Setting Sail or Going Rowing?

Getting your child involved in water sports and activities

We are so fortunate to have access to some wonderful waterways in our local area. You can often see kids enjoying the river at Kingston or Richmond, out in boats of all shapes and sizes. As a nation we have embraced both rowing and sailing and have excelled in both sports. Team GB has made us all proud in many Olympics wowing us with their vast medal hauls and record breaking successes.

In this blog we take a closer look at both rowing and sailing. We put both sports up against each other in a friendly ‘battle of the boats’. What are the benefits of each activity and how can your child get involved and become the next Team GB sailing success or rowing rising star.

Did you know…

Quirky facts - about rowing and sailing

  • Sailing made its Olympic debut back in 1900 in Paris. With the exception of 1904 it has been present in every Olympics ever since! (1)

  • In the history of the Olympic Games the GB Rowing Team have won 68 medals including 31 Gold, 24 Silver and 13 Bronze medals (2)

  • British Rowing has around 30,000 individual members aged between 11 to over 80 years of age. All take part in approximately 550 affiliated rowing clubs across the UK (3)

  • Can you ‘speak sailor’? Starboard, Jib, Tack and Gunwhale are all popular terms on board when you sail (4)

Sport on the Water - An Overview

Rowing is one of the oldest and most physically demanding sports in the world. To become a successful rower you need both stamina and muscle strength to get you through the water at speed. Rowing became an Olympic Games event back in 1896 with women’s events included from 1976.

The Team GB Rowing Hall of Fame is super impressive and kids don’t have to look far for an inspiring role-model and ambassador of the sport. Famous Team GB Rowers include: Katherine Grainger CBE, the most decorated female Olympian of all time having won 5 Olympic medals. Her team-mate Anna Watkins MBE is also a double Olympic medallist. Who can possibly forget Sir Steve Redgrave who achieved 5 Olympic gold medals throughout his career, and Pete Reed MBE who has already clocked up three gold medals at the Games.

During the Rio Olympics in 2016, the British Rowing team won an impressive 3 Gold and 2 Silver Olympic medals and 3 Gold and 1 Bronze Paralympic medals. Quite a haul!

There are two types of rowing: Sweeping and Sculling

With sweep rowing, each rower handles a single oar and can participate in boats of 2, 4 or 8 rowers. In sculling each rower has two oars and can feature 1, 2, 4 or 8 rowers. 8 person boats also include a Cox.

Sailing too first featured as an Olympic Sport over 100 years ago. Throughout the sport's history the British Sailing team have clocked up an impressive 59 Olympic medals and 29 of those have been Gold! Today’s British Sailing Team is made up of around 80 sailors who compete across an incredible 13 different Olympic and Paralympic events.

Famous superstar sailors include Sir Ben Ainslie who is Britain’s most successful Olympic sailor winning 4 consecutive Olympic Golds. Other rising star role models in the sport are Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark who have both won Silver and Gold medals in their event of Women’s 470.

Sailing can involve either Fleet or Match Racing

In a fleet race, all boats race against each other at the same time. Alternatively in a match race it’s just two boats that compete against each other.

Both sports should be proud of their rich history. The fact that both Rowing and Sailing have inspired a nation to become Olympic champions is testimony to Great Britain’s love of being out on the water.

But what are the benefits of each sport and what skills will your child develop by getting on board or setting sail?

Rowing - The Benefits

Let’s Get Social

Rowing is a very sociable sport. There are often social activities going both on and out of the water if your child chooses to join a rowing club. Rowing also promotes teamwork and camaraderie amongst rowers. You need intense collaborative effort and in sync precise timing to get the boat moving faster through the water. Therefore everyone in the boat has a job to do in precise collaboration with others to make it work.

Great for Fitness

Rowing is a very physical sport and works all major muscle groups. It can help to strengthen the back, legs as well as abdominal muscles. Working so many muscle groups it can improve cardiovascular fitness.

Come Rain or Shine

Rowing isn’t dependent on the weather and providing they have the correct kit children can take part in the activity all year round. It is the perfect activity to get your child/ren out and about and enjoying the great outdoors as well as getting some exercise and having fun!

Sailing - The Benefits

Super Solo

As a sailor not only can your child work as part of a team but they can also sail solo. Sailing solo can enable your child to keep agile and will teach them quick reaction times. Being a solo sailor and learning how to navigate and control wind single handedly can boost independence and self esteem.

Sailing Strength

Sailing can help improve hand eye coordination as well as balance. When it comes to trimming the sails it requires endurance and strength in the arms and chest. So sailing is great at developing both upper and lower body strength.

Maths in Mind

Sailing requires children to think on their feet and to multi-task as they carry out their role as a sailor. The sport also helps children to use different trial and error methods to work out how to get the boat to sail faster. This all contributes towards their analytical and mathematical development.

Rowing - What you will need

Join a Club

Find a reputable local rowing club - it might be a good idea to keep it local especially as some lessons or training might start early!

Many clubs are affiliated with British Rowing and are part of their RowSafe scheme which provides safety advice to rowers, clubs and events. They might also offer a ‘Go Row’ course which is a fantastic introduction to getting out on the water.

Be prepared to pay club membership fees as well as the cost of any rowing lessons.

Safety First

Your child will need to be a strong swimmer (with clothes on) and be able to swim in cold water. It is therefore imperative that they are confident in the water.

Get Kitted Out

You should be able to borrow most equipment from your rowing club, but do check first on what kit your child will be likely to need. They will be able to give the best advice on what clothing and footwear is required.

They will also be able to advise if the club has a team uniform for competitions or training.

Sailing - What you will need

Swim Skills

As with any activity around the water, your child will need to be a confident swimmer. They will be taught how to correct a capsized boat when learning how to sail, so they need to be water savvy and not afraid to fall into the water.

Sailors with Style

Your Sailing/Yacht club will be able to provide you with advice on what kit your child will need to start sailing. They may need gloves and wet suits. Life jackets or buoyancy aids are often provided by the activity provider, but it’s worth checking before your child starts their lessons.

No Yacht? No Worries

Your Sailing or Yacht club will be able to provide you with all the equipment your child will need to get started. No need to worry about spending money on the boat. You may be required to join the club along with payment for lessons, so well worth bearing this in mind when budgeting for your activities.

Rowing - How to get involved

Contact your local Rowing club to find out what courses they offer for Juniors. Some will offer complete beginner courses which will include everything they need to know about water safety as well as technique.

Rowing clubs affiliated with British Rowing may also offer their ‘Go Row’ course. This course is available for children aged from 11 - 18 years of age. As well as getting your child out on the water as much as possible, the course teaches them about safety (on and off the water), and takes a look at the different boats and equipment used for rowing. They will also get clued up on the correct clothing to wear and how to perfect their rowing technique. (5)

Sailing - How to get involved

As with Rowing and with water safety being paramount, the Royal Yachting Association also offer a complete beginners course to sailing and windsurfing for young people. Their OnBoard programme started in 2005 and since then it has introduced over half a million children to sailing. Children aged from 8 - 18 years of age can take part in the weekly course. The OnBoard course introduces your child to new skills on the water as well as being lots of fun. (6)

Enquire at your local Sailing or Yacht club and find out what programme they offer to children or young adults.

Local clubs

Kingston Rowing Club

Twickenham Rowing Club

Thames Sailing Club

Twickenham Yacht Club

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