Aon Club of the Month - New Plymouth Yacht Club

One of the big challenges for all yacht clubs is translating individuals who try sailing for the first time into members and the New Plymouth Yacht Club do this better than most.

Club coaching co-ordinator Wayne Holdt says there are a handful of reasons why he thinks they’re successful, ranging from timing of the learn to sail courses and accessibility to what is prioritised and the sales job they do on the parents.

“The timing of these is pretty important,” said Holdt, who also doubles as Yachting New Zealand’s regional support officer for the central region. “We have a three-day learn to sail course at the end of October and then another in late December. The new sailors then get to sail the 20 club-owned plastic boats on Saturday morning and Wednesday evenings.

"The idea is that you don’t have to buy a boat for the first season, which gives them time to make a decision about whether they like it or not. We’re also not as race focused with this group as we used to be and now it’s more about playing a lot more games on the water to make it fun. It’s more about just going for a sail and learning while having fun.”

This is also the focus of the Volvo Sailing… Have a Go! programme which stops off annually in New Plymouth. Holdt said they get a good boost in interest following the running of this programme, which is geared to introducing primary school children to sailing.

That’s also where the marketing from the New Plymouth Yacht Club kicks in. Someone from the club follows up with the child’s family.

“Some of the parents didn’t even realise their child went sailing because it’s something done through the schools,” Holdt said. “Quite often they think their child has gone kayaking.

“We get a pretty good intake from the Have a Go! programme because we take the time to make contact with the families.”

New Plymouth now have about 40 junior members. This has been as high as about 50-60 but also as low as 25.

“We are in a bit of a rebuilding phase at the moment and it’s rebuilding nicely,” Holdt said.

It has translated into about 16 youngsters in their Opti green fleet, a further 10 in the open fleet and about a dozen sailing Starlings.

One of the big challenges is that New Plymouth Yacht Club lose a significant number of youngsters when they move away to go to universities. That’s when the second phase of their marketing programme kicks in.

“In the last few years, we have had a good group of parents who stay in the club even though their kids have gone to university,” Holdt said. “We are finding that a lot of the parents of learn to sail kids are where we are getting new senior members from. We work on the parents as soon as they get there as a lot of them have had some connection to sailing as a kid themselves.

It has seen New Plymouth’s overall membership remain steady at around 200, which is a success in today’s environment. Holdt says they direct new people into the one-design classes established at the club already such as Optimist, Starling, 420, Paper Tiger, Hartley 16, Lasers, Noelex 22 and Ross 780s.

"Something that had a great impact on the club's junior fleet some years ago was shifting their racing to Saturday mornings instead of the afternoon with the senior classes," Holdt explained. "This enabled us to look after the junior sailors better."  

The club retains a commitment to travellin to regattas but they also host a handful, including the North Island Optimist championships every three years (they’re on a rotation with Taupo and Napier) and last month hosted the 50th staging of the Paper Tiger national championships.

“It’s a great venue here,” Holdt said. “You can launch the boat easily on a nice big beach. It gets a little big bumpy at times but that adds to the fun.”

And it’s a formula that seems to be working for the New Plymouth Yacht Club.

by Michael Brown