Young people sailing their way to confidence and leadership

Government announces €170,000 grant for Sail Training Ireland

Dylan Nelson from Crumlin in south Dublin struggled with self-confidence before getting involved with Sail Training Ireland .

After seven years with the charity, both as a trainee sailor and an ambassador, he says it has transformed his life.

Sail Training Ireland was found in 2011 and promotes the development and education of young people, particularly those with disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds, through teaching life skills on sailing voyages.

Mr Nelson (25) who has a physiological disorder and is a wheelchair user, now travels to schools and centres for people with disabilities around the country as its youth ambassador, encouraging others to get involved with the charity and take part in voyages.


“I talk to the kids about what they can do on a sailing trip. I get a lot of ‘but I’m disabled, I can’t go on a sailing ship’. And I’m like ‘you can, I’m doing it, that’s why I’m here talking to you’,” he said.

He added: “You get a lot of fear from some of the people you talk to. I also find that even some of the personal assistants that work with the kids, there’s a lot of negativity. So it’s me trying to get rid of that negativity and say ‘trust me, you’ll like it’.”

Mr Nelson was speaking to The Irish Times at Poolbeg Yacht and Boat Club in Ringsend, Dublin on Friday afternoon where Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe and Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath announced the Government will be giving Sail Training Ireland a €170,000 grant over two years that will go towards youth development.

“Today is just amazing for us. The money gives us the opportunity to be able to go out and offer [sailing voyages] to a lot more young people,” said the charity’s training programme manager Sindy Offer.

“They develop confidence and leadership skills,” said Ms Offer. “It gives them the confidence then to take on other challenges within their lives. It’s not about learning to sail. They learn to sail as a by-product of what we do on board the vessel.”

“It’s about living in a small environment, looking after your space. We also do a lot of environmental awareness with them about their own coastline,” she added.

Mr Nelson explained some of the activities that take place on a voyage: “We have a thing called happy hour, it’s one of the first things we do. And it doesn’t mean half priced drinks. It means cleaning the ship, maintaining the ship and looking after the ship. We do a lot of sail work. Every few hours the wind direction might change. So we change the direction of the sails.”

The charity also encourages people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds to get involved. David McDonagh (16) who lives in Ballymun in Dublin and comes from a Travelling family, went on his first voyage last summer. He said it was a “great experience” where he made “loads of friends”. He is now planning on encouraging others from his area to get involved.

Speaking at the event Mr Kehoe, said: “The charity gives people skills that they might not have previously been given the opportunity to obtain.”

Mr McGrath, added: “I think the big thing about Sail Training Ireland and funding this project is that it is focusing on the person’s abilities rather than their disabilities – that’s the key thing.”

“We have thousands of young people like Dylan in this country who have some form of disability but they have so many abilities and lots to contribute to society,” he said.