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Tips on Getting Kids into Sailing …and Keeping Them Interested By Joe Wilson


veryone should be involved in some sort of physical activity, and all kids need to be involved in sports. Do you live within an hour of the water and would you like to have your children involved in an incredible sport? Consider sailing along with the traditional sports played in grammar, middle, and high school. Like golf, sailing is one of the few lifetime sports that can be enjoyed from six to 60—and well beyond. Sailing is one of the very few sports where kids can participate with local, national and world champions. How often will a kid race on the same course with Lance Armstrong? And, it all takes place at some of the most beautiful venues in our area including Augusta, Charleston, Jacksonville, Lake Murray, St. Pete, Savannah, Wrightsville Beach, Lake Waccamaw and over 100 more scenic locations. The friendships, experiences and memories gained will be priceless! To help you get started, the following is a list of recommendations based on experience and observations over the past 50 plus years: • First and foremost is safety. Teach them to swim, but require them to wear a lifejacket when in a dinghy. • The other first: Always make it fun, on and off the water! At regattas, plan an activity after the sailing is done for the day. After a day of racing, adults enjoy “the tent.” Kids also enjoy socializing, so take them to a fun park, miniature golf or someone’s back yard for pizza and games. • Start them young; six years old is not too young for most kids. • Teach them to sail in a one-person boat. Steering the boat will teach them how the boat responds to sail trim, the wind and the rudder, which are all very basic to making the boat go fast. • Some kids will always be social sailors. But, if they are at all competitive, put them in an Optimist dinghy. The Opti is just a boat, nei78 October 2010


ther good nor bad, just a boat. The Optimist is so successful because of the program. Based on age, the kids compete in one of three groups; there is also a green or beginners group for all of the newbies, for a total of four groups. An inexperienced six-year-old does not have to compete with an experienced 15year-old. Everybody likes to win one every now and then! • If they are over 13 years old and weigh more than 80 pounds, consider a Sunfish as their first boat. The Florida, Gulf Coast and southeastern Sunfish associations are all proactive and very supportive of junior sailing. The Sunfish program includes midgets and juniors who race with, but do not compete against, seniors and masters. • Never criticize their sailing skills— always be positive. If they had a terrible race or regatta and are being critical of themselves, always ask them one simple question: “What did you learn today”? • Form a team and hire a coach. The competition for their time: soccer, basketball, softball/baseball, tennis, football, etc. All have teams and coaches. An ever-growing number of high schools in the Southeast also have sailing teams. Their parent

organization is the Interscholastic Sailing Association’s South Atlantic District (SAISA). There are over 130 high schools involved with sailing in the Southeast and Florida. To begin, it only takes one teen and a supportive teacher to make a high school sailing team. • Go to as many out-of-town regattas as your resources can tolerate. To save a little, travel in packs with, say, five kids and two parents. Network for couch space with outof-town sailors. But buy the best parts and pieces to minimize their excuses. • Encourage them to participate in other sports; if sailing is in their blood, they will always return. • DO NOT become a “Little League” parent who is more involved in their child’s sport than the child. The parent wants them to be a champion, and all they want to do is be a kid and have fun. Remember Rule #1: Make it Fun! So, for Christmas give them swimming lessons and/or contact one of the sailing or yacht clubs in your area about sailing lessons next summer. In the meantime teach them some basic knot-tying like the bowline, square knot and figure eight. Buy them a book on basic sailing 101. Teach them how to safely use a pocketknife and put a roll of duct tape and a can of WD 40 in their stocking (believe me, it will come in handy). I personally guarantee you that one day they will thank you for starting them on an incredible journey! For information about sailing and yacht clubs in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, go to the South Atlantic Yacht Racing Association (SAYRA) Web site at For Florida go to On a national level, the US SAILING Association also has information about sailing and yacht clubs at