COVID-Compliant Member Engagement at the Royal Cork Yacht Club

When I was elected Admiral of the Royal Cork in January 2020, the membership and I were looking forward to a significant diary of events to mark the yacht club’s tricentenary year. I had my first meeting with regards to our tricentenary in 2012 and in all the discussions throughout the next eight years, I don’t think I ever heard any suggestions of a global pandemic as something we needed to consider in our contingency plans! But as we all know, COVID-19 changed everything and still continues to affect how we operate our respective clubs.

Member engagement has always been a key topic at ICOYC Forums and I have no doubt will continue to be part of our conversations long after the current health crisis is over. In my opinion, there are some good things which have emerged as a result of the pandemic, not least the manner in which we engage with our membership.

As a result of COVID-19, many of our tricentenary events were cancelled, the club was closed to members for considerable periods as we went from lockdown to lockdown, and thoughts quickly turned to the financial impact on the club. Traditionally, we sent a digital weekly newsletter, occasional updates posted by mail, and updates on social media channels. Member events largely consisted of physical gatherings at the club, which normally included a dining option.

What became crystal clear to all on the Club Executive—the members charged with the overall strategic direction of the club—was that all members needed to be very clear of the value their membership provided to them especially at a time when they could not physically experience the club infrastructure, such as the bar, restaurant and other facilities.



What we did…

  • Video Updates: As Admiral, I recorded video updates which were sent at regular intervals telling members what was happening at their club. These were well-received, particularly by the older members, but they ran a bit long for the younger generation at 4-5 minutes!
  • Themed Talks by Members: Our most popular online event of the year was a talk on hidden anchorages in Cork Harbour. Members young and old spoke about their memories and experiences, making for a great online experience.
  • Member’s Survey: A new 5-year strategic plan for the club is being developed so members were asked to have their say. Key topics were identified and a sample of the membership will be involved with fine tuning to ultimately result in a document brought to the membership for approval at next Annual General Meeting.
  • Admirals Chace: Members of all ages in vessels of all types “chaced” the Admiral who signalled the fleet by flag and cannon as to his intentions! Great fun for families and friends that ended in a club BBQ back ashore.
  • Virtual Racing: Online racing amongst members which ultimately led to team challenges between clubs.
  • Junior Colouring Competitions: With so many children being home schooled by parents who were trying to adapt to new working practices during lockdown, the Club issued drawings to be coloured by our younger members and submitted for simple prizes. It was well-received by struggling parents.
  • Outdoor Dining: A marquee was erected on club grounds to facilitate dining operations, with a revamped simplified menu that proved to be a hit with members. We saw the same families dining regularly who had not been seen previously. Interestingly, with the most recent lifting of restrictions to allow indoor dining, on the first night that this was available 70 opted to remain outdoors with only four opting to return to the dining room. I am sure this will change as winter sets in, but it’s food for thought!
  • Online AGM: Highest turnout in years.
  • Team Racing Dinghies: Irish Sailing Association recently purchased six Firefly dinghies which were made available to any member clubs. Royal Cork secured them for a 24-month period and used them to revive team racing within the club and attract some of our younger adult members to return to sailing. They also enabled us to host challenge events with other clubs.
  • Way Back When: We launched a series of articles written by members covering events that happened in living memory. The 25 articles so far have inspired great discussion amongst the membership and further afield.
  • Tricentenary Regatta: Our main Cork300 events of which the At Home Regatta was one, had all been postponed from 2020. I was adamant that no matter what, some form of regatta must happen – our members needed it. We undertook a parade of sail with more than 100 boats participating with the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) and other dignitaries reviewing from an Irish Naval Vessel, a sponsors’ lunch with the Taoiseach, a BBQ for members and guests, racing for all classes, and on the Sunday, a large BYO COVID-compliant picnic on the lawn with family events, such as crab fishing and parents’ races before events concluded with a refreshed COVID-compliant prize giving.

COVID has taught us there is no one solution to membership engagement. You must continue to evolve and try new things to maintain an engaged membership who appreciate their role in the club and are happy to participate in ways that are meaningful for them.