Influence, expertise and inspiration

The importance of the RYA in promoting and protecting successful British boating

Louise Nicholls, RYA Communications Manager, reviews the key role played by the Royal Yachting Association in the leisure marine sector

As Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup campaign takes shape at its new, state-of-the art Portsmouth base, creating hundreds of jobs and potentially injecting multi-millions of pounds into the local and maritime economies, it is worth reminding ourselves that this landscape-shifting vision started with a boy sailing an Optimist dinghy in the RYA Youth Programme.

The RYA (Royal Yachting Association) is the national governing body for all forms of recreational, competitive and professional boating. It is an association with over 100,000 members whom it represents and serves, and whose interests it promotes.

It has set and maintains an international standard of training in the leisure marine sector, both for recreational boaters and for those wishing to work in the industry. And lastly, it provides the opportunities for people to get on the water and progress, to either an RYA Ocean Yachtmaster or an Olympic gold medallist.

The diverse and far-reaching work the RYA does in lobbying, training, advising and campaigning across all areas of boating interest, often under the radar, means you only have to scratch the surface a little before the RYA’s role is revealed. The organisation’s marks – of influence, expertise and inspiration – are indelibly printed on almost every aspect of leisure maritime life as we know it today.

Public right of navigation

These days the UK’s coastal and inland waters face increasing pressure from competing commercial, environmental and leisure interests. National security, public safety, economic pressures and progressive regulatory initiatives from Europe and the international arena create competing interests and place a significant burden on the public right of navigation.

The RYA maintains the belief that the public right of navigation is paramount, underpinned by the established tradition of self-reliance and individual responsibility within UK recreational boating.

The RYA follows clear principles, set out in its manifesto, which work to ensure legislators and regulators – at national, European and international levels – understand and take account of recreational boating activity in decision-making. Politicians don’t understand the nature of recreational boating, and they need organisations like the RYA to inform their decision-making.

Take offshore renewable energy. Over the past twelve years the RYA has worked with the maritime community, notably the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the General Lighthouse Authorities, the Chamber of Shipping and the UK Major Ports Group, in an effort to limit the impact of offshore renewable developments on the navigational rights and safety of recreational boating. We have built a position of influence with the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Transport (Df T), and with the offshore wind, tidal and wave developers.

The result has been the widespread acknowledgement of the importance of navigational safety; and as a member of the Government Nautical and Offshore Renewable Energy Liaison (NOREL) group we have regular engagement in the consultation process at the strategic level, as well as with developers on a site-by-site basis. The RYA position papers on renewable energy and the RYA’s UK Coastal Atlas of Recreational Boating are regarded as essential reference documents for developers.

Promoting safety

The RYA aims to maintain and promote safe boating through providing clear information, advice and guidance on a wide spectrum of topics, improving recognised training, developing pragmatic standards for safety equipment and providing a wide range of educational material.

It provides specialist and technical advice covering boat ownership, regulations, safety, environmental issues, and boating abroad. This is supported by a comprehensive range of titles covering all aspects of recreational boating and an extensive website ( with over 8000 pages of information.

The RYA plays a lead role in improving safety standards for marine equipment. But, while equipment can comply with all the latest safety regulations, if an individual is not using it correctly it is still not going to work. So the RYA dedicates as much time and effort to promoting safety and educating boaters as it does to getting safety recommendations ratified and implemented by standards bodies and manufacturers.

Our recent ‘Think – Wear Your Kill Cord’ safety campaign has received industry backing and has been adopted not just nationally but by boating organisations worldwide.

This campaign is just one of many included in the RYA Safety Advisory Notice, launched by the Shipping Minister in 2014 to bring together key safety issues, including those arising from incidents in the past year, into the first safety digest to be produced for recreational boaters.

The underlying ethos is that the best bit of safety equipment you have is your brain – but safety equipment is important, and it is vital that people are confident that the kit they purchase does what is expected of it. This applies to lifejackets, gas appliances, liferafts and all other safety equipment.

Through the European Boating Association and UK, European and international standards organisations, the RYA monitors and comments on the standards applied to marine safety equipment and recreational craft – bringing the user’s perspective to bear on this vital process. We are currently working with the British Standards Institute on a fi e-yearly review of safety equipment, in particular examining what in essence constitutes an offshore lifejacket.

We have also developed and proposed a draft standard for yacht charter services to the International Standards Organisation.

Our objective is to ensure that those standards which support safety on board, as well as the construction of recreational craft, are robust – and that they achieve what they set out to achieve.

Setting the standard

Every year, more than 220,000 people in Britain and internationally complete RYA training courses, both practical and theory, through a network of 2500 RYA Recognised Training Centres in over 47 countries.

This goes from newcomers learning the earliest, basic skills in their chosen boating discipline – be that sailing, windsurfing, motor and powerboats, personal watercraft or inland waterways vessels – to the highest international standards for commercial boating, recreational safety and navigation, coaching and instruction.

With the RYA’s global sphere of influence, its training schemes have set the standard internationally for safe, enjoyable boating, while at the same time providing access to, and pathways for, the huge variety of careers within the leisure marine sector – from working on superyachts to running an RYA training centre at an inland club.

RYA courses – of which there are more than 100, meeting all recreational and professional needs – never stop developing to take into account the dynamic world of boating, not only in terms of popular activity trends but also to keep abreast of changes in legislation and regulation.

With modern lifestyles dictating that leisure time is precious, the RYA has sought to ensure its courses remain relevant and accessible to all by introducing such innovations as online learning and specialist short courses. The intense practical, higher-level courses will always, rightly, require a significant time commitment from participants. But engaging people in the process of training, and giving them opportunities to learn new or refresh existing knowledge at home, shows that the RYA understands and is responding to modern boaters’ varied needs.

The Gold Run

So we come back to Sir Ben, arguably Britain’s most revered sailor and certainly the most successful sailing Olympian of all time, with four gold medals and one silver.

Ben’s America’s Cup campaign shows how interwoven all the strands of activity the RYA supports can be. His own journey has taken him from a youngster excelling in the junior Optimist class to a major global brand, and has had a hugely positive impact on Britain’s whole recreational marine sector.

Ben inspires at the grassroots, with the RYA’s carefully managed participation programmes nurturing and encouraging wide- eyed youngsters to get involved in boating and giving them the opportunities to stay and develop in the sport, while he remains the iconic poster boy of Britain’s phenomenally successful Olympic pathway.

The RYA’s Youth and Junior Programmes are the bedrock of Britain’s Olympic success, developing and feeding sailors into the British Sailing Team’s Podium Potential and Podium Performance programmes.

Meanwhile, for those sailors whose passion is big boats, the RYA has well-established keelboat and match-racing initiatives, with RYA-supported sailors frequently competing at major national and international regattas. Team racing is also well supported as another alternative for dinghy sailors not following an Olympic path.

This drive for excellence resonates throughout the areas of race management, race officials, coach education and professional development, to ensure that it is not just on the podium that Britain is writing the headlines.

Olympic and Paralympic medal success is just the high-profile tip of the RYA iceberg.

Every area of boating activity supported by the RYA could not exist without the others, and this envied network of knowledge, experience and excellence has enabled the RYA to establish itself as the world leader and the voice of reason that it is today.