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Dave's Desk - an update from the CEO

Issue date

It might not be what everyone wants to hear right now but, as a sport, we need to be patient and support our government.

It was disappointing to learn yachting and boating activities will not be permitted at level 3, because Yachting New Zealand have been strongly advocating to Sport New Zealand and the Government on behalf of the sector to have a safe and graduated return to activity.

Our sport is diverse, from those in Optimists just starting out and who need someone on the water to look after them every time they go sailing, to keelboat sailors of all ages and abilities who under the current rules would be unable to maintain social distancing requirements.

To the Government, we are a complicated sport so there is no easy one-size-fits-all approach like there is with some other recreational activities and we need to make sure we don't place our vulnerable members or public at risk. We are also supported by a number of different funding sources and it's important we are seen to be acting responsibly.

I have received plenty of feedback from members asking me why sailing is still not allowed under level 3, when some other water-based activities are. It had previously been indicated windsurfing would be allowed but this is probably now not the case due to safety concerns. 

Work is still being done on what level 3 looks like, and we should know more by the end of the week or on Monday before we emerge from level 4 later that day, but the only water-based activities likely to be allowed are those that can be done safely within 200m of shore.

Sailing does not meet that criteria and, despite what many think judging by the number of calls and emails I have received this week, there can be no exceptions. 

We have a very good relationship with Sport New Zealand and the Government, who recognise and promote the value of sport in this country and the role it will play as we emerge from lockdown. They are doing everything they can to get sport up and running again in this country but there is a process.

I have also received plenty of calls and emails asking what Yachting New Zealand are doing on their behalf. The short answer is, plenty, and I work very closely with Sport New Zealand and government advisory groups as we look at how sport can return under the various alert levels. I have been advocating hard for a return to the water and that looks probable at level 2. Hopefully that's not too far away, perhaps as soon as mid-May.

Many of you been asking plenty of questions around what sailing will look like under the various alert levels and I have attempted to answer some of them below (see the Q&A). I will also be hosting a 45-minute video call alongside Yachting New Zealand national sport development director Raynor Haagh at 3pm on Friday when one representative from each club can join. 

Please fill out the form in the link provided and include any questions you would like me to address. There will also be a facility to ask questions during the video session. 

We are incredibly fortunate to be living in New Zealand, and very lucky our government have taken some bold steps to try to beat Covid-19. I have no doubt we will rebound well as a sport and the days under lockdown will be a distant memory.

Kia kaha
David Abercrombie
Yachting New Zealand chief executive


1. Can I go sailing under level 3?

No. Life on the whole is little different in level 3 as it has been in level 4, with the majority of people working and schooling from home and strict rules around recreation. It's imperative people stick to the rules so we can return to some semblance of normality sooner rather than later. These guidelines can be found on the Government's Covid-19 website, as well as the Yachting New Zealand, Sport New Zealand and High Performance Sport websites.

2. Why can people go windsurfing, surfing, canoeing and paddleboarding, but I can’t go for a sail in a dinghy by myself or with someone in my bubble?

One of the big things people in the dinghy sailing community have pointed to is the fact windsurfing is allowed but those rules will probably change and it will no longer be allowed under level 3. 

The rules around what is allowed under level 3 are still being confirmed and should be available late this week or on Monday before we drop out of level 4. This currently sits with government after consultation with Sport New Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Maritime New Zealand, Surf Lifesaving New Zealand, Coastguard, Search and Rescue and various national sports organisations.

The Government look likely to allow water-based activities which can be done within 200m of shore, which is generally close enough for people to look after themselves if they get into trouble. No powerboats will be allowed and people will still have to consider individual skill levels and water conditions before entering the water.

The issue for sailing is that it's a hugely diverse sport, with various different classes and a large range in the demographics of those who take part, and this is problematic. Some participants, for example, require on-water support every time they go sailing and there are many at-risk individuals either over 70 or with pre-existing health conditions participating in our sport.

For these reasons, there isn't a one-size-fits all approach for sailing, unlike some others sports, and it's also seen by government, rightly or wrongly, as more dangerous than other water-based activities so has been excluded from the list of activities allowed under alert level 3. Without the likes of the Coastguard, Search and Rescue and Surf Lifesaving New Zealand operating at level 3, anyone going onto the water and getting into trouble is putting others at risk.

Many will be able to argue, and probably quite rightly, they are totally safe when going out on the water and have never got into trouble in years of sailing but the Government are not interested in considering exceptions to the rules. The rules apply to everyone.

3. What has Yachting New Zealand been doing to actively push the case of the sport with government and Sport New Zealand?

Yachting New Zealand have been working hard to get dinghy sailing included in the list of sports allowed at level 3, but those efforts have, so far, been unsuccessful. We are just not seen by the Government as a priority at a time when getting society up and running and keeping everyone safe is paramount. The Government recognises the importance sport plays in New Zealand society and the role it will play as the country rebuilds, but getting businesses back in action is more pressing. 

Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie is one of several NSO chief executives working with Sport New Zealand providing advice and recommendations to government as the country emerges from lockdown. Following discussions around level 3, he has been advocating for a full return to our sport, with clubs open and regattas held at level 2 as long as regulations around social distancing, hygiene and contact tracing can be met.

4. Will it be different under level 2?

Yes. The Government are due to share more detail around levels 1 and 2 but we are confident activities such as sailing and boating will be allowed as long as regulations around social distancing, hygiene and contact tracing can be met.

There are elements of our sport that we will need to consider carefully around how they comply with social distancing and hygiene restrictions, for example fully-crewed keelboat sailing and the manning of race committee boats.  

5. When will people be able to go keelboat sailing?

Level 1 is when we are likely to see a return to contact sport and have limitations around social distancing relaxed. There might be some capacity to go short-handed keelboat sailing under level 2 or sailing with others from your bubble.

6. When is my club likely to be up and running again?

As far as we know at the moment, clubs probably won't be fully open until we get to level 1. Club life will return to some semblance of normality as long as people follow good hygiene practices and stay home if unwell.

7. At what stage can clubs and class associations run regattas?

Regattas as we know them are likely to be able to be run again in level 1. This is likely to be when clubs get fully up and running again but the number of active Covid-19 cases and amount of transmission will be a major factor in any decisions made on this front by government.

It's likely domestic travel will be allowed, meaning people could travel to regattas within New Zealand, but international travel is a lot more uncertain. And anyone who chooses to compete overseas will need to observe the rules of the country they venture to and then go into quarantine, probably at their own expense, for two weeks on arrival back to New Zealand.

8. I'm a keelboat owner and want to check on my boat which is moored or at a marina. Am I able to do it?

We think it is reasonable for those with boats on moorings and marinas that need essential servicing and ongoing maintenance to be able to access them. Making suitable arrangements with the local police, marina operators or security personnel should be all it takes to access your boat.