The other day I posted a piece on how giving away free membership could help retain young sailors, and Tillerman wrote a comment that raised a number of questions that run alongside that idea. One of the questions he asked was:
Are you in favor of yacht clubs providing a fleet of club-owned dinghies to attract new young members who know how to sail but can't afford to buy a boat?
This is a question that a lot of clubs wrestle with. There are a number of issues around this area, and I have experience in the area as I managed a fleet of 11 brand new club boats that we purchased at our club with the help of lottery funding. Some of the biggest issues were:
- The initial cost of purchasing club boats can be high, even with funding
- The cost of maintenace is also a factor
- There is also insurance costs
- Managing the fleet can be tricky
- Controlling the expectations of different people in the club is complex - some believe the club should make as much use as possible of the boats, while others think the boats should be protected and used only by specific members for specific purposes
- Should we charge members to use the boats? Should we charge all members to use the boats? How much should we charge?
Firstly, my own thought is that clubs need to have club boats these days. Not so much for young members that already sail (about whom more later), but for new members - both children and adults.
It can be pretty daunting just deciding to join a club, but it is even more difficult to decide which boat will best suit your needs before you've really learned to sail. Having simple club boats to use is a good way to learn the basic skills while you find out more about your options. If clubs buy wisely then maintenance isn't a major issue, and insurance is relatively cheap for dinghies anyway.
Managing the fleet and controlling expectations is tricky. How you approach this depends very much on the club, but my own belief is that you need to be as facilitative as possible.
For me, the more use the boats get the better.
That said, you need someone with a strong character to take overall control of the boats because it is amazing how often
- boats are put away incorrectly
- bits are taken from one boat to use on another and are not put back
- bits break or go missing, but are not reported
These things are manageable, but they are time-consuming and frustrating. But the rewards are big, because many of our best new members (the ones that have integrated into the club and become long-term members) started with our club boats. And our junior section now relies heavily on using the club boats to help parents manage their initial costs.
The club also uses the boats for club events, and I'll talk about this more in another post.
Club Boats and Young Sailors
Tillerman was asking his question, though, in relation to maintaining young members who already knew how to sail, because this was the topic of the original post.
It makes sense to use the boats for this purpose, and I would certainly encourage it if it retains sailors and boosts numbers on the water. But I wonder if there are other solutions that will provide boats for these sailors.
One thought that occurs to me could kill two birds with one stone for some clubs.
Most clubs accumulate a number of boats (often a lot of boats) that sit in the boat park gradually falling apart through lack of use. Often no-one in the club knows who owns these boats as memberships have slipped and records are inaccurate or non-existent. Certainly the two clubs of which I have been a member have had this issue.
Ideally, I'd love to see the club take ownership of these boats. If anyone has a legal background, I'd be really interested to hear how the club could go about this.
As these boats must have been sat on the club premises, but without the necessary fees having been paid, it would seem reasonable that at some point the club should be able to take ownership of the boats as payment for having them on the club grounds. Perhaps the club needs to write something into their rules in order to be allowed to do this in the eyes of the law. Whatever the case may be, for argument's sake let us say that the club can take ownership of the boats.
What I'd like to see happen then is simple.
Get the young sailors to get the boats back to a race-able condition.
The club could pay for any equipment needed (within reason - some boats will cost too much to renovate), and once the boats are fixed the sailor that did the work gets to use the boat for the remainder of their three years free membership. Once the three years are up, the young sailor has first refusal to buy the boat - for the cost that the club outlayed to renovate the boat. If the sailor doesn't want to buy the boat then it goes up for auction, with the reserve price set at the cost the club outlayed. If no-one buys it then it becomes a club boat.
This has several advantages:
- the club has a zero cost solution for getting unused boats back on the water.
- many more boats in the boat-park become used and usable
- young sailors have a boat to use when they'd least be able to afford actually buying one
- they'll also have a vested interest in looking after the boat
- there will be a link between the older generation and the new, younger generation. If you can persuade some of the maintenance experts to help the young sailors with their project then relationships build and grow between within the club, providing links that didn't previously exist.
- and the young sailors will have learnt a lot about boat maintence in the meantime (and, man, I could have used some help in that area)
Activate your Laser was an idea that worked along these lines, and certainly had some initial success. Maybe it is time clubs activated all the boats in their boatyard, and provided boats for their young sailors in the process.