UK sailors are spoiled for choice in terms of the quality and quantity of yacht and sailing clubs. Obviously, the coastline is dotted with clubs with almost always two or more in any recognised port – plus there are ponds, lakes, reservoirs and rivers to sail on, as well as marina-based clubs. Some specialise in dinghies, while others only offer cruising. You name it, you can find it.
When it comes to choosing a sailing club there’s no right choice, just the right choice for you. They vary enormously when it comes to atmosphere, facilities and cost (also see Yacht club or sailing club: choose the right one). What follows is a selection of the yacht and sailing clubs that I have visited with a view to demonstrating the variety and diversity of clubs out there. There are hundreds of equally good and worthy alternatives… I am still working my way around the country trying to see as many as I can! For a full list of clubs you can look at the RYA’s website.
The prestigious yacht club
There are a number of yacht clubs with the word “Royal” in their title, but it's not an entirely reliable indicator as to what the club is really like. While some will hold more “brag” status, others are actually very down to earth and you’ll find you are more than welcome in your sailing kit.
Royal Yacht Squadron
The Royal Yacht Squadron is probably the most prestigious yacht club of them all. Situated in the sailing Mecca of Cowes on the Isle of Wight (which has a great number of clubs to suit all interests). I’ve never been here in anything other than heels and a dress (read blazer and long trousers if you’re the male of the species). This isn’t a club you expect to simply turn up at, you need an invitation and it wasn’t long ago that only men were allowed in the main clubhouse. A visit feels like a privilege and you know so many of sailing’s greats have been here over the years.
Royal Southern Yacht Club
Hamble is undoubtedly one of the UK’s sailing hotspots, and the river is packed with boats and marinas. The Royal Southern YC sits in an enviable position, with fabulous views down the river from its stunning upstairs bar. This is more a yacht club than a dinghy club, although there is a youth section. Surprisingly perhaps for a grand looking club, dogs are welcome and the dress code is pretty relaxed (although you need to leave your wellies and waterproofs downstairs).
Royal Cornwall Yacht Club
The Royal Cornwall is a very sailor-friendly club, running as it does a number of dinghy and bigger boat events. I remember its great food from competing in a dinghy event run by the club. The clubhouse is set very much in the centre of Falmouth, which provides a great venue for events especially in the summer with plenty to do and lots of accommodation.
The small local sailing club
Pretty much every town and village on the coast, and many reservoirs and lakes, have their own sailing club or yacht club. These can be tiny, are often completely run by volunteers and are usually very cheap to join.
Orwell Yacht Club
This was the club of my youth. A small club based on the outskirts of Ipswich, Suffolk, where members take their turn at the bar duty. The club has a strong tradition of small cruising yacht ownership, where owners often do the work on their boats themselves. There is limited dinghy sailing at the club, which tends to vary depending how active the dinghy members are at a given time.
Tollesbury Sailing Club
This tiny village in the heart of Essex is home to a small, friendly club. Club members help out a lot with the running of things, depending what activities you are involved in. The club bar is a popular drinking venue for the locals, as many villagers belong to the club even if they don’t sail very often. In its past it held some big open meetings, but today the dinghy fleet is a mixed handicap fleet with a wide range of abilities, while the cruisers enjoy, for the most part, cruises in company to local venues.
Emsworth Slipper Sailing Club
Another dinghy and cruising yacht club, with a small but fairly strong dinghy section which sees fleet racing for some classes together with mixed handicap racing. One of two clubs in the small town of Emsworth, on the Hampshire/Sussex border, it often runs racing jointly with its neighbour, Emsworth Sailing Club. Its tidal location means race times vary and feature typical club courses on the creeks in the area. This is complemented by the millpond, which is often used for teaching. Regular cruiser races/cruises in company are also run and the club is home to a strong Model Yacht Racing section, particularly in the winter months.
The large “dinghy” club
There are a number of “super-clubs” that fit into this category. These clubs are usually more expensive to join, but have the facilities to match. They usually have a number of full time staff running the catering, bar and administration.
Hayling Island Sailing Club
Surrounded by sandy beaches on the appropriately-named “Sandy Point”, Hayling Island Sailing Club (pictured above) has a spectacular location at the entrance to Chichester Harbour. The facilities for dinghy sailing are fantastic and the club regularly hosts dinghy and keelboat national, European and world events. Hayling Island is also the main home for Federation Week – the annual regatta week run by a group of the Chichester Harbour sailing clubs (which include Emsworth Slipper listed above). While Hayling has a lot of visiting boats, it also has strong club racing as well, in particular recently it ran a very successful initiative to get more people racing.
Grafham Water Sailing Club
An inland club with a strong history of running open meetings and championships. Set on a large reservoir in Cambridgeshire, it is particularly known for some of the big events it runs in the winter months as well as training and open meetings together with club racing.
Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy
The venue for the 2012 Olympic Games, this “superclub” must run more championships than any other. Based on Portland, it offers access to a variety of sailing waters with racing possible both in the harbour and outside in Weymouth Bay.
The inland “all weather” sailing club
As well as coastal clubs, there are a huge number of sailing clubs of all sizes based on the country’s numerous reservoirs and lakes. Many of them offer special winter memberships for members of those coastal clubs that shut down for the winter months (typically October-April, although a small number of coastal clubs do operate all year round).
Budworth Sailing Club
This Cheshire-based club is one of the most popular clubs in the north-west of England. It runs handicap and fleet racing on Sundays and fleet racing on Saturdays and Wednesdays on Budworth Mere, a 100-acre stretch of water set in partially wooded countryside.
Rutland Sailing Club
Set on the picturesque Rutland Water in Cambridgeshire, further north and slightly smaller than Grafham, which we mentioned earlier in the feature.
Queen Mary Sailing Club
Based on one of the massive reservoirs that supply London’s water, this isn’t the prettiest place to sail, but very convenient if you live in the country’s capital. It is also famous for running the iconic annual handicap pursuit race, the Bloody Mary, every January. The event is a very popular one and attracts entries from across the country from Olympic sailors to club racers.
The “cruising” club
Some clubs are specifically run for bigger boats, one good example being the Clyde Cruising Club in Scotland. This is a club that’s not so much about its clubhouse, but about the events it organises. These include the annual Scottish Series and a range of races, cruises in company and “musters” that see its members sailing and racing in both Scottish waters and further afield.
The beach club
There are a number of clubs based on lovely sandy beaches that attract visitors or have members with holiday homes in the area. Abersoch Dinghy Week, run by South Caernarvonshire Yacht Club in north Wales, attracts entries from across the country who enjoy combining a week of racing with a family beach holiday. The club also runs a range of dinghy and keelboat championships.
The marina club...
Some clubs are based in marinas and cater for berthholders and visitors. They don’t usually run racing, but there are some exceptions to this. Examples include Fox's Marina Yacht Club, based in Ipswich, and Brighton Marina Yacht Club.
UK waters have so much to offer the adventurous boat owner. For inspiration, see: 8 of the best UK estuaries for cruising or Spice up your season: best boating events of 2015.