There is a good chance that you know someone who volunteers, or perhaps volunteer yourself. The RYA works to ensure these hardworking people are recognised for their contribution.

According to Sport England 6.7 million people – 14.9 per cent of the population in England – currently volunteer in sport and physical activity.

Without the millions of people who give their time, skills and passion, sport and activity simply would not happen. Volunteering in sport and physical activity can be incredibly powerful, benefiting both those who give their time and those they support.

Volunteers have always played a vital part in the sport of sailing, and sailing clubs. According to the RYA, motivated and enthusiastic volunteers play a key role in developing and maintaining thriving and successful clubs. Without volunteers, a lot of activity simply would not happen.

Why do volunteers volunteer?

Research from Sport England found that what makes people volunteer are broadly similar in both sport and general volunteering. The highest motivating factor – 45 per cent – believe they are motivated by a desire to help people.

Susan Woolston from Suffolk started volunteering at WASH Sailability, based at Lackford Lakes just outside Bury St Edmunds, in April 2018 and certainly believes this to be the case: “The greatest thrill I get out of volunteering is seeing the pleasure our variously disabled sailors get from sailing. It is fantastic that even the most agitated person can become relaxed and happy by being out on the water.”

Susan continues: “Besides a huge sense of satisfaction and being able to give pleasure and joy to others, there is enormous camaraderie amongst the team and I personally go home feeling invigorated and sleep like a log. The greatest benefit seems to be the fulfilment gained by giving pleasure to others, so very much less fortunate from us. It makes me realise just how lucky we are.”

Susan, who did now know how to sail prior to the death of her husband, initially started by just helping with the teas and coffee and eventually, along with other volunteers, was taken out in a dinghy and taught how to sail.

“I first heard about volunteering at the sailing club from one of the volunteers who gave me a break from the isolation of looking after my husband who had Alzheimer’s. I have always loved being on water and when my husband died I wanted to do some volunteering without being tied to a rigid time or day. It was the perfect solution.”

Benefits of volunteering

Volunteers who give their time for sport and physical activity to happen enjoy many of the benefits associated with actually taking part. When someone provides their time, energy and expertise as a volunteer there is a double benefit – for those playing and for themselves.

Sport England believes that being physically active enriches lives, builds stronger communities and creates a healthier, happier nation. This year the government body reported significant new findings on the links between volunteering and physical and mental health.

It found that both general volunteering and sport volunteering had significant associations with improved wellbeing (measured as life satisfaction), and that the wellbeing uplift from volunteering at least once a week is almost three times higher than for volunteering several times a year.

Never too young

Sport England believe that young volunteers are motivated to get involved by the opportunity to learn new skills (43 per cent) and get on in their career (27 per cent), but are put off by the ‘need to study’ (73 per cent).

Last year, 19-year-old Poppy Penhaul Smith, who sails at Staunton Harold Sailing Club, was one of two RYA Youth Community Award winners. On receiving her award at the annual RYA Volunteer Community Awards, Poppy said that more young people should volunteer in sailing: “I think more young people should win and attend these awards, as it would show how diverse the sailing, teaching and volunteering worlds are. This would be more representative of the sport’s demographic and acknowledge a wider group of people.”

Changing nature of volunteering

The RYA is currently doing a significant piece of research into volunteering in UK sailing and boating clubs.

Michelle Gent, RYA programmes manager, is responsible for the research and said: “We know how important volunteering is for boating as an activity and early results of the research suggest people’s propensity to volunteer has not changed, but the way they volunteer has.

“People now want to volunteer online, need flexible schedules and would like more ownership in how projects or tasks should be completed. They want to feel a sense of responsibility and not just make a contribution, but make a difference.”

Michelle continues: “This means sailing and boating clubs need to change the way they manage volunteers and move away from traditional volunteer management practices like committee meetings and rotas, to more flexible and modern ways of managing volunteers such as online project management tools and utilising social media.”

The RYA has been working with a research agency called Revealing Reality to carry out the research and results will be available later in the year. The RYA will present the findings through its series of Affiliated Clubs Conferences, which run throughout the UK during the autumn.

Gareth Brookes, RYA RDO manager, has responsibility for the conferences and said: “This year the theme for the conferences is ‘Putting people first’. We are not only focusing on helping clubs to promote and manage volunteering, but are also discussing the balance between paid staff and volunteers.

“We will be hearing from clubs who have made this work and also those who find it a challenge. Our research will help to steer clubs in the right direction and ensure we can all continue to support boating activity going forward.”

RYA Volunteer Awards

A critical part of volunteer management is reward and recognition. We all like to feel valued and recognising those who have given so much to boating helps the RYA give something back whilst also promoting the positive difference it has made to their lives and the lives of others.

The RYA runs an annual Volunteer Awards where volunteers from across the country are brought together in London and presented with awards by HRH The Princess Royal. It is a fantastic day and opportunity for the RYA to reward and celebrate some of the amazing achievements, sacrifices and dedication which go into boating and helps clubs and class associations continue to thrive.

On receiving her RYA Youth Community Award Poppy Penhaul-Smith said: “My sailing club really values the many years of hard work I have put into it and it was a great way of them saying thank you. It is also great that the RYA recognises the time and effort we all put into the volunteering and teaching aspects of sailing.”

At the 2018 Awards Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal said: “Enthusiastic and motivated volunteers not only make it possible for clubs to provide boating activity at an affordable cost but are also amongst the best ambassadors for our sport. It is vital that volunteers feel valued, whether they provide outstanding leadership or they simply turn up day in, day out, and quietly get on with the job.”

Feeling inspired? For more information on how to volunteer at your local sailing visit:


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