When my son first stepped into a Cadet, I remember feeling pleased that he’d got on well with his Oppie course and wanted to do more sailing and I was pleased that the helm of the Cadet, Jess, was a kind girl who was clearly going to look after him. After all, he was only just 8. So when John, Jess’s Dad, said to me “Jess wants to do the circuit this season – is that OK with you?” I blithely replied “Sounds good to us” without really knowing what this entailed. A fantastic year followed, but there are a few things that would have made it easier if I’d known about them before. And so, dear reader, I set them down so others can learn from my experiences, mistakes and misunderstandings (and I share only the less embarrassing of those). I write with the intention to inform the parents of a sailor who is just about to enter the Cadet family – those already a few years in will have travelled this learning curve already.


If your young sailor is going to ‘travel’ – ie go to Open Training or Open Meetings, then you will need to spend the odd weekend away from home. This is especially true if your little team has qualified for either National Junior Squad or the National Squad (the “Squads”), in which case, well done! So where to stay? For many venues, a Premier Inn is the default – they’re fine, the bed is comfy, the breakfast decent – you know what you’re going to get. Some venues are awash with options; others are scarce. Some have automatics (the Holiday Inn at Huntingdon if you’re at Grafham). Occasionally some of the big sailing clubs have accommodation, such as the ones in Burnham-on-Crouch. Itchenor Sailing Club is wonderful – that open fire, the Sunday roast, the view… AirBnB is always worth a punt, but you usually have to book for two nights – perfect if it’s a bank holiday weekend and the event is somewhere where you’d want to go anyway

But check to see where others are staying. The weekend can be made by a good dinner out with other sailors and parents to celebrate good performance, get over a bad mark rounding, or get to know your fellow travellers on the journey you have embarked on.


A Cadet is run as an unequal partnership: the helm owns the boat and pays for the costs involved in running it (insurance, spares, new sails, etc). This means that a crew can get out on the water and have several years’ racing without needing to buy a boat. And when they’re ready to move to the back, they (and their parents!) have a good idea of what to expect. Other costs (for example, the entry fees for events) might be split between the helm and crew, and that’s a conversation to have at the start of the season. (As a crew Dad, I always went 50:50 on event fees, but that’s no precedent).

What kit do they need?

There’s no shying away from it – sailing clothing companies will present you with the opportunity to spend a small fortune on kit for your young sailor. But there’s also no denying that the fabric technology is light years ahead from the wool and canvas creations that Cadet sailors wore in the 1950s and 1960s. The high end of the sailing clothing market is the best – but as with all markets, the price rises exponentially for each step in performance.

So what do you actually need? Where should you spend money? And where should you look to save? Your essentials are:
A buoyancy aid. Make sure it doesn’t ride up, as they will struggle to see or do anything if it floats over their head in the water. To avoid this, get one with a decent strap that tightens under their ribcage, or straps between the legs. Don’t go for a waterskiing one.
A wetsuit – go for a full length one (a steamer) that they can wear for longer. Shorties are only really of use for a few weeks in the summer. A sailing wetsuit will have protection on the knees and bum that a surfing one won’t have, and will last a little longer.
Sailing boots – they should cover the ankle and have some padding on the top of the foot to make hiking easier. Avoid crocs like the plague…

Those are your core items of kit that will get used almost all the time. You can do a lot to layer these up by adding:

  • Thermal tops and leggings underneath the wet suit
  • A warm hat, balaclava, buff and / or headband
  • Sailing gloves, especially when it’s windy (because the loads on the ropes will be tougher)
  • An aqua fleece can be very handy (essentially a fleece-lined spray top) that will keep them warm when wet or dry
  • Thermal socks and/or neoprene socks

If it’s getting really cold, then consider a drysuit. These aren’t cheap, but staying dry is the first part of staying warm – and no sailor will be happy if they’re cold. Again, worth looking out for bargains, but make sure it’s watertight, otherwise it’s worse than useless.

In the summer, you can peel back down to the basics and add a baseball cap or visor, and lots of suncream

Sunglasses are a must all year round. With the sun lower in the sky in the winter months, there’s a chance they will be looking straight into the sun at certain points of sailing. Always have some sunnies packed. Same goes for a waterbottle. Get a reusable plastic one with a sports cap – but don’t spend too much as 1) they occasionally get given out at events; and 2) they often get lost.

No need to have a specialist sailing bag unless you want to – just get something big enough! And to make your life easier, give them a large carrier bag for their wet kit.

Ah yes… wet kit. So here’s the scenario: they’ve done a day’s sailing at a weekend training event, and they’ve done well. But it’s been breezy and they had a capsize, so their kit is wet. They’ve come off the water, got changed and handed you a carrier bag of wet kit that’s soaking wet and smells… interesting. They’re out again tomorrow morning. What do you do?

Take your young sailor’s kit and wring it out as much as possible, as soon as possible. If it’s really stinky, give it a rinse in the changing room showers. Turn big items inside out so the skin-side dries first. Stick it in your Dry Buddy (a standalone electric clothes dryer – Argos and other places, £50) in the hotel next to an open window and whack it on while you go to dinner. Two warnings though – the smell of hot neoprene when you return is quite unique; and hotels tend to frown on them as they think they eat electricity (they don’t really, but it’s their bill, not ours) so be discreet.

Where to buy kit

You can pay full price on your sailing kit if you want to… but before you do that, try:

  • The Southampton Boat Show (September) and the RYA Dinghy Show (March). The retailers there often do really good discounts at the events.
  • Some clubs have second hand kit sales, or For Sale boards.
  • Your own helm, unless they have a younger sibling, might have some kit they are happy to sell down to you (that’s how our sailor got his first drysuit.)
  • Online – Lomo does half-decent kit at a decent price. Wetsuit Outlet often carries big discounts too.
  • RYA Members get discounts with lots of retailers so it’s worth looking at that too.

When you’ve bought it – label it! Name, phone number, etc. You will be amazed how kit goes missing – but also amazed how other parents spot things left behind and manage to reunite it with its owner.

What kit do I need?

Well, it rather depends on what you want to do and how involved you want to be in your young sailor’s sport (I’ll give you a tip – you’ll both enjoy it a lot more if you share the experience). The Cadet class gives all parents the chance to get involved and to be out on the water, providing safety cover, laying marks, helping on the committee boat, and so on. And there are shore-based things to do as well, such as registration, co-ordinating launching, and managing the results.

If you’re going out on the water, then there are a few essentials you should have:

  • A buoyancy aid, or life jacket. If you’re going for the latter, avoid an automatic inflation system that goes off in contact with water – one fast RIB ride and it’ll go pop. A Hammer one which works using pressure is fine.
  • A set of sailing waterproofs. Ignore normal waterproofs and get the real deal – a decent set of sailing waterproof trousers come up to your chest; have fleecy hand warmer pockets; a big seal around the ankle to keep water out; and are properly, properly waterproof. A decent sailing jacket puts anything made for the land to shame. Be sceptical about buying secondhand – what’s the main reason for not wanting a set of waterproofs any more? Them not being waterproof any more..
  • A pair of wellies will do to start off with – but you can get sailing boots which are warmer than the rubber that wellington boots are made from. Perhaps one to work up to.
  • The rest doesn’t need to be special. Fleeces to layer up with underneath your kit; a hat (warm or baseball depending on the weather); gloves if it’s cold or you have bad circulation.
  • A dry bag to keep spare kit in – loads available online, in various sizes. It’s a very simple item, so don’t be afraid of buying cheap.

If you’re staying ashore, you don’t need anything really special. But a couple of things might help:

  • Some cash for the club bar / canteen. Some of the smaller ones don’t do cards.
  • A good coat, in case the sailors are launching in the rain.
  • Some boots, in case the rain has turned the dinghy park a bit muddy.
  • A pair of binoculars – some venues give you a really good view of the racing. Some don’t!

What about food and drink?

Sailing can be tiring. Sailors need fuelling up (see our nutrition guide). When you fuel them depends on how long they are on the water. Winter training sessions tend to be shorter, and have a break for lunch – in that case, they can eat ashore. But in events, they could easily be on the water for 5 or 6 hours; they’ll need to eat on the go. Something  that they can eat quickly and easily, with one hand, that will survive being bounced around in a boat for a while (bananas are a bit susceptible to damage). Everyone will find their own favourites, and it’s worth experimenting and getting feedback. Some things that work well in our house: tomato soup in a small flask that you can drink straight out of (a good first aid item too); pizza that’s folded in half straight out of the oven and sliced when cold (no meat on a hot day though); malt loaf; sweets and chocolate. Helm and crew will normally put all their food into a named drybag or drykeg and give it to one of the support boats, and then seek them out in between races.

Water (or a sports drink) is essential. I prefer water as it can be used to clean sunglasses or an injury better than Lucozade sport. Both helm and crew should have a bottle each; I know of one Cadet that had bike-style water bottle holders under the side deck (neat trick, Nick!) Keep the water on board rather than on a support RIB.

If you’re out on the water, you’ll also need something to eat. Just make sure that you eat when you can – this will not be at the same time as the sailors, as whatever your role (mark laying, committee, general support) you’ll be busy when they’re eating.

And I know your next question – if they’re out on the water for that long, how do they… wee? There’s two choices, both between races: either hop on a RIB and get ferried to the committee boat or a mother ship and use the heads on board (the only option if you’re wearing a drysuit); or put the boat head to wind, hop in the water so it’s over waist-level, and let it go. Obviously this one only works if you’re wearing a wetsuit. And you’ll understand why a quick rinse of said wetsuit is worth doing before you then heat it up in your hotel room…

Crew and parent dynamics

A helm and crew are a little team. They must work as a team to be successful. And in these little boats, our sailors are already developing management and leadership skills that they will take forward in life – and in arguably more challenging and critical situations than any of their peers, or many adults. Helms are responsible for their craft and their crew; crews must respond to their helms quickly, positively and accurately.

Occasionally (but not often) this doesn’t work out, for a variety of reasons – temperament, understanding, interpersonal skills, how someone handles stress. Whatever the cause might be, it’s important that it’s identified early on and addressed, and if that means the crew finds another boat, so be it – putting a young sailor off the sport is too high a cost for any race win.

Matching expectations between crew and helm (and crew family and helm family!) needs to be done at the start. It’s no use for a crew who wants to do the odd weekend at the club to team up with a helm wanting a crack at a World Team place.

Being part of the Cadet family is great. It’s a fantastic little boat, and the way that an older helm teaches and supports a crew until they move to the back of the boat to do the same is a rare thing in sport. And the circuit is great fun too, for sailors and parents alike – lifelong friends are made by everyone! Get stuck in and give it a go.

     © 2021 UK National Cadet Class Association