In January, as the Chair of the Education Division of US SAILING, I accepted an invitation to attend a conference of Yachtmaster Instructors and Examiners of the Royal Yachting Association in England. While it was a little chillier than the SF Bay Area, the reception I got was quite warm and inviting with lots of professional sailors filling me in about the sport and the industry in the United Kingdom.
I attended the conference in a beachfront resort called Bournemouth, on the south coast of England, with my wife, Cecilia, in tow. This trip was part of a strategic plan of US SAILING partially funded by the US Coast Guard, to reach out to other boating safety organizations, learn from them and share best practices.
This conference was very well set up and had 200 attendees with 10-15 sponsors, from Garmin to Weems and Plath. There were great speakers, Peter Cardy, the CEO of the Maritime Coastguard Agency, life long sailor with great stories of sailing in the Channel and the North Sea. He was extremely amusing as he compared his life in the Coastguard with his life as a recreational sailor. David Snelson, the Harbourmaster of the Port of London, an ex-admiral, veteran of the Falklands War and another life long sailor spoke about the challenges of managing the River Thames as a commercial port, a tourist boat staple and one of the busiest recreational boating areas in England. Finally, we heard from the Olympic Manager, Stephen Park, who regaled the audience with stories about Great Britain’s dominance in the Olympic Sailing Regatta (six medals to US’ two) complete with polite teasing of their US guest for the beating we took in the medal count. He also had a compelling multi media presentation that the Great Britain Olympic Committee had used to raise money from sponsors prior to last year’s Olympics. Afterward, Cecilia and I were invited to sit at the VIP table with these great speakers and were dazzled by additional great stories from Peter, David and Stephen.
Also, as a sailing school owner, it was wonderful to rub elbows with British, Irish and Scottish school principals and head instructors, learning many useful things about their sailing locations, business challenges, regulatory environment, etc. One fellow who had spent some time in San Francisco mentioned to me, “San Francisco Bay sailors really understand British sailors best as the conditions are closest to ours.” I had to interject that we do enjoy a few more dry days than they do……
RYA and US SAILING have a memorandum of understanding that provides for plans to have US SAILING be the administrator of Yachtmaster certifications in the United States as well as for plans to create a joint US SAILING/RYA certification that would be accepted as sufficient proof of competence to acquire a US Coast Guard License.
This visit was one step in the cross-pollenation that will need to happen to bring the two organizations together in these ways. England is a very different place to sail than the United States, and, as a result, the organizational cultures have evolved quite differently from one another. Because the RYA is closely associated with the Maritime Coastguard Agency in England and has as its royal patron, Princess Anne, it manages almost all of boating in the UK. By contrast, the vast majority of boaters in the US are self taught and un-certified. US SAILING is engaged now in an effort to help improve knowledge and competence in the US; to be the authority for boating competency and safety throughout the country. I think we are on the right track and I’m pleased to have colleagues at the RYA who will serve as great advisors throughout the next few years.