ILCA-NA Class Membership Numbers continue to sink. Ideas?


Staff member
Thread starter #1
Before I even start this thread, I want to remind everyone that this will not become a flaming political hate thread. It may be true that there were better ways to do things in the past but I do not want to see any "well we should have done XX two years ago" statements.

I would like to see some positive, forward looking ideas on what the class can do to improve it's membership numbers.

In the latest minutes I noticed
Class Membership
a. Membership numbers through July 31. Why do we look like we’re losing members in nearly every District. Tracy will distribute to each DS for their information. Discussion of giving a hat for membership in 2006. Possibly something for new members only.
Obviously, even the class EXCOM realizes there is a problem. So I pose this question to forum members: What should the class be doing to bring in more members?
Should there be free giveaways at sign up? Maybe a raffle for free gear to existing members? Or some deal for a national discount at a sailing supply store for members? An exclusive forum area for class members only with useful content?

Also, international forum members feel free to share your input. What has your local class organization done to bring in new members? What has worked and what didn't work so well?

There are lots of different ways the class can increase its membership base. What say you?
I'm glad somebody is reading the meeting minutes!

Membership numbers in 2005 are down by some 300 over 2004 and is a general trend in most Districts though most notable in the Northeast. Of course, the Northeast is where the bulk of the ILCA-NA membership resides AND there were no major events there (where membership would be enforced to sail). So, probably no surprise that numbers are down a bit more dramatically there.

Still... this is something we are definitely going to reverse next year.

My personal opinion (which has been formed after numerous conversations with a number of people, including several District Secretaries but is not necessarily shared by all of the ExCom):

1) This decline does not reflect a decline in Laser sailing. On the contrary, regatta turnouts would indicate that Laser sailing is on an upswing in North America. Even the major events are having really good turnouts, especially when considering that some events have been in areas or times of the year when you would not expect one (e.g. 160+ boats in Seattle for the NA's - the same number, more or less, as at Cedar Point in 2004).

2) We (ILCA-NA) are doing a good job at catering to the needs of those who sail in the regional or major championships... sailors are coming to those events and most seem to go home happy. These people give very positive feedback (mostly) about things.

3) We (ILCA-NA) are not doing so good a job at catering to those sailors who sail primarily locally and maybe do their District Championship. In my opinion, it is these class members that have not re-upped this year and that we need to get back, especially since this group is the bulk of the class membership.

This has the attention of the ExCom and we are looking at several things right now:
1) Improving the website (navigation is the #1 complaint, readability of the schedule #2, etc. ). There is also some work moving ahead (slowly) to resurrect the fleet listings (which had been so beautifully listed in great detail on DrLaser). Spilling the beans a bit... a committee has been formed consisting of people who have web experience and have already offered suggestions... anyway, was hoping to do an announcement on this but may not be able to before leaving for Fortaleza (unfortunately, I also have a job and they want real work done before I leave...)

2) Improving The Laser Sailor... most feedback indicates people want to keep the current format. Given that, the challenge is how to stuff in the right mix of things that people want to read. Jerelyn is the editor and she has been working hard and I think each issue she puts out is showing great forward progress. In the meantime we are still working on fitting all the stuff that people ask for into that format.

3) Membership renewal drives. Last year was a transition year in the office and we paid the price with no focused membership renewal drive. But, as suggested by Bradley, maybe there should be some giveaways with the membership renewals, with bonuses for renewing early? Speaking of membership, if you buy a new boat you get a free year membership and it is surprising the relatively low redemption rate...

4) Getting our regatta scheduling (including District Championships) done and posted MUCH earlier than last year. We are working on it (and every time it seems done a new conflict or something pops up... but we are making forward progress).

5) Communication... we are all trying harder...

As I said, the good news is that lots of people are out sailing their Lasers and the challenge is not convincing them to sail a Laser (or Radial or 4.7) but rather to support Laser sailing by joining the class.

Anyway, I think all members of the ExCom (Eric Faust, Ben Richardson, LauraLee Symes, JR Futcher and myself) are more than happy to get your feedback, opinions, etc., at any time. You can find our e-mail addresses on the class website, or you can send to and Sherri will forward to us.



Active Member
Bradley's assignment is quite a challenge.

"Shrinking Membership" is an evil moniker which can cause those in search of "what is cool" to look elsewhere. Sometimes I actually believe we can make a group grow just by claiming it is growing.
It will be difficult to write my thoughts and give contributions on this subject while clearly remaining within Bradley's restrictions. For example, the membership of the NA Class is currently just as large as it was when I took over as the Executive Secretary in 1999. The only decrease in membership is as compared to the end of the 35 consecutive months of growth before and including my final month as a class officer. If you leave those three years out of the equasion, the class membership is about as it has been for a decade.
The post 1980 class membership number is doing about as well as it has ever done when it has not had a fanatic like Fred beating the bushes for members. ( there were over 7000 members at the peak in the late 1970s)
Although I believe there are many important things formerly done which are no longer done, this will not be a list of tasks one of you "had better start doing."
There is no "you guys." The only people who will do things for the class are those who have the inclination, time, resources, and ability. I had a unique opportunity from 1999 until 2002. I was provided with access to the resources and time to accomplish tasks which I had the inclination and ability to accomplish.
Therefore, I will take the call for suggestions as a call for suggestions about how we can embark on another period of tremendousl growth.

1. Get the old farts, daddies, and mommies out of the day to day management of the class. The old guys can and must lurk around and pick up the pieces if everything blows up but, we need youthful ignorant unbridled enthusiasm. Let's replace every officer and employee of the class with a Laser sailor who is under the age of 25.
2. Get over yourselves. The task is not that tough. Someone has to schedule sailing events and beg people to come play. There is money to collect for membership and advertisements, a website to run, a newsletter to publish and occasional reports to distribute about where the money went. Any bright 12 year old could run the entire Laser Class. All we have to do is turn the kid loose.
3. Help the new kids and keep doing whatever you have always done to promote Lasering.
4. Give a few thousand dollars of your personnal wealth to the new kids to spend on making it work. it will not be tax deductibvlke and you must just trust they will use it well. Most of you old guys have plenty of money and you won't miss some of it. The class can do incredible things with $1000. For instance I donated $1000 of my money for that set of "Sail It Like You Stole It" Laser bumper stickers. Membership increased by over 400 members in the three months that followed. Was that $1000 investment worth it? I wonder how many new sailing friends I made from those stickers? ( or made for others)
5. Have a NEWSletter. The class magazine has no news anymore. I think that is a mistake. The newsletter used to take about two weeks from layout to your mailbox. The glossy edition might be OK for an annual yearbook issue. As a newsletter the price per column inch is prohibitive. For 2003, I was planning to change the newsletter to a six times a year newspaper. I believe it was a huge mistake to change to a three times a year glossy advertising and not much else publication. We need news that hits mailboxes of sailors as often as possible. Our Class newsletter is the one paid for thing that is touchable. It may as well sell the game to whoever picks it up. By early 2002 me had enough advertising to almost pay for the entire cost of productiuon and distribution. WE can publish a great NEWS;etter, make 5000 extra copies of every issue, leave them sitting everywhere, and get some real use from our publication.
5. Take all the organizational bs and officer articles out of the newsletter and put them on the website. Use the newsletter to INVITE PEOPLE OUT SAILING!!! Nobody is sold on sailing by reading operational and organizational crap. ( In fact, if they are I most lilkely don't want to sail with them anyway.)
6. Put more pictures of more faces in the newsletter. Make every person who picks up a newsletter say, " I want to go play with those people." ( sorry Bradley>>>) I used to make CERTAIN there were photos of local sailors in every area in every newsletter, when you stopped publishing local phhotos, those locals lost interest. Turn that around!!
7. Bumper stickers. Cool edgy bumper stickers. Bumper stickers that an old guy like me would find just a tad bothersome and edgy.
I did my homework and mom let's me sail my Laser ..... just does not cut it.
8. T shirts. Tshirts that old guys like me would find just a tad edgy. T shirts the kids would fight over. T shirts "only one of those laser sailors would wear." would be best.
9. Schedule regattas where "It's happenin" You cannot schedule to a geographic area hoping somebody will take up sailing there.
Example of what's wrong?
Nationals in Houston in 2006? You gotta be kidding. Nobody in Texas is actively campaigning Lasers on a national or world level. Our NA hotshots will show up in Texas because they have to. The rest of the sailors will just see a long drive to a place where nobody any good sails anyway. What is the last big event in Houston that everybody is whining about missing??> Oh yeah...The masters NA Champs with two dozen old guys and a fat guy winning the masters division. That event has to be on every kids mind and they really want to go to Houston huh??
10. Keep telling everybody " We are the fastest growing and best game in the world." I believe it will be a self fulfilling sort of claim. If I am wrong, what is anybody going to do about it? Will we all go to jail because we told them our favorite game is the very best game there is?
11. If you want people to join the class, the class has to demonstrate on a daily basis how it is useful to those who sign up. Many of us pay dues because we are supposed to do that. We need to do stuff to convince the rest of the sailors the payment is something other than a tax.
12. Have a personal renewal day for each member. If everybody else renews on January one, most Laser sailors are the INDIVIDUALS who want to sign up for a year beginning some other day. Further, it is mighty hard to sell those kids at CORK on membership when that membership expires December 31.

and FURTHEST!!!!! and MOST IMPORTANT!!! Membership is mainly about inviting people out to events. If we let memberships expire before using them for an entire year, we lose the OPPORTUNITY to invite sailors out to play with the rest of us.

13. Extension of 12. If you think membership is about paying your fair share or meeting a rule...get over yourself. The only reason we have an association or members or any of that crap is so we can have more and better sailing events. Membership is just a list of people we can invite out to play. We only need more members so we can invite more people. If we could have free membership we would.

14. Extension of 13. The class spends $130,000 and only takes in about $70,000 from the members. Each new member COSTS US MONEY!!! We are happy to spend it and go seek more sources of revenue so we can afford more they can be invited out to play with us.

Summary? Look for Laser sailor fanatics. Turn them loose. Get out of their way. DO NOT attempt to manage them. Send suggestions and coach whenever you can. Support them if you feel compelled to do so. Sail in the events. Invite your friends. Make more friends. Invite them.
Hey Fred,
As usual, lots of great stuff in there... I want to take issue with one piece of it that is a little bit off thread so will do that separately.
Here I just want to keep everyone on track with what we are discussing... Laser/Radial/4.7 sailing is raging like a wild fire throughout the North American Region and the entire World. The problem is NOT that people aren't out sailing Lasers or that more people are not getting into Lasers every day. For evidence you need only look at the pages of this forum and note that the daily thread discussions dwarf even the hey-day of the infamous Laser List. If you are reading this and not currently a Laser sailor don't think we are discussing the demise of Laser sailing, on the contrary, if you are not getting into the boat you are missing the BEST sailing there is to be had in the world, in the BIGGEST fleets with a GREATbunch of people who include the sailors that will be the who's who of sailing when you are old.
And at the same time ILCA-NA is alive and doing quite well. I believe the current office, after a very short startup time, is doing a good job at servicing the core membership which actively sails at the Regional and Major regatta level. There are always issues/problems in organizations like ILCA-NA but I think you have to give this office a lot of credit for the effort they are putting out to solve them.
What we are talking about is current TEMPORARY downward trend in the local/fleet sailor who doesn't regularly travel to Regional or Major events and might not see the benefits of support the class by joining. This is the particular problem we want to work on solving.
I just don't want this to turn into a "sky is falling" thread when that is not the case.

gouvernail said:
9. Schedule regattas where "It's happenin" You cannot schedule to a geographic area hoping somebody will take up sailing there.
Example of what's wrong?
Nationals in Houston in 2006? You gotta be kidding. Nobody in Texas is actively campaigning Lasers on a national or world level. Our NA hotshots will show up in Texas because they have to. The rest of the sailors will just see a long drive to a place where nobody any good sails anyway. What is the last big event in Houston that everybody is whining about missing??> Oh yeah...The masters NA Champs with two dozen old guys and a fat guy winning the masters division. That event has to be on every kids mind and they really want to go to Houston huh??
Three points on Houston as a venue:
1) There ARE people from Texas who actively campaigning on a national and/or world level. Leah Hoepfner (ISAF World Ranking: #16) down in Corpus Christi comes to mind.

2) I'm told Houston has great sailing. Certainly the report from the Master's NA's was fantastic! And I can tell you that Brodie Cobb (displaced Texan living in San Francisco) is already planning to attend.

3) Houston hosted the 2004 Olympic Trials and the US Nationals in the 1990's. They certainly have a good track record at hosting major events.

Personal philosophy (and our point of disagreement?): I believe it is in the best long term interest of the class to move the major championships (in particular the NA's, US Nationals - within the US - and Canadian Nationals - within Canada) around the region. The North American Region is blessed with many very fine sailing venues and we should take advantage of this by holding our big events in as many of them as we can. More importantly, if we started limiting the major events to only the Northeast because there are more class members there it would only serve to regionalize the class. Holding a major event in a particular area usually DOES result in an upswing of local activity as people get ready for the "big event". It can help attract new people to the class, or get old people back into the boat because the event is "local." And, as you said, the top guys are going to come because they want the Worlds berth and/or the GP points.

I think the NA's in Seattle is a great example. 160+ Lasers and Radials and a huge local turnout, including people who might not normally be considered Laser sailors. And that is, coincidentally (?), approximately the same number of entries as at Cedar Point YC for the 2004 NA's (Northeast).

One other reason Houston is good: it is possible to think about driving there. One of the biggest problems with regatta turnout, in the end, is the availability of charter boats. I bet we see a great turnout in Houston, especially, if plans work out, with the GCC's, hopefully in Corpus Christi, the week before (so, two regattas in, say, 10 days). So, find a driver, load up a trailer and send YOUR boat down to the GCC's/US Nationals. Certainly my plan for next year!

Ok, we are talking about two events that are still to be finalized. Thankfully it would appear that the Texas coast may have been spared the destruction wrought by Katrina in the New Orleans area, but I bet people down there aren't concentrating right now on regatta scheduling for 2006.



Active Member
Hey Cool..WE are having a five star discussion here!!!

This will be my last post on this thread for a while. This is not going to be a thread of just Tracy and Fred. More of you must have some decent ideas.

On the other hand, I have watched for the last 20 years hoping someone would take over and run the Laser Class with the same enthusiasm as Allan Broadribb did in the 70s. Allan did a great job when he was in his twenties. Unfortunatly, when he stepped aside, there was no replacement. He came back when he was already way too old to be an enthusiastic maniac kid and did a respectable job anyway. When boring old man Allan and his sweet young wife quit managing the class in the late nineties boring old man me was fool enough to try to fill in for a while but I never wanted the job because I knew when I started I was about 30 years too old to do it correctly. If you are the kid who wants the job, just introduce yourself. This old fart will support you and help you take charge and then watch you run the game.

<<<<Cricket sounds.>>>....

OK so nobody is there yet....

Let me make this point. The NA Laser class is filled with old men like Tracy and Fred have been organizing sailing stuff since they were in their twenties. Our turn is well past over. You punk kids need to boot us out and run your own game. We deserve to have about 20 years of sailing where we can just show up and participate in great racing without lifting a finger.

<<< more cricket sounds>>>>>

What follows are more bits of background and solutions....Until some enthusiastic set of fanatics take over and do the work, most of what I am describing will not happen. Worst of all? If the fanatics do it for a while make things wonderful and then stop...none of you will really do anything to pick up where they left off.

Here goes>>>

I believe the class membership is currently composed almost entirely of people who will join no matter what. Some of them needed a little push or second request but these current members are our solid core group.
Those groups:
Old responsible folks
Kids whose parents pay
Racers who must pay to have access to racing

For the most part, the class can suck as bad as it wants and the 2300 sailors described above will just pay their dues every year and go sail. Laser sailing is the only gmae on the planet and until something else comes along, no effort is necessary.

The people who are not currently joining are the ones who usually ask,
"What's in it for me?"
"How come I have to pay dues just to sail?"
"What do you do with all that money?"
"Who cares if there is an association?"
"Why should I pay dues when I only race locally?"
"Why pay dues to the racing association? I don't race."

In order to expand membership, the class has to interest the borderline groups and create fresh interest in unexpected areas.

Our newsletter can do a lot to bring in many of those "can't see why they oughta pay" sailors. Our management team can do a lot by constantly reminding everyone everywhere that the association does a lot for sailing generally, not just for Laser sailing.
I have continued to harp about the total abandonment of the former class management policy of publishing as many photos of as many faces as we could manage. People love to see their own faces, their friends faces, and faces of winners they already recognize. By publishing fewer total faces in the last three years than in any one issue of the previous 48 issues of the Laser Sailor, we have abandoned the sailors who only paid dues to look at those photos.
Point one: Pictures really matter

Point two: Take photos all over the planet.

Point three: When sailors SEE photos ALREADY published, you MIGHT be able to get them to send in photos of their own. If only two or three photos are published in each issue and the same photos remain on the website for months at a time...?? What are the odds MINE will be published?? Why would anybody bother to send photos?

The class needs to have a person with a camera at EVERY major regatta. Usually the class officer at an event can find 3 to 10 people who will gladly take photos and maybe even get some of their photos published. The class officer who is out sailing in every major regatta must alwayys have a camera on his / her person to take more photos. We need to publish enough photos so that any sailor who receives our magazine will probably recognize a few of the sailors.
The magazine needs to attract sailors and it needs to be used to attract sailors. The prohibitively expensive glossy format makes it impossible to publish the thousands of extra copies we need to distribute. Newsletters need to be so cheap for the class that the management can freely toss newsletters wherever flat places exist. It may only take one Laser Sailor sitting in your local yacht club or sailing center to make the Laser class appear as the class whose act is most together. On the other hand, there are a lot of yacht clubs and sailing centers.
The class used to mail about a thousand copies per issue to fleet captains, yacht clubs, dealers, suppliers, sailmakers, regatta hosts, interested friends, sailing bigshots and whoever else might actually read our magazine and care. Do we still do that? We certainly ought to if we want those thousands of helpers.
Every other periodical on the planet publishes issues and names them so that they arrive before the named period begins. The Laser sailor used to be mailed about ten days into the named period. Fall was mailed at the beginning of October...etc. Perhaps the Class should join the rest of the world and mail the Fall issue so it ABSOLUTELY arrives before September 20....or just call that issue Winter. It is soooo silly but nobody is excited by finding an old periodical.

Yet another point: We are the coolest sailing class. We have the most competitive racing...period. We are the best organization by default. Everybody else is an organization that fosters racing which is inferior to ours. Let's beat our chests and gather all those who want to be associated with the best.

The magazine needs to have plenty for the person who is not really interested in racing. There are tons of things to be published about boat care, trailering, clothing, storage, comfort, and more that non-racers would love to read.

The magazine needs to have more pure entertainment. We need cartoons, jokes, humorous articles, articles about special sailors and things our sailors have done that have nothing to do with sailing. If the magazine is a fun read, people just might take up sailing just to be around the great folks who produce the magazine. ( There are not enough column inches in the current glossy newsletter to publish all that stuff)
Our newsletter has to do a great job of telling people where, when, how, why, and what to sail. When a person anywhere in North American picks up Laser sailor magazine, that personn nought to be able to read about a dozen events that were super fun ...and were already missed. AND!!! There ought to be another couple hundred events described where fun like that already missed can be had.

Point next about making the class valuable to sailors:
Our Class officers have to do things at sailing venues which impress, entertain, and attract sailors. The dead air wiffle ball games at Cedar Point come to mind. Football and Volleyball are Bruce Cup staples. During our years of growth the Class and its officers supplied pizza at CORK, brought soccer balls to St Pete, passed out bumper stickers everywhere, cleaned up trash at most regatta sites, delivered boats to regatta sites, repaired broken boats for distressed competitors, stocked Class paraphenalia and sold it at events, left stacks of newsletters at hundreds of places, provided extra trophies at some regattas, took photos and sent them to sailors and their parents, brought the boom box, chopped up post race watermelons, provided a cell phone to call home, provided footballs, held distance and form contests in plastic bottle squishing, provided race committee, held mast climbing contests, had backwards sailing contests, provided registration staff, babysat, provided sunscreen, and generally made it obvious that the Class was directly involved in making certain things went well and everyone had fun.

If the Class wants to attract members, the class has to do the things the members want to have done.

Currently our NA Class is being managed by a management company. The management company is two really nice people who are doing a very professional job of attempting to provide proper services to our Association. That's nice.
The Laser classs office needs to be managed by a couple fanatic sailors who have no lives outside laser sailing. There is no time for girlfriends, wives, pot, beer, kids, or sailing keelboats. The managers of the NA Class should not have time in their lives for local sailing, shopping, working on the garden or even getting a decent haircut.

The elected volunteer class officers cannot be spending time working at full time jobs, going to school or having well kept yeard and houses. They must be Laser sailing fanatics.

Most important:
Never ever form a committee to plan out a plan to maybe possibly implement a program that might possibly cause a solution to some sort of situation.

In the words of Nike...

Just do it.
Just have one really, really FUN regatta with SERIOUS racing in every district. Get alcohol sponsers, give away free stuff, give away sailing gear, have really good food... pretty much get a lot of people to show up.

And require membership to participate.

Dear Fred and Tracy.....

The chances of me actually reading all of the above are remote.

Or maybe I'm just annoyed I couldn't get away for the Masters Nationals this weekend.

Fred...why don't you come to the MWE this year?

mark grinder

Thanks to Bradley for diplomatically opening this thread. And again thanks to Bradley for keeping the whole concept of sharing ideas and our accumulated experience available, as he started and maintains this forum. I've been active, hopefully in an attempt to rebuild the database of information.

Thanks to Fred for his many years of service, and good humor (which does go over the head of more than a few!). And my thanks to Tracy for taking the task on, and staying in touch with the forum.

My first boat was 1041, and I have 4 or 5 now. Our local fleet is strong, growing, but it has cycled up and down. Masters win their share, and the hot kids thrash us when the wind is in their weight range.

However, most of our club sailors, 40+, prabably aren't members, don't aspire to GP Points, etc. The hot juniors love the laser, but also race 420's, FJ's, Lightenings, and even a tubby J24 or whatever now and then. They can't afford to focus on Lasers only while on the trail to top collegiate teams, or higher goals, such as the AC or the Olympics.

These kids are our future strenght, as Fred has stated. But the AC boats, and others will draw them away to various fames and fortunes. The question should be not hot to retain them, but how to entertain them, until they return from the battles of youth, and want to be bashed around the race course, having the simple fun and enjoyment of singlehanding a true one design again.

At present, the class, and the magazine etc. seem to be aimed at, and entertain the elite, the GP point chaser, the World's aspirant, etc. As Fred says, they'll pay anyway.

I do think the class should focus on the younger, newer racers. Get them on the class roster, and keep them there while they roam the world. Cover them with T shirts and stickers, whenever Larry Ellison or whomever is not dictating their uniform-of-the-day.

Remember "Oakley Factory Pilot", or "Oakley Thermonuclear Protection" stuck on car/truck windows? These two stickers built a brand out of nothing. Cheap plastic shades, now a marketing history case study.

And, adjust to modern communication. Instant. Timely, imformative, and with a searchable database for past references. Yup, like the Forum. DrLaser was good for it's day, but today it'd be more like the Enclopedia Britannica. This is the present, the future is unknown, but the past is clearly the 3 month old data and pics showing up in a glossy coffee table magazine. (Hey, I do like the magazine, but I'm 56, so my opinion is nada.) Instant is the future, so figure our a way to make it happen, then drag your loyal advertisers along, kicking and screaming if need be.

Update this new website site daily, ease the "delete"/password confusion that causes litter on the classifieds, connect it to Google, get the Newport FB recaps connected, etc...

Like this morning.... My 16 YO says "Dad, My Principal made me scape off the Ass ("Laser girls kick ass") off my Nalgene bottle, can you get me another?"

Well, why can't I get one, with just a few clicks, a credit card...? And have a choice of an APS, Tackle Shack, Rooster, or Vanguard sticker/hat/T at the same time? Pass the order on, let them "fulfill".

I'm with Fred on his point, get a 20' something on the road, updating the website from a hotel room, or from someone's spare bedroom after some Tuesday night race, or a Newport FB Sunday. Vanguard has them, figure out a way to share?

Isn't Bradley a perfect example of this concept :) (or is he not a 20 something yet? ;-)

Al Russell 182797