Any Young Sailors Around?

No, I am not trying to set up a talent pool for the next generation of America’s Cup sailors. What kept the question of “any young sailors around” in my head was my own experience from ex- membership in two sailing clubs, as well as friends’ experiences from their clubs. A recent article by Judith brought this topic back to the surface and has led me to ask some folks all around the world what their impression is.

grey nomads (pic by Marc McCormack)
grey nomads (pic by Marc McCormack)

Back in 2008-2010 I was a member in two sailing clubs. One right next to the shores of the Baltic Sea, the other one for sailing on the Ratzeburger See, a large lake in Northern Germany. Club events we (the family) only rarely took part in, mainly because the “shock” of the first party had a rather negative effect on us. We were the youngest by many years – and we had already been in our mid-/end-thirties back then.

No other young families, no kids around, and this all made it a bit boring for us. Interesting stories to be heard, yes. But always being a junior by something like 30 years or so took the fun out of spending time at the club’s premises.

From various sailing friends I had heard similar stories within their clubs along the Baltic Sea. And now with Judith having published her experience in The Netherlands it all came back vividly.

I do not want to dig too deeply into the underlying problem. Neither do I want to change the clubs, regatta or cruising scene. What I would like to know is quite simple. Is this whole subject of “no young sailors around” a local phenomenon to Germany, or do other sailors around the world see it similarly?

There was no major questionnaire with intensively thought about content sent out to thousands of sailors. I merely asked a couple of sailors and bloggers what they thought – and interesting replies I got indeed.

You are a young sailor – in your forties

It was no big surprise to hear that all around the world the average age of sailors seems to have gone up significantly in the last decade or two. People stay fit a lot longer nowadays, the availability of money tends to increase in line with the age of sailors. Also, the likelihood of having spare time for sailing is also higher in later years. Those are some very obvious reasons. The wonderful wording of “grey nomads” can possibly be assigned not only to folks cruising internationally, but also to those continuing to sail along their well-known shores.

A seemingly increasing number of those grey nomads might make the “younger” sailors, like me in my forties, feel a bit, well, alone. Age-wise, at least. Estimates suggest that of all those folks being around on their yachts more than 70% are 50+. This number really surprised me. On the other hand some of my friends have passed 50 as well and I had not realized that they would belong to that 70%-share already.

Lost generation of sailors?

A very interesting observation: lots of those grey nomads around, yes, and quite a few very young sailors around. But where are the folks in between? Have we (i.e. my sailing generation and the ones a bit younger) all been distracted by too many other things? Sports, careers, comfort, technology? Have we decided to not own a boat simply because there is so much other stuff to be done? Try out many different exhilarations instead of committing to one only? Looking at my sailing friends again, this is nothing but true. One boat owner out of more than a dozen sailors. The rest is crewing, chartering or dreaming.

very young sailors training (c Peter-Moehrle-Stiftung)
very young sailors training (c Peter-Moehrle-Stiftung)

Owning a boat is, of course, not really a minor side activity. Money as well as time commitment required make it difficult to keep it as “one of the gadgets” only. Some people may be able to do this, most won’t. Adding that you would need a partner to go along with your sailing ambitions, and it all might end up with crewing, chartering or dreaming. See above.

Young sailors and cruising folks

Ok, grey nomads around, lost generation talked about. But what happened to the very young sailors (mid-thirties and younger, from my age-perspective)? It seems that contrary to the lost generation more younger people tend to start owning boats again. And – not surprisingly and good news indeed – the number of women owning a boat (by themselves) is going up significantly as well.

This certainly is in line with my understanding that cruising with kids has been quite popular in recent years. Be it a couple of months of cruising with the family, a sabbatical with maybe an Atlantic crossing or life aboard a yacht for many years. It looks like long-term sailing and cruising has become a pretty standard (and still cool) way of taking time off.

cruising with kids (c The Travelling Yoga Family)
cruising with kids (c The Travelling Yoga Family)

Having said that, I can of course not really prove this point. It could also very well be that it only feels like there might be more young couples and families on the water. Nowadays it is so easy to follow them on their website, youtube, twitter and the like. And interested folks do not have to wait until a book comes out or a sailing magazine talks about them. So the number of sailors cruising around might have stayed the same, we are just more aware of them.

On the other hand, having enjoyed two rather extensive parental leaves myself, I can more than understand if today’s young sailors choose to “live now” and go cruising for a while. Or a very long while.

Lots more to talk about

So, to answer the initial question: Yes, there are young sailors around, quite a few of them actually. Life in clubs and marinas will very likely be very different from what it had been, but then that is the usual way of how everything develops. I am happy to see that lots of younger folks are spending weekends, weeks and months on the water, and I do enjoy the way they are living their lives.

One of the most interesting aspects which I discovered in all those answers? With just one question and many lines as answers from all around the globe, loads of new questions could be asked and we might be able to continue talking and discussing for weeks without end. And that’s pretty amazing in my view. Or maybe just human…

Many thanks to all of you for your thoughts and lines, each one of them was a great inspiration. Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Latin America, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, United States – plus some more, I guess. Those have been or are your current sailing grounds, and I look forward to your next news:

Chris   –   S/V Take It Easy
Jessie   –  S/V The Red Thread
Josie –   A Family Afloat
Judith   –   Einfach Segeln
Maria   –   Sailing Mareda
Øyvind   –   S/Y Ramsalt
Tiffany   –   Sailing Chiron
Viki   – Astrolabe Sailing

4 Replies to “Any Young Sailors Around?”

  1. Was the survey worldwide? I can definitely understand that it costs money and quite lots of time to feed this passion especially in our times of “crisis”. But for people who live by the water and can sail more easily, did you observe the same trend?

    1. Have not covered every continent, but Northern Americas, Europe and Australia plus New Zealand, and I did only chat with eight people in total. However, what they independently answered from each other was really interesting and going in similar directions.
      Living near water does not necessarily mean becoming a sailor. I know quite a few folks that grew up right next to the waterline of the Baltic Sea, and none of them owns a yacht or is a sailor, while others living hundreds of kilometers inshore go sailing every other weekend (and yes, travel the distance to their boats on Friday night, back again Sunday night). But your question would be a very good addition to the potentially long list of follow-up questions…

  2. I do feel alone when it comes to my age group. I’m 29, my fiancee is 24. The next youngest people I know in the marina are 38 and 41.
    All the cruisers I’ve met are in their 60s and 70s.
    I think money is a big part of it. My classmates all bought expensive houses and can’t afford to take time off to go sailing. If they did buy a boat, it needs to be a huge/expensive/flashy/new boat, which they can’t afford.
    I chose to buy an old boat and live on her. Now I’m able to take extended amounts of time off from work to go sailing.

    1. thanks for your feedback, Herb. Very valid point indeed which you are making, and I guess this is in line with other parts of the world as well – buying older boats and doing without some (a lot) of modern life’s amenities is not very popular at the moment. There are still folks around doing what you are doing, but I have not seen too many myself and other reports go in the same direction. Shame, really…
      Thanks for your lines, and I do look forward to updates on your site as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *