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'Lack of Advice' Poses Questions For Northern Ireland Sailing Clubs Over COVID-19

21st May 2020
Quoile Yacht Club on Strangford Lough Quoile Yacht Club on Strangford Lough

The latest statement from the Royal Yachting Association Northern Ireland, the governing body for all water activities in Northern Ireland says “In the absence of any further guidance from Government Departments, our current interpretation is that this does permit all forms of boating activity (sailing, windsurfing, powerboating etc) but only when:

  • undertaken individually or by members of the same household
  • there is no sharing of hard surfaces (including all types of boat)
  • public health guidance is followed at all times
  • strict social distancing can be undertaken

The current restriction at the time of writing is that the number of people who may gather outdoors from separate households is six with strict social distancing.

As of today, Stormont Ministers have decided there will not be any further changes yet to lockdown measures in Northern Ireland.

In the light of the lack of clarification on particular matters such as launching boats parked on Club premises, (perhaps the Executive has not yet considered the nitty-gritty of sailing) club members are in something of a dilemma about certain aspects of returning to the water, though marinas around the North seem to have made their own assessment of the situation and opened, albeit with strict protocols.

One of these in a quandary is Peter Mullan of Quoile Yacht Club on Strangford Lough. He says, “ I’m at Quoile and wondering at the lack of advice”.

Peter goes on to say “I have heard [May 20] that we can’t use the cranes to launch big boats because we can’t social distance. This is nonsense and means the people giving the advice are ill-informed. This activity involves six or less people meeting in the open air and social distancing” He continues “ Our outdoor toilets, separate from the clubhouse, are closed but yet the toilets at Ardglass golf club were open. It takes weeks to get all our boats in the water so this needs to be sorted ASAP”.

It seems that, like the marinas, each establishment will, of course, adhere to the Pathway to Recovery rules but with local interpretations within those guidelines, depending on the club locality, types of boats sailed and facilities.

For instance, Ballyholme Yacht Club has laid out criteria for its members, which they consider will be in operation when they open. They say in their ‘Return to Water’ planning “Step one of the NI Executive's plan will allow for a return to some on-water activity which we hope will include sailing.

This combined with the easing of restrictions allowing some activity with small groups of four to six people, whilst observing social distancing of two metres at all times, should allow us to open our slipways and dinghy parks and facilitate ‘social sailing’.

This will be an opportunity for members to get afloat albeit in small groups at any one time and mindful that having at least two boats on the water together potentially reduces risk.

The clubhouse will not be available at this stage and sailing will be for single-handed boats or double-handed boats crewed by members of the same household only. Safety cover will not be available at this stage, so sailors must be realistic about their abilities and importantly take into account the sea state and weather conditions to minimise risk”.

The BYC Executive Committee emphasises that these actions will only be implemented when it is safe to do so.

It may come to the point where common sense is the decider.

Update 25/5/20: Following contact from Quoile Yacht Club, Afloat wishes to clarify that Peter Mullan’s comments in relation to 'ill-informed advice' was directed at the Stormont COVID-19 guidelines and not Quoile Yacht Club. We are happy to clarify this point.

Betty Armstrong

About The Author

Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong is Yachting Life's Northern Ireland Correspondent. Betty grew up racing dinghies but now sails a more sedate Dehler 36 around County Down.

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