solidarityWe knew that Bill Sandberg’s Sound Off! column in our September issue, entitled “Why Kids Don’t Want to Sail,” would strike a chord with our readership. Below are responses (some edited for length) that reflect people’s opinions on Bill’s insight into this oft-discussed topic.


Several responses to Bill’s article came via Sailing Scuttlebutt [], an online digest of sailing news and commentary that is a must-read for any sailor. Scuttlebutt Editor Craig Leweck regularly posts Bill’s articles because they resonate with the national audience that Scuttlebutt reaches. 

You’ll find a common theme among all of them – that kids should have fun on the water – and who could argue with that?

Excellent article. “Go out and play” is a parental order that now appears to be missing in action, and the idea of a 14-year-old (me) getting on a bicycle, with golf clubs slung over my back, to head six miles to the local course is now inconceivable. Of course, no one was about to buy me a full set of clubs and a professional weight bag…as I remember it was a lightweight bag and eight clubs total including putter.

One reason that I enjoy judging and doing RC for the Snipe Class is the tradition of kids sailing with parents. Even such luminaries as Peter Commette and Henry Filter are frequently seem crewing for their kids.

Best regards,

Hugh Elliot

[Editor’s note: Hugh is an International Judge, and winner of the Gay Lynn Award for contributions to disabled sailing.]

★ ★ ★

Nice piece in today’s Scuttlebutt. [Scuttlebutt 3433]Best regards,

Nick Craw

[Editor’s Note: Nick is a Past Executive Director of US SAILING.]

★ ★ ★

I stumbled across your article via Sailing Scuttlebutt. I’ve written volumes on this topic myself – and worked diligently to actually enact change in the junior sailing world around me.

The following is from an email I sent to a veteran Midwest US Sailing Judge who was present at the event mentioned below. I can assure you that in the Red/White/Blue Fleet at this event, I (and my two kids) witnessed the ugly extremes you describe in your article. While this judge was part of the problem in RWB at this event, they also acknowledged that Green Fleet SIs should be simple – hence my comments below.

First and foremost, the Green Fleet experience at any event MUST be CUSTOMER-FOCUSED, with the customer being the kids and their parents. While the Racing Rules of Sailing in general are designed to apply to everyone universally, the fact is we have the power and freedom to tweak and change many of these rules to fit the desires of our customer – and we should do exactly that! The end goal of any Green Fleet event should always be no more complicated than for Greenies (and their parents) to really want to sail in the future – and hopefully (as a bonus) feel more confident as a result of a Green Fleet experience…to read the rest of Scott’s email, go to

I’d be happy to continue a discussion of this topic with you (I could – and have – written volumes I’m not including here). It is an issue with which I have abundant experience and for which I have a great deal of passion.

P.S. Despite the onerous presence of judges and professional coaches, my two 12-year-olds had a blast sailing at the back of the RWB fleet at this event – and my daughter especially loves sailing her Opti! Scott Corder, Rockford, MI [Editor’s Note: Scott is a US SAILING-certified Club Race Officer, West Michigan Youth Sailing Association Race Chairman and on the Muskegon Junior Sailing Association Advisory Board.] ★ ★ ★

While the ubiquity of the Opti is not the cause of the fall-off in youth sailing, as Bill points out, it might be a symptom. By plopping kids into Optis, we rob them of what they experience in other youth sports programs, and that is social interaction. But worse, we are instilling in them the belief that it is okay to leave the shore in a boat that might be incapable of returning without assistance from an adult. Often this adult arrives in the form of a “helicopter mom” hovering in a nearby Boston Whaler.

The whole point of a youth sailing program is to train kids to have fun on the water. To do this, they must learn to sail, yes, but they must also learn to choose a seaworthy craft, manage a diverse crew, and learn in an environment that treasures the craft they are using. These are all experiences denied them by the Opti, Sunfish, El Toro, etc…Blue Jays, Mercurys, 420s, Beetlecats, Bullseyes, Lasers, etc. may or may not be the right choice given local conditions, but in each of these there is the possibility for an on-board instructor, and interaction between other crew members. They are also proven designs that should get the young sailor back to the club without the Mommy-Boat that Bill describes.

Jon Brooks

Malletts Bay, Colchester, VT

★ ★ ★

I like the comment on Facebook from Jon Brooks:

“While the Opti isn’t the only reason, its ubiquity in youth sailing programs is certainly a symptom. Rule number 1 in sailing: go out in a boat you can make it back in. Rule number 1 in youth programs: use a boat most like that the child will graduate to.”

Seems that kids in prams always need a safety boat standing by for the de-swamping ordeal which is terribly archaic, not fun, and a poor use of resources.

For the USA, no other sport exhibits so great a difference between adult state of the art equipment and youth gear. Don’t see too many metal wheels on skateboards, cable bindings on skis, wooden softball bats, or as Nevin Sayre points out, “We are teaching the palm texting generation how to sail with typewriters. If the kids don’t like typewriters, they’re gone.”

One solution could be to adopt the ISAF “Pathway” status concept, including boats that are easier to sail, durable and more fun (faster, self-bailing). The barrier to any new class of boat is formidable, however, the Dutch, Norwegians among others have found philanthropic support for modern youth boats. The RS Tera and RS Feva come to mind.

Berkeley Green, Newport Beach, CA

★ ★ ★

I learned to sail as an adult in the late ‘70s. I became an outside onlooker to the Eastchester Bay Yacht Racing Association during the early ‘80s. Their annual awards presentation was an event looked forward to by many competitors because (as I soon found out) it included everyone – EVERYONE.

All organizing authorities need to pay attention. At this level there is no Rolex, great fame translating into cash or a job, or anything else of value, except some bragging rights at the bar, or hope that with a little more advice, and elbow grease on the boat bottom, next year could be better. As racing is one of a very few ways to become a more proficient sailor, it is incumbent upon all at the top of a fleet to encourage more participation by offering help to those near the back. We need participants having fun, and to be generous with help, advice, even going out on a competitors boat to sail and share. This holds true for ALL of us, from kids in Optis to the top amateurs in big boats. Inclusion encourages sportsmanship, fair sailing, and incidentally, crew to consider becoming an owner of their own boat. It might help revive participation in our sport!David Schulman, via e-mail

★ ★ ★

Many parents have much higher expectations than their offspring. We often coach (as amateurs) their swing, pitch, shot or line exit. How about stepping back and cheering their successes while letting coaches deal with areas for improvement? Trust me, your time to impact will end, and your time as a friend will not. Let them enjoy their youth, and look forward to that lifetime relationship.

Scott Mason [via Scuttlebutt forum] ★ ★ ★

I am so happy I am not a kid in sailing or soccer, or in the back of a soccer mom’s SUV, etc. I see these kids and moms driving around, with the mom managing cell phone, food, control of the kids, etc. Horn blaring, eyes glaring, finger pointed to the heavens. I was lucky enough to get into sailing in my early 40s, far beyond the days when I was concerned about what sunglasses I wear. The addiction of our country is the one-upmanship of beating the Jones, next door. No matter what the cost. You can blame TV and other media, but what it comes down to is parenting. We are now at least two generations removed from the parents who understood that they were not our friends; they were our caretakers and molders. Their obligation was to raise a self-sufficient and socially conscious child. I had many resentments against my parents until my early 20s, when I realized that all the chores I did, dishes I washed, and lawns I cut made my life so easy on my own. I always had clean clothes, plenty of food and love, extra schooling at home and…discipline. We are too fat, too proud and too entitled. And, from what I see on a daily basis, miserable. Bill reminisces about the days of yore. His most important point is almost unspoken, but there nevertheless. Experiences, not possessions, are what life is all about. I still believe that kids have the best time just messing about in boats, or the woods, etc. The Opti conundrum is just a microcosm of how our society has evolved. I am not sure there is a way to go back, but I will read with great interest all the positive replies to his gauntlet thrown down.

Matthew Fortune Reid [via Scuttlebutt forum]

★ ★ ★

Bill Sandberg is right on target. Kids are bombarded with the same “over-organized” sports in every community; there is no “fun” left in these programs. Having coached kids hockey for over 10 years in the 70s, I saw it all grow out of control (and into the hands of adults who lost sight of what kids want). Our kids did [Junior Sailing Association events] on Long Island Sound and similar in Marblehead in the 80s, but found surfing and windsurfing more fun. But there will always be the hard chargers who can take sailing to the higher level, and good for them – they are just superior sailors who elevate the sport and deserve to stand on the podium; maybe they want more than fun. Perhaps we need to divide sailing programs into racing for some and seamanship for those who want to go gunkholing.

Richard Olney [via Scuttlebutt forum]

★ ★ ★

Continuing the youth sailing thread that began in Scuttlebutt 3433, we live in a society that has adopted one overarching axiom: “Winning is Everything.” In education, winning is defined by maximizing grade point averages and sports supremacy, not preparing a student for all of the complex and diverse challenges of adult life. In business, the primary goal is maximizing profit any way you can, not building the highest quality product or delivering superior service. I think junior sailing programs have been dumbed-down to teaching kids how to finish first. No one should be surprised that seamanship, navigation, and other important sailing skills get shorted. I too wish junior sailing programs would return to teaching a more balanced, broader curriculum. But I don’t believe this will happen until society decides that its overall approach to living could use a makeover.

Geoffrey Emanuel, Southlake, TX [via Scuttlebutt forum]

★ ★ ★

In Scuttlebutt 3436, Richard Olney commented on “Why Kids Don’t Want to Sail” that had run in Scuttlebutt 3433. In his last sentence, Olney says, “Perhaps we need to divide the sailing programs into racing for some and seamanship for those who want to go gunkholing.” I would like to take that further and say that seamanship needs to be taught prior to dropping anyone into a racing program. I have been running match racing events for all ages for the past four years and have come to the conclusion most of the participants don’t have the basic knowledge of seamanship to safely participate in an event-supplied keelboat match race or even a fleet race. The program I run is making the transition from a one-mile diameter inland lake program to a salt water coastal program, with the Intracoastal Waterway running through the 6-mile by 4-mile sailing area. Roller furling jibs, reefing mainsails and 4-horsepower outboard motors are being added to each of the six 18-foot tiller steered keelboats that we use in the program. We are also in the process of certifying the boats as “undocumented passenger vessels” for the next round of our community sailing program. When we generate a core group of Basic Keelboat Certified sailors, then we will take up the match racing and fleet racing game again.

Larry Landrigan, Lake Baldwin Florida Community Sailing [via Scuttlebutt forum] ★ ★ ★

Your piece in the September 2011 issue of WindCheck about over-organized sailing programs resonated with me (confession: I am a nearly 60-something, and I wrote a short Op Ed essay that was published in the Hartford Courant 10 years ago, I only wish that the current generation of “helicopter parents” knew what we were talking about. Your clear piece might just break through!

Paul McCary

★ ★ ★

Sitting at Rowayton Pizza, reading your “Sound Off!” column…have to agree wholeheartedly with you. However, that pervasive feeling of “over organization” of kids’ sports is not limited to sailing. Being a grandmother, I have to bite down hard on the molars sometimes when I witness the “playing schedules” of the little darlings. On a beautiful sunny afternoon, you made me laugh. Keep up your honesty…do you think the parents hear us???

Letty Pallone, Rowayton, CT

★ ★ ★

I always read your column but I’ve never written. I, too, raced as a kid and also as an adult (I’m 64), but stresses of life lead me to abandon most racing years ago “and come full circle” to the pleasant daysailing, overnighting, and cruising that you and I both seem to have done as youngsters. I applaud your thoughts and hope they get people thinking and moving to make it fun again. By the way, earlier in the summer at Price Bend we were rafted with a couple of other boats for lunch and lo and behold, two kids came by in a small outboard and asked if anyone had garbage for them to take. I remember many entrepreneurial types coming by Saturday evening, taking orders for newspapers, milk, etc., and taking garbage…Gives me hope.Sincerely,

Len Lipton, via e-mail ★ ★ ★

I was reminded in Scuttlebutt today about Bill Sandberg’s great Sound Off! column, and wanted to respond. It’s a very important topic for the future of sailing retention, and thank you for keeping the conversation alive.

Bill makes some spot-on comments about NORs and Racing Rules and protests, etc. As an alternative I’ve also attached [go to to review] our standard “NOR” for O’Pen BIC Un-Regattas. The Intro and Rule #1 and Rule #2 cover it. Some say they provide a refreshing alternative. We often have “hard-core Opti” racers attend O’Pen BIC events and they love this. Even the parents come around after a couple of races when they witness the fun and sportsmanship all around.

Happy sailing,

Nevin Sayre [Editor’s note: Nevin is a five-time U.S. National Windsurfing Champion, Junior Sailing Programs Director at Bic Sport North America and father of US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics member (and WindCheckcontributor) Solvig Sayre.]

Previous Article


Next Article