There is no doubt that sailing and motor boating are amongst the most gender inclusive sports around. But how do we help even more females seize the opportunities that are increasingly available and increase the representation of women in the sport?
January’s Arkenford National Watersports Participation Survey showed female participation in ‘any boating activity’ has increased steadily since 2010 and is now at its joint highest level (6.2 per cent, 2007) since the study began in 2002. However, there are still more males involved in nearly all sailing and motor boating activities, the only exceptions being motor boating/cruising and canal boating where more females participate.
The most recent RYA Club Membership Survey backed up these trends in sailing, finding average sailing club membership in England in 2014 was 58 per cent male and 42 per cent female, but with the number of women increasing by 11 per cent from 2013.
Hurdling the barriers
“Not all women need a helping hand to find their way in the sport but creating environments where women feel safe and reassured, and that deliver the sport in a way that ensures their goals, whatever they may be, are met, can make a real difference”, comments Susie Moore.
Susie is the RYA’s Regional Development Officer for the South and Thames Valley and works with clubs and RYA Training Centres in those regions to get more people boating.
A lifelong water baby, who grew up sailing with her family on the Isle of Wight, Susie believes a renewed focus on getting more women active, driven by initiatives like Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, is being reflected in sailing. Importantly the research these kind of campaigns provide gives staff and volunteers of clubs and centres better information to help them put on the right kind of activities or deliver them in more innovative ways in order to get and keep more women involved.
According to Sport England, there are currently two million fewer women than men regularly playing sport in England, yet 75 per cent of 14 – 40 year old women say they want to exercise more.
Susie continued: “Women-only sessions and groups have been around for a number of years but because of the extra focus on female participation, more clubs and centres are offering or thinking about this style of session. The research in these areas is also helping them be more targeted about what sessions they could put on, for which groups, when, and how to reach out to these people.
“If they have space between 10.30am and midday on Mondays, for example, could they target retirees, mums who have dropped the kids off at school or part-time professional females?
“Many women put barriers up for themselves; they fear being judged and do not see themselves as strong enough, or fit enough, worry about making a ‘fool’ of themselves or are self-conscious about appearance and so on. These women need more reassurance and confidence building, to move them from not participating to trying the sport and then towards becoming lifelong participants. More clubs are providing this through women-only groups with the social side being key.”
Ladies who launch
This is certainly what Rutland SC have found as they celebrate five years of their Ladies Who Launch group. This twice-weekly group now attracts around 40 regulars, with a mailing list of 125 women wanting to know what is going on.
Fiona MacDonald, group spokeswoman, explains: “The social side is a huge part of LWL’s success, including after-session buffets, walks, organised pub lunches and even weekends yachting in the Solent.
“After each session one of the sailors writes a blog, which is sent by email to our mailing list and posted on our Facebook page. This keeps everyone up-to-date so they feel they can just drop into a session when they can, regardless of experience. All the ladies learn in a very encouraging, non-competitive, non-judgmental environment which, while becoming very competent sailors, boosts their confidence and self-esteem.”
Meanwhile, Earlswood Lakes SC near Birmingham and Felpham SC in Sussex are amongst clubs already seeing success from their new women-only groups this year.
More than 20 females have been taking advantage of Felpham’s Women on Water (WOW) sessions since they started in June.
Session leader Catherine Hemsley, says: “We want to show women who watch their children and partners sail that they can do it themselves, and women who have never had a go at the sport how easy and affordable it is to actually become a sailor. The early success of WOW is down to the fact sessions are very relaxed, social, run by females and includes a shared meal prepared by one of the club members after sailing.”
Opportunities for more women to get into boating are increasing, but so are the opportunities to do more in the sport once they have been bitten by the bug.
Susie Moore is just one example of a woman who has made the sport she loves her career, there are countless others in high-profile and very diverse roles.
Amanda Van Santen and Rachel Andrews – the RYA’s Chief Instructor, Dinghy and Windsurfing and Chief Instructor, Motor Cruising and Power respectively – both hold senior positions with boating’s national governing body, the Royal Yachting Association, while women like the Team SCA’s yachtswomen who competed in, and won a leg of, the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race and powerboat racing champion, Shelley Jory-Leigh, keep pushing the boundaries, as do the women sailors, coaches and support staff of the British Sailing Team.
Windsurfing coach and trainer Ali Yates, is another whose name has become synonymous with her sport. Having spent money saved for Bros concert tickets on an old windsurfer from a car boot sale, and teaching herself to windsurf using a book borrowed from her school library, Ali thinks the horizons are stretching all the time.
“I do think females come at things with a different perspective, and often have more natural empathy, which, from my experience, many people find refreshing. I ended up in this career almost by accident, but that happens less now. People definitely see career pathways in watersports, girls just as much as boys. It is a proper industry.
“I coach a lot of the RYA Zone and National Junior squad windsurfers and have had a number of girls at 16 do their Level 2 Race Coach or instructor qualifications as they want to work overseas or earn some money during holiday times. At Zone Squad level particularly we have got a lot of female coaches who used to be racers themselves.
“I have never really thought about what I do in the context of being a woman, but I do remember a time I had to get permission to enter a men-only room at a sailing club, which shows how much attitudes have changed. I do think we will keep seeing the numbers of women in the sport growing. It’s an epic lifestyle, I love what I do!”
Find out how you can get on the water at www.rya.org.uk/go/getafloat
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