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Watersports Interview with UKSA's Ben Willows

watersports at uksa

It is May, we've had two sunny bank holiday weekends, and it is National Watersports Month. To celebrate, JAC had a chat with the lovely people at UKSA, who offer professional watersports training courses down at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. We spoke to with Ben Willows, Director of Operations at their leading maritime training campus, about their involvement with the National Watersports Month initiative, and their watersport courses.

Are you getting involved in National Watersports Month, if so what are you doing?

Yes we are really excited about this! We have scheduled a whole month full of discounted taster sessions, starting at just £10 per person. Throughout May, these sessions are available at weekends, Bank Holiday Mondays and throughout half-term. They are suitable for children age eight upwards, as well as adults, so it is fun for all the family. For £10 you can enjoy an hour of Stand Up Paddleboarding or windsurfing. For just £20 you can have a three hour taster session in dinghy sailing, keelboating or kayaking.

If you were to choose one of your courses to do, what one would you do and why?

UKSA has recently introduced a bargain careers taster course for 16-25 year olds considering a life at sea, so if I was starting out that is what I would do, and what I would recommend to those undecided about their future. Opportunities Afloat is a five day residential for just £199, food, kit and tuition included. It's the perfect introduction to UKSA sailing and watersports courses, different training paths available and the booming maritime industry.

It's something young people aren't always told about at school, so they have no idea what jobs are out there and what sort of exhilarating and exciting life they can lead. This course includes valuable on-the-water practicals alongside classroom based seminars with industry experts, careers advice sessions, and even a night on a yacht – a great experience and an opportunity to find out if working at sea is for you. It's really different so if I was a young person starting out in life, that's the course I would take first, and I would go from there.

Are there any changes happening within your company/industry in 2014?

We certainly have big and exciting changes happening within our watersports department. We have just launched a pilot course that is giving a group of eligible young adults that fulfil a certain criteria the chance to train as watersports instructors for free! If this pilot is successful we are hopeful of getting the course fully developed and nationally accredited and funded, meaning up to 50 people a year could access it free of charge. It will be called the UKSA Watersports Instructor Training Diploma, and it will be for selected 19-24 year olds. This course will give people the chance to completely change their lives, follow their dreams and potentially enter an amazing industry with a view to working in fantastic locations all around the world. Participants will receive several highly desirable instructor certificates such as RYA Dinghy Instructor, RYA Windsurf Instructor, BCU Kayak Coach and BSUPA Stand Up Paddleboard Instructor – that's four different disciplines. They should also get their Powerboat Level 2, First Aid and their VHF Radio Licence. It is a huge deal for any individual.

What are the hardest things to achieve on your courses?

As a youth charity we do try to go above and beyond what is expected of a training provider, so many of our students get careers guidance, 1:1 mentoring and access to our job placement service. Many of our courses also include food and accommodation, so there are no distractions such as having to go and shop for food, or commute each day. However many courses are high level maritime training courses with accreditation by bodies such as the MCA and RYA so there is a high level of studying and learning involved, and a lot of information to absorb, so I think perhaps that is something students have to really be disciplined about. A lot of the time students are out on yachts, stuck together in a confined space, and some find that harder than others too!

What does a normal day look like on your courses?

We have such a wide range of courses and many have very different elements to them so it is not easy to describe a normal day. One day you could be learning firefighting safety and the next you could be out on a yacht with the rain lashing down and waves crashing over. One thing's for sure, it's never dull or samey! Students do know they will be looked after, fed well and have their spirits kept up. There's always people to talk to and time to chill out in the bar at the end of the day!



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