How to Get Kids to Love Sailing

When the topic of kids and sailing comes up, Farr 40 pro Dave Gerber gets really excited. Growing the sport and including more kids in more sailing activities is close to his heart. Here, Dave talks about what he's learned about getting kids to love sailing as a coach and from sailing with his own kids.

A child turning a winch on a sailboat.

Someone asked me "How do you measure a successful sailing season with kids?"  Is it a regatta win, a personal victory in a given wind strength or a new skill learned?  Personally, all of those are important and any one of them will keep kids coming back to our sport. However, there are three common elements that are needed to get to any level of success.

Get them involved.
Sailing classes are a great way for kids to learn the fundamentals of sailing and start to grow in their own right. However, the skills and confidence they pick-up from sailing with you or family and friends is beyond what can be taught in a class.

Kids love to feel grown-up and important and part of what’s going on. If you give them the opportunity they will step up. When I see sailing today, I see many opportunities for kids to sail and gain involvement.  My own kids love to sail with their Grandfather and they love to sail with him during the Wednesday evening club racing.  Grandpa Dan takes many steps to ensure the kids are safe and having fun.  Depending on skill he gives each one a job on the boat that they can do.  What is important to note here is it’s a job where they can be successful.  Sometimes it is as easy as fetching refreshments or working the traveler.  Other times maybe they even get to spin a winch.  Most importantly, they always have fun and they always want to go back.  On top of it, it’s a fantastic way to connect with them and build some great memories. Grandpa Dan Spyhalski says, “Sailing with my grandkids or any kids always makes me smile. To offer an opportunity to enjoy the freedom of the water and the joy of sailing.”

Make it fun.
It's important enough, I'll say it again: when kids have fun they will stay engaged and open to learning. The key to having fun is not just success or doing a job well, it’s making sure that as a whole, it’s a positive experience. If your boat is filled with high tensions and lots of yelling during an evening race, it might not be the best time to try and enjoy sailing with kids. Instead, maybe pick a time when the stakes aren’t so high and they can try new things without having to worry about making mistakes. Keep kids having fun by making them feel accomplished and an important part of the crew. Not to mention, if you’re having fun, so will they!

Teach how they learn.
2015 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, Stephanie Roble says this, “Working with young sailors is extremely rewarding and fun! I love figuring out different styles of teaching all the aspects of sailing to kids. There are so many unique elements to the sport and each kid learns differently and has individual goals.” It’s important to identify how the kids you’re sailing with learn and try to teach to that. Do they learn by doing or watching? Or do they absorb information better with books and diagrams? It might not seem like a lot, but when kids can better understand what’s going on it keeps them from getting frustrated and losing interest, and possibly giving up.

When I think about my involvement with kids in sailing or the experience of Grandpa Dan or Stephanie, it is encouraging to see a similar theme.  Keep kids having fun and keep them involved. Have tasks big or small for anyone to accomplish and feel good about accomplishing. Sailing is a lifetime sport; a unique recreation that one can enjoy for many, many years. Stephanie adds, “The friends, relationships, and skills that kids develop in sailing at a young age will last them a lifetime!”

It is a complete education sport with its physical and mental demands.  This allows youth to grow and expand their knowledge base. I fully think kids in sailing is a form of creative art. Where else or what else allows kids to participate where there are no boundaries, no walls, no sidelines. Sailing for kids, be it cruising or racing, is freedom. It is joyful.

Scholastic Sailors Sara Gustafson and Katie Crewes say it best, “We sail because we want to sail.”  And, if we can all do that….that is all we have to do.


By Dave Gerber
Sail Consultant
Quantum Sails Great Lakes
M: 312-213-1181

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