Un-baffling (verb) - Making complex things less perplexing.

Increasing new members is one of the biggest tasks facing sailing clubs at the moment. So how do we go about it?

Let's try and look at this from the perspective of a potential new sailor. To an outsider sailing can look a bit baffling - so many different types of boats and races, confusing rules, and clubs with a different attitude to the sport. There's a lot of information to try and make sense of, and it can seem like a lot of work trying to figure out what you need to know to get sailing.

As you'll know if you've read my other posts on this topic, British Cycling tried to keep choices and information as simple as possible at the point of entry for its new members. Here's a few thoughts as to how sailing can approach this:

  • Offer a few obvious options in terms of the boats raced at the club

    I have a preference for clubs promoting three or four dinghy classes as the main ones raced at the club, and actively encouraging new members into those classes. I appreciate that not everyone agrees with this, and I'm not an advocate of only allowing certain classes to race. However, offering simple choices makes it easy for newcomers to understand the pros and cons of each option, and also provides a larger fleet to sail with and a greater body of knowledge to draw from.

  • Provide great contact information

    Give people every opportunity to ask questions and develop enough of an understanding as to how the club operates so that they feel comfortable making the decision to join.
    - Firstly, make sure there is an email address or contact form on the club's "New to Sailing" tab - the less clicks and searching a potential new member has to make the better. Don't make them do the work - have the information they need where they need it.
    - Secondly, have a photo of the club's membership secretary (or whoever is in charge of membership), as well as photos of fleet captains - again, have these on the "New to Sailing" page. Preferably have a small bio about these people - make them as approachable as possible. It can be a bit daunting walking in to a new club, where you don't know anyone and you don't know much about sailing.

  • Provide a FAQ section for new members on the website

    I think this is important. At every committee meeting 5 minutes should be set aside to quickly cover any membership queries that the club has had. Who inquired, what was their background, what questions did they ask? Any questions they asked should be added to the FAQ for new members section so that potential new members can gather information quickly and easily.

  • Provide a basic idea as to the potential costs for a new member

    People think sailing is expensive, and it isn't cheap. But it often isn't as expensive as people think. Take the opportunity to provide information as to the essential kit they'll need - PFD, spray top, boots. Let them know about club boats (if you have them), talk about the crewing opportunities they can avail of (so they don't have to buy a new boat straight away), and point out any discounts they can get as a member of the club (money off at the local chandler, for example).

  • Present a simple road-map for how a new sailor can go from no knowledge to being a confident sailor.

    Does the club offer training for new members? What non-competitive sailing do you do? What options are there for different types of sailing? Remember, not every new member will be excited that you've got three former world champions racing at the club.

  • Avoid mentioning any aspects that complicate the sport.

    There's plenty of time for technical stuff later - let's get people sailing first, and then help with the technical stuff as it arises.

There are lots more things clubs can do to make sailing accessible to newcomers. The important thing is to look at it from their perspective: we know we're wonderful, friendly people doing a great sport, but they might not. Make it easy for them to picture themselves as a happy member, and make taking up sailing look simple and straightforward and it will be a lot easier to get people to take the first step.

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