Fleet Building Techniques


Staff member
One-Design Fleet Building

The author's theories on class & fleet roles in getting more boats on the line—largely through leadership and communication—based on a presentation at US SAILING's 2004 One-Design Symposium

December 3, 2004
By John Burnham More articles by this author

1. Fleet Building: This topic is the baseline issue for every fleet and every class; it's really what the US SAILING One-Design Symposium is all about. If classes focus on the basics of fleet building and make sure each fleet is paying attention to them, the good, innovative ideas will naturally flow and the fleets will grow.

2. Takin' it to the Fleets: This was the headline of a story one of us at US SAILING wrote a number of years ago, and I like it enough to use it again. The point is that fleetbuilding energy has got to happen at the fleet level, but class leaders can have a big influence on the process. They can influence growth in several ways, most of them pretty straightforward:

a) Communication: web, newsletter, listserv/email;
b) Schedule coordination, regatta planning;
c) Builder relations, revising rules;
d) Collect memberships, finances, & report how you're doing—which often creates calls to action. For example, some classes keep better track of their membership numbers than others. You should do it every year if for no other reason than it reminds you to get your fleet leaders in gear to make sure their fleet members are paid-up class members.

3. What Fleets Need to Grow:
a) Fleet Captain, Secretary, Treasurer: Good officers are absolutely vital.
b) Members (e-mail, addresses, dues): Keep track of people and they'll pay their dues.
c) Activities: both social and competitive: There's more to it than just racing.
d) Volunteers to run these events: Spread the load.
e) Keeping up with Racing & Class Rules: Vital to the fleet culture and what makes you one-design.

4. What Fleets Really Need : Communication Above all, your fleet is tied together less by its schedule of events than by communication: a) among the members; b) among fleet leaders; c) with local clubs, other organizers, media; d) with the class association If things aren't going well, look to your communication.

5. Communication = Leadership

6. (or) Leadership=Communication: It helps to be good at planning, organization, and the other things mentioned earlier, but all the right stuff in the world won't lead a fleet in the right direction without strong 2-way communication.

7. When Choosing Your Fleet Leaders: Charisma, good looks, sailing skill, admin abilities, and other natural talents all come in handy, but they are over-rated. The best fleet leaders are flawed, idiosyncratic, sometimes even troublemakers. But they've got heart and they communicate, and that's what pays off.

8. Key Considerations When Recruiting Fleet Leaders:
a) Do they have POSITIVE ENERGY? If the glass ain't half full, forget about it.
b) Are they FUN to be around? If they are, both work and play are more fun. And more likely to get done.
c) Will they SHOW UP? Fleet captains who go MIA are proven less effective.

9. JB's Growth Theorem: Fun + Positive Energy = Fleet Growth This doesn't mean every class or fleet officer needs to be an extrovert and a barrel of laughs. Some very quiet, reclusive types can write compelling e-mails, provide persistent reminders, distribute funny pictures, and be a powerful motivating force in a fleet.

10. Fleet Leaders' Goals: To the extent you can create a supportive, inclusive fleet culture, everyone will naturally have fun and generate positive energy.
a) Develop fleet culture of wanting to grow so everyone recruits
b) Develop culture of helping each other

11. Fleet Leaders' Share-of-Mind Tools: You want fleet activities to remain uppermost in your fleet members' minds as much as possible. And not just sailboat racing, but all activities. These tools should be used by several people—build an executive committee and develop the fleet-wide recruiting and helping ethic as mentioned before.
a) Use the telephone
b) E-mail and listserv
c) Website bulletin board
d) Regatta time!
e) Social events!!!
f) Newsletter
g) Club, association, other media PR

12. Fleet Captains' Principles: Not necessarily in order of importance.
a) Make Access Easy: to used boats and to the water
b) Balance the Gap: sing praises of your champions but always look to help everyone else
c) Communicate: share of mind counts
d) Keep the Parties Coming: no explanation needed

13. Principle #1—Easy Access
a) Club Support: Cedar Point YC (Westport, Conn.) has a racing focus and large drysail area that supports huge Laser frostbite, youth, and high school programs; public-access groups like Sail Newport (R.I.) have proven the build-it-and-they-will-come theory providing drysail areas, lifts, ramps, youth, adult, and rental programs
b) Extra boat: At Beverly YC (Marion, Mass.), fleet capt. Sam Vineyard always has an extra Laser ready for an uncommitted frostbiter.
c) Cheap boats: Vineyard has also advertised in club newsletters and found $100 Lasers for people in garages. Bill Brosius at the South Sound Sailing Society (Olympia, Wash.) has generated a big fleet of old Stars by finding $1K to $3K boats for people (Stars in their fleet have to be of an older vintage). And Paul von Grey (Seattle) has used the exchange rate with the Australian dollar to import a container full of good, cheap, used 505s to build his fleet.

14. Principle #2—Balance the Gap: The gap between the guys at the front and back of any fleets needs to be managed. Put the most emphasis on helping those who need it, but maintain a good competitive level and recognition for your aces or they may move on, lowering overall fleet energy. Bringing along youth and celebrating family members is also critical.
a) Clinics: for example, during the week before the Thistle Midwinters
b) "Crew U.": a parking-lot demo to teach crew & skippers used in three Thistle fleets
c) Video/DVD: Snipes have an instructional DVD.
d) Youth classes: Ynglings are used in Alpena, Mich., for teen spinnaker class; kids then crew for adults on weekends.
e) Restrict pros in larger boats: the J/105's owner/driver rule on San Francisco Bay protects this extremely successful fleet
f) Stay in line with national class so leaders can travel: the Chesapeake Bay J/105s are switching to a deep keel but had to work to keep the cost reasonable so the whole fleet could do it.

15. Principle #3 —Communicate for Share of Mind: If you're not snagging the attention of your fleet members, they may well be thinking about doing something else.
a) Weekly e-mail writeup/schedule: Newport Lasers and Shields sailors tell their weekly war stories by e-mail and pass on schedule reminders at the same time; the Shields fleet assigns "story" duty to each boat for one week in the 21-week season.
b) Email discussion group: Cedar Point YC Thistles use a listserv program to help people find crew, work on travel plans, and just plain cajole others to get out and race.
c) Fleet website: The J/105 Chesapeake fleet website connects sailors who keep their boats in different areas and as they've gotten to know each other better, reports are that more sportsmanlike behavior has infiltrated the racing.

16. Principle #4—Promote Community (Party!): All season long the corollary to share-of-mind is share-of-party-time. But parties come in all forms; it basically means doing stuff together.
a) Work on boats together/swap meets: setting aside a day to trade gear or park the boats alongside to fix stuff can be productive and fun.
b) Mentoring: pairing experienced and less-experienced sailors and offering an award for the best combined result can have extra social benefits (see Principle #2 "balance the gap.")
c) Socialize after every race: The long-time successful Newport (R.I.) J/24 fleet Thursday night activity has been described as "a party preceded by a race"; at Fishers Island (N.Y.) YC, the IOD and Bullseye fleet members gather together and debrief on the club porch.
d) Awards party: This is a no-brainer. Consider having a party after every series, not just at the end of the season.
e) Special awards: Give out fun awards, too. Door prizes and participation awards let everyone go home with something. The Newport Shields fleet gave a Dr. Crash calendar to the skipper involved in the most protests last season.
f) Winter seminars, ski trips, charter cruises: Party promotion goes way beyond being a smart "marketing technique." Offering social opportunities builds connections among sailors, the value of which far outweigh race results, both in the short and long term.

17. Classes: Empower Your Fleet Captains: With those principles in mind, here's what classes can do.
a) Provide tools: a user-friendly website, used boat listings, brochures, video/DVDs, boat show initiatives, and other marketing support.
b) Make communication easy: whether you have staff or volunteers, be sure to reach out, provide leads, and also rapid response to solve problems. Keep pushing ideas, tools, and tips.
c) Help weak fleets: when a fleet has a downturn and goes quiet, call in veteran fleet builders to help them get jump started.

18. Remember: Fun & Energy = Fleet Growth

19. Fleet Captains' Principles
a) Easy Access
b) Balance the Gap
c) Communicate (think "share-of-mind")
d) Keep the Parties Coming

20. You'll Know You're Successful When You Have More Boats on the Starting Line

Reposted with permission from http://www.sailingworld.com/article.jsp?ID=35019&typeID=398&catID=609