. They can register free for the first day, a series, or other time period. Perhaps do one race for free and the rest of the series for $20. It is the club's choice regarding what to offer.

Shaun Tiedermann is the General Manger of the Derwent Sailing Squadron (DSS) in Hobart. They have no fees for 12 months, which applies to the Combined Clubs (with Bellerive and The Royal YC of Tasmania the others), and collectively they have five thousand members and organise the majority of the races on the River Derwent. "It takes just a minute to register someone, we can do it on their phone or mine, and it is a great way to introduce people to Thursday twilights. We have spent time educating the Skippers, and as we do it, they do not have to worry about it."

By way of example, in the middle (pun intended) is the Middle Harbour Yacht Club, who charge $5 per race from the get go. That all means it is time for a recap, and for that we went to David Edwards, a former World Champion in the Etchells amongst many things, as well as Australian Sailing's COO. "The clubs are our members and the core of our sport. The problem they identified was that they make substantial investments in their facilities, but there are too many people using them that make no contribution towards this. We want people participating in the sport to value clubs and support them. People who are racing at a club should be doing this through membership."

"We do not receive any financial benefit from this change. In fact it's the opposite. We will be closing down Crew Club, so the only membership option will be through bona fide clubs."

Edwards finished with, "Clubs are free to determine what to charge for their membership based on their own circumstances. They could, for example start a membership category that covers social/twilight races that doesn't have a fee, or a single season membership at a price of their choosing. SailPass has been implemented successfully already at a number of clubs, and we can help clubs with queries and implementation. To find out more and hear what some of the clubs have to say, please see

What's appropriate then?

So if we then come back to the open-arm welcome, not the barrier to entry, and with the Dorothy Dicks just set by David, you would have to ask the question, 'what level to set?' Participation is a big thing for Sail-World, and for no-one more so than our Managing Editor, Mark Jardine. He has a string of participation webinars, and works tirelessly at his own club in the UK, especially in the Junior ranks.

"I fully understand the need for registration in this day and age, but charging an annual fee ahead of a sailor's first race seems restrictive. Running junior sailing at my local club, we need various details and forms signed, but we try to ensure we include as many people as possible, and welcome newcomers to the sport with open arms," said Jardine.

"Sailing is competing with all the other ways people can spend their leisure time, so the barriers need to be removed as much as is possible - we cannot afford to be cliquey or elitist. Let's try and make sure the gate at our sailing clubs is open and says 'Welcome'."

Personally, I know it will be akin to the proverbial herding of cats to tell clubs what to do, but I would leave the Boards, Committees, and Management with this simple notion. If you give a free drink ticket, then people always buy another at the bar. So if you do feel the need to charge from the outset, then perhaps an inducement, encouragement or other to immerse the new stock into club life in total would go a long way to removing any notion of sticker shock.

Here's a little reminder as to what it's all about...

Sailing has been very good to me. I have met and raced with some great people and to this day, still laugh and carry on with them, despite them not being in my daily life. A big thank you to all of them for what they have enriched my life with.

We touched on some aspects of this sort of thing back in Electric Carrot Cake, when we looked at a couple of sailors from the legendary 18-Footers. One of those was Flagstaff Marine's Micah Lane, who along with Ricky Bridge and Peter Harris last week took out Races Three and Four of the Australian Championship on Smeg. Jack Macartney, Phil Harmer and Trent Barnabas on tech2 were third, but the real point here is that Lane and Macartney used to work with each other, and as Lane describes their friendly rivalry, "It's about McEnroe v Borg, and we've dressed up like this before. Here we are at Rio's famous Carnival back in 2010 when we took some time off sailing, and Jack met his wife. 14 times against each other, and currently we're seven all..."

Right oh - there is plenty of information on the site for you to review when you can. Please avail yourself of it, below.

Now if your class or association is generating material, we can help you spread your word just by emailing us. Got this newsletter from a friend? Would you like your own copy next week? Just follow the instructions on our newsletter page. Whilst there, you can also register for other editions, like Powerboat-World.

Finally, keep a weather eye on Sail-World. We are here to bring you the whole story from all over the world...

John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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