Sailing programmes are an incredible way to engage individuals and coastal communities with the ocean. But like most water sports the equipment, care and maintenance of equipment and program operations can come with an environmental cost. Sailing organisations from around the world have been working passionately on accessible solutions to help the sport minimise the environmental impact.

US Sailing brought together presenters to speak about these solutions and resources for their talk, Tools to Kickstart Sustainability at your Sailing Program. Our co-founder, Emily Penn was invited to speak about the SHiFT platform alongside Dan Reading from World Sailing and Jen Guimares from US Sailing.

World Sailing Online Self-Assessment Tool for Sailing Clubs

Working for World Sailing as Head of Sustainability, Dan Reading’s job has taken him to sailing clubs across the globe. He noticed they were all facing similar challenges to minimising their environmental footprints and wondered how his organisation might be able to help. It sparked the idea for a sustainability self-assessment tool. Providing a tool that helps clubs to take stock of where they’re at and take action is both more accessible and faster than hosting a third party assessment program. 

The tool is free, online and available in multiple languages. It works as a form and covers topics from waste and plastic use to energy and dredging. If you answer “No” to one of the questions on the form, the tool provides suggested action to take. Once you’ve completed the form it gives you a score and is exported as PDF with all of the suggested actions included so that you can use it as your action plan.

Dan says some of the most common areas that need addressing are designated area use, legislation, refuelling and emergency response (in regard to environmental impact), chemical use and storage, dredging, anti fouling, events and utilities. If you don’t know where to start, Dan suggests prioritising legal compliance since environmental law is changing all of the time. It’s important to make sure your club’s practices are up to date. Find the sustainability self-assessment tool here

SHiFT to Tackle Plastic Pollution 

When Emily Penn sailed into a plastic pollution accumulation zone she didn’t come across an ‘island of plastic’ floating out in the ocean, as commonly reported in the media, but rather a plastic soup made up of fragments and microplastics. The size and dispersion of microplastics is what makes them so challenging to clean-up and she quickly realised the solutions were not out there in the soup but on land. As she says, we need to “turn off the tap” on plastic pollution because there is no one source of this pollution which means there isn’t one, simple solution. The challenge of collecting and sharing solutions, as well as encouraging further solution engagement, led Emily to create the SHiFT framework and which has been developed into an online platform called 

SHiFT solutions all fall in one or more of these categories: Avoid, Loop, Convert or Catch. Anyone can go to and look up relevant solutions using the filter. The filter will ask you How, What and Where you want to make a change. Sailing programs can use this to find targeted solutions such as switching to plant based rubber neoprene or ropes made from recycled materials.

Try it out for yourself here

Reach Hubs by US Sailing

Through the Reach Hub Model, Jen Guimares shared that sailing clubs have been able to engage youth in STEM subjects. This may even help them to one day become the people responsible for creating environmental issue solutions. Jen says they owe their “reach,” or impact, to collaborating with organizations across the country. They found your program staff do not need to be scientists, and the youth don’t even need to be initially interested in STEM subjects, but that it is the way the material is delivered that matters the most. 

Teaching through sailing programs can make an intimidating subject like engineering feel approachable and even engaging through fun and hands-on experiences. The majority of past students reported they felt they were able to take what they learned and apply it to real life scenarios. What’s more, is that spending more time in an aquatic environment and deepening their understanding of it increased their interest in environmental stewardship.

The Reach Hub Model uses place based education which makes it adaptable to your community and resources. The STEM curriculum and educator guide is available on the US Sailing website here.

Learn more about these incredible programs by watching the full talk here

With thanks to 11th Hour Racing for supporting this event and programme.