Restart Sailing, the group established to help sailing back to the water safely and responsibly, recently surveyed sailing clubs, the marine industry and interested individuals about returning to the water and what needs to happen.
The survey was undertaken prior to the recent easing, but according to Simon Lovesey, founder of Restart Sailing, the results remain relevant and offer a glimpse into the difficulties faced by the sport.
“The key takeaways are that individuals, clubs and businesses are desperate to see a return to on the water activity provided it can be done safely and responsibly,” says Lovesey. “However, there is widespread concern that the lockdown will take considerable time to unwind and some clubs and businesses may not survive.”
The survey’s Executive Summary highlights a number of issues, many of which are common to other sporting activities:
- The sailing sector (clubs, classes and trade) is facing massive financial struggle with all activity cancelled and drops in membership renewals and other expenditure.
- 59% of respondents believe that financial concerns will continue into the foreseeable future as Government financial support fails to reach all parts of the sector.
- Real concern exists over the length of time and amount of money that will be required to restart as facilities and equipment have been effectively mothballed.
- Advice and guidance from the Government, Local Authorities and the RYA during the period of lockdown has been mixed.
- Covid-19 has created a lack of confidence in people and this may inhibit the return to sport.
- Equally, if the sport is seen to return too early and irresponsibly there could be real reputational damage.
Interestingly, on the positive side, the respondents indicated that Covid-19 could present opportunities to reboot the sport and institute much needed reform. Overwhelmingly, respondents felt that similar situations in the future would be better managed with proper planning, greater agility and acting earlier.
The most common lesson to be taken forward was the need for better communication – particularly from HMG and the RYA. It was felt that clear and consistent advice was needed at all levels.
A respondent is quoted as saying: “We have looked at RYA guidance to try and glean what advice we can as to how we can prepare for sailing/events going forwards. Quite understandably this information is unavailable or very cloudy.”
All are aware of the challenges to come. “Many businesses in the sector will struggle to survive. It’s likely that some will have to close down,” says one respondent as another added “sailing clubs, which usually operate on small margins and are already struggling for membership, are likely to suffer substantial losses and even be forced to close.”
Respondents are hopeful that at the end of the pandemic there will be lasting evidence of change in habits with greater emphasis on local events and support for local clubs and businesses. Reducing costs, improving use of technology and addressing the sport’s environmental impact are priorities.
In the immediate term, respondents are keen to see proper, well thought through guidance on measures that will help reduce the risk of contagion. The continued focus on hygiene is seen as critical, as is introducing clear, simple-to-follow social distancing rules in marinas and boat parks. Sailing events should only be conducted if and so long as protective measures are easy to institute, follow and enforce.