The Obstacles facing women in sailing

The Obstacles facing women in sailing

The obstacles facing women sailors 

The conversation around women in sport has been getting louder over the past few years as more and more women have stood up to demand equality. Sailing is not immune to these criticisms. While girls and boys start out sailing and competing together, and our Performance Teams are gender blind, there is a group in the middle where we see teenage girls dropping out (as they do in all sports), and female participation numbers dropping as the demands of career, family and life take over.  

Below is some of the information and hard facts out there that paint a picture of the obstacles facing women sailors. We’ve brought some of the data together here to show the reasoning behind why we think women in sailing are worth going that extra mile for.  

If there’s anything you’d like to discuss with us or find out more about the Women Take the Helm programme, please get in touch.  



World Sailing Trust published the Women in Sailing Strategic Review in December 2019 in which they interviewed 4,500 people from 75 countries.

They found the following: 

  • 80% of female respondents and 56% of male respondents believe that gender balance is an issue in our sport* 

  • 59% of female respondents and 14% of male respondents say they have experienced discrimination  

  • Discrimination worsens with age with 71% of women 26-30 years saying they have experienced discrimination 

  • Discrimination occurs across all classes, but female respondents had a slightly better experience in dinghy sailing 

  • For non-athletes in our sport, 56% of women race management have experienced discrimination 

  • 73% of female umpires have experienced gender-based discrimination 

  • In clubs, 57% of women involved in club management and 62% of women involved in administration cited experiencing incidents of gender discrimination 


    61% of female event organisers, 62% of female volunteers and 56% of all female coaches have experienced discrimination 


In sailing’s large and most prestigious events, there are a “negligible number of women participating”: 

  • Americas Cup 2016/2017 0% 

  • Ocean Race 2017/2018 24% 

  • Vendee Globe 2021 21% 

  • RORC Caribbean 600 12% 

  • Rolex Fastnet 10% 



A recent report in Sailing World (Kelly McGlynn, March 2022) used data from the Yachtscoring regatta registration platform between August 2020 and September 2021 that showed the low numbers of women competing: 

  • 16% of competitors across all regattas were women 

  • 11% of classes had less than 5% women 

  • Only 12% of classes had more than 30% female participation  

  • Less than 1% of classes had more than 50% women 

  • 78% of sailors competed in classes that have less than 20% women 

  • Only 5% of professional sailors (as classified by World Sailing) competing in these regattas are women 



Closer to home, the Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport Policy launched in March 2019 with the vision for women in sport “to have equal opportunity to achieve their potential while enjoying a lifelong involvement in sport”. 

  • In the report they refer to data from the Irish Sports Monitor showing that 40.8% of females regularly participate in sport. This figure rose to 41% in the 2022 mid-year ISM report but there remains a 5-point difference in participation with men (males are 46%) highlighting the gender gap 

  • 63% of 16-17 year old girls and young women do NOT participate in club sports 

  • 23% of national governing body chairs are female and 23% of national governing body CEOs 

  • 3% of sports print media articles are devoted to women’s sport 

  • 4% of online coverage is devoted to women’s sport 


20 x 20 

The 20 x 20 campaign launched in 2018 and spearheaded by the Irish Federation of Sport aimed at shifting Ireland’s cultural perception of women’s sport by three metrics: boosting media coverage, attendance at women’s events, and participation by women in sport each by 20% by 2020. 



  • The Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) stats on women’s participation show that in 2021 only 20 of 417 keelboat listed are owned by women 

  • 26% of senior instructors are female 

  • The Board of Irish Sailing does not drop below 40% women directors 

  • 32 Irish National Championship regattas were surveyed from 2022 to see the percentage of women helms competing: 

  • Only two classes have 50% or more women helms 

  • 4 classes have between 43-45% women helms 

  • 13 x classes have between 38-11% women helms 

  • 13 x classes have less than 10% women helms with 7 of those classes having NO women helms 


The Irish Sailing Women Take the Helm Programme includes the following: 

  • Annual Irish Sailing Women at the Helm regatta, sponsored by Sia Partners  

  • Training bursary programme for clubs, classes or centres to offer various training options including instructing, power boat training, regional women helm events, and women’s coaching 

  • Mentorship programme lead by professional sailor Pamela Lee, for women to develop their knowledge, skills and career development 

  • Women in Sport Leadership programme with Sport Ireland and Swim Ireland 

  • Funding for Sport Ireland Coaching Programme  

  • Sport Ireland Women in Coaching Conference   

  • Working with ICRA on research around women and boat ownership 

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