Reap The Benefits

By Daniella K. Garran and Garran Peterson

An important component of a successful sailing program is a structured awards system. Although some camps hesitate to implement a program in which not all campers receive recognition, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

For example, an awards program motivates campers to further develop their sailing skills and knowledge. Establishing and incorporating a systematic and age-appropriate program also ensures superior instruction, accountability and interest.

Getting Started
Whether the program lasts for a day, week, or entire season, start by assessing the sailors’ skills.

Before placing a hand on the tiller, participants should be able to swim and tread water, know how to properly secure a personal flotation device both in and out of the water, and be familiar with the local conditions and hazards of the sailing area.

One way to ensure that campers master these basic safety elements is to build them into the awards. Once campers master these skills, they can move on to cover additional safety topics at the next award level, such as capsizing, anchoring procedures and reefing a sailboat in heavy wind.

Not only do these tasks give children something to work toward, but they also structure teaching topics for staff members.

An added bonus of an awards system is that it provides continuity from year to year--campers can return in following years and pick up right where they left off instead of starting over.

Regardless of the type of system a camp chooses, it is important to include a number of levels to allow for steady and attainable progress. And the more levels there are, the easier it is for instructors to divide the skill sets and knowledge needed to pass to the next level. In addition, it makes it easier for campers to learn, advance, and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Through The Ranks
Design an awards system around the average stay of a camper. Then, establish different levels, such as novice, beginner, intermediate and advanced.

All awards should have both an “ashore” and an “afloat” component. Campers must master not only the skills necessary to be a successful sailor, but also the nomenclature and theories associated with sailing.

“Ashore” components that require campers to learn sailing terminology, discuss sailing theory, and demonstrate knot-tying skills not only are essential to becoming a skilled and confident sailor, but also provide a natural lesson plan for heavy weather days when one might be stuck inside.

To complete the novice award ashore, sailors should be able to tie basic knots (like the figure eight, cleat and square knot), and be able to explain the suitable clothing and equipment sailors need for a variety of conditions. The advanced sailor should master reading longitude and latitude, Bernoulli’s Principle and the difference between true and magnetic readings.

The “afloat” component consists of skills that sailors demonstrate on the water. The novice sailor, for example, should be able to rig a boat with assistance, get out of irons, and act as both helmsman and crew while tacking and jibing with assistance. The advanced sailor, on the other hand, might sail a rudderless T-course, solo sail in 15 to 20 knots, and effectively skipper a boat while using a spinnaker.

It is important to note that the training should be tailored to meet the goals of the program. For example, topics can include maneuvers for campers interested in racing, advanced topics such as navigation for those who want to become more knowledgeable and activities like ”follow the leader” for campers who only want to sail leisurely with friends.

Providing tasks that each type of sailor can accomplish in each of the awards gives campers a sense of accomplishment while also developing a valuable skill set.

Avoid Starting From Scratch
Record-keeping is an important component of the awards system. By assigning a number for each award earned, staff members can note that a camper has completed a particular requirement and enter it in the computer.

Each week, the attendance list indicates which requirements campers have completed so staff can continue to help sailors earn their awards. Not only does the computer system retain records from week to week, but also from year to year. In this way, if a camper has completed all but two requirements for an award, he or she does not need to start from scratch the following summer; rather, the camper can simply complete the two outstanding tasks and then move to the next level.

On the administrative side, an award system teaches campers as well as counselors-in-training the necessary skills to return as staff members in the future. Additionally, such a program is especially helpful for new or first-time staff members as they are provided with the teaching topics and skill sets they will be working on with the campers.

Any award system is a good start in providing a better sailing experience. It ensures a safe and fun environment for campers while providing the education that campers’ parents expect.

Daniella Garran is the assistant director at Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster, Mass. She can be reached via e-mail at

Garran Peterson is the sail master at Cape Cod Sea Camps. For more information, visit