Power to the children

Ollie Pirt came away from the 2015 Honda RYA Youth National Championship at the Southampton Boat Show with success in the eight to 12 years age group

Ollie Pirt came away from the 2015 Honda RYA Youth National Championship at the Southampton Boat Show with success in the eight to 12 years age group

As Britain’s leading programme for introducing kids to powerboats and training them to be safe, proficient drivers and excellent boat handlers, the Honda RYA Youth RIB Championship is celebrating its 15th anniversary.

First created in 2000 by RYA Powerboat Projects Manager and Event Director Andrew Norton to offer children a fun, safe and enjoyable way of honing essential skills the championship, sponsored by Honda and Highfield, has gone on to be a huge success.

“We created the programme to encourage clubs to train young people at an early age with the aim that they could go on to help with essential club roles from laying courses to helping with safety boat cover. We had no idea it would develop to be the programme it is today.

“The idea of a competition was to introduce the thrill of racing and provide youngsters with a reason to improve and practice their RIB driving skills. If you start training them from eight-years-old, children are more receptive and develop key skills earlier. We came up with a really simple course containing elements of the RYA Powerboat Level 1, but being against the clock made it fun and exciting.

With around 400 children participating in its first year, by 2016 the Honda RYA Youth RIB Championship had more than 5,000 drivers competing in club heats and regional finals, with 29 youngsters across both age categories going on to contest the national final.

Where are the graduates now?

But it is not just about the winning. Andrew believes that the long term value of the championship can be seen in the success of many Honda RYA Youth RIB graduates: “Many of the kids who compete in the championship go on to contribute hugely to their clubs as volunteers and in many other ways, which is fantastic to see. Some have gone on to become instructors, work on superyachts and even become lifeboat crew.

A number of previous competitors have achieved significant success in powerboat racing, including former champions Jordan Muckles and Steve Curtis.

Having claimed the Honda Youth RIB National title in 2007, Jordan has gone on to become one of the foremost young powerboat racers in the UK. In recent years Jordan has racked up a succession of national and world titles in various disciplines, including the 2013 GT30 British Championship. He now races in Formula 4 whilst training as an electrical apprentice, and hopes to be able to pursue racing full-time in the future.

“I am lucky to be where I am now. If it was not for my experiences with events such as the Honda RYA Youth RIB competition, I would not be competing in international events.

“Racing powerboats has taught me responsibility and maturity, and everything I have done has come from it. I would never have seen myself where I am now, but being involved in powerboating has given me a great platform in every respect. “

Fellow former champion Steve Curtis now dedicates his time to helping stars of the future perfect their powerboating skills.

Having started powerboating aged just six at Paxton Lakes, Steve has since dedicated much time and effort to coaching youngsters in the Eastern region.

“I started at Paxton Lakes when I was about six. We went for a drive and it felt really good and natural. From there I just kept practicing and doing courses. If I had never done it, I would not have met so many friends or visited so many places – it has done wonders for me.

“Last year one of our kids made the national final, which shows how far we have come. The Eastern regional final was held at Grafham this year, which is something I am really proud of making happen.”

Max Mawer was crowned 2015 national Honda RYA Youth RIB champion in the 13 - 16 years age group

Max Mawer was crowned 2015 national Honda RYA Youth RIB champion in the 13 – 16 years age group

Looking to the future

So has the championship changed in the past 15 years? Andrew Norton explained: “The competition and ethos of Honda Youth RIB has not changed but we have made some developments over the years.”

In 2013 a brand new trophy was introduced to keep the competition fresh and give even more youngsters the chance of winning one of the fantastic prizes: a Honwave T40 RIB with a Honda BF20 and a Highfield 460 RIB with a Honda BF50.

Andrew said: “The Champion of Clubs trophy is contested after the national final with the newly crowned winner taking on the previous champion in a head-to-head showdown.

“There has also been a huge increase of the amount of girls we see taking part and winning which is fantastic. Looking to the future we hope to continue to see even more clubs and young people taking part and benefiting from the skills that Honda Youth RIB can provide.”

Special thanks to sponsors Honda and Highfield.