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All Aboard! The Low Down on Sailing in Hong Kong

By Sophie Pettit 17 August 2017
With our fantastic harbour, 733km of coastline, and a rich history of maritime adventures, you would think that sailing would be pumping through the veins of every Hong Konger. However, our our best “sailors” to date have been windsurfers, with Cheung Chau’s most famous daughter, Lee Lai Shan, windsurfing her way to Hong Kong’s one and only Olympic gold in 1996. That said, things are starting to look more shipshape, as Rob Partridge, Head Racing Coach at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) explains. "The standard of sailing is now quite high and, as of March last year, sailing joined the ranks of sports that will receive ‘Tier A’ support from the Elite Training Programme run by the Hong Kong Sports Federation." The goal is to get Hong Kong sailors to the next Olympics! Another significant event is Hong Kong Race Week, which takes place in February every year out of the RHKYC’s Middle Island facility. Co-organised by the Hong Kong Sailing Federation (HKSF) and the RHKYC, the event has grown in popularity since it was launched in 2014. This year, 247 sailors from 12 nations are setting sail, and the event will incorporate the ASAF Youth Sailing Cup, a regional event that takes place in India, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and now, Hong Kong. So how will Hong Kong fare? “Most of the classes should do very well,” says Partridge. “India has some competitive teams, and we’re expecting China to send a strong contingent, but I expect our guys to be out at the front, if not leading."

So you want to be a sailor?

With multi-million dollar yachts cruising across the harbour, sailing can be perceived as an elitist sport. However, learning the ropes is actually very accessible. Sailing comes in many shapes and sizes, including the humble windsurfer (from a race category point of view). When it comes to dinghy sailing, children tend to start out in tiny Optimists and then graduate to single and double-handed dinghies such as Lasers or 29ers. Adults usually start training in two-man dinghies such as Wayfarer dinghies before moving on to Olympic class dinghies or even keelboats or yachts. And, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to own a boat to sail one. Experienced sailors can usually catch a ride by contacting the race office and offering their services as crew at one of Hong Kong’s private yacht clubs, The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, Aberdeen Boat Club, Hebe Haven Yacht Club, or Hong Kong Hobie Club. If don’t yet have the know-how, there are plenty of opportunities to get qualified. As well as the training courses offered at several private clubs, Hong Kong’s Leisure & Cultural Services Department runs training courses at its water sports centres at Stanley Main Beach, St. Stephen’s Beach, Tai Mei Tuk, and Wong Shek in Sai Kung.

Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC)

sailing With over 160 years of sailing and rowing experience, RHKYC is one of Hong Kong's oldest sports clubs, and at the very heart of the city's sailing community. While priority is given to RKHYC members, non-members are more than welcome to sign up and set sail at Middle Island.

Courses available

Structured training courses are held for both children and adults, with certifications awarded by the HKSF. The basic certifications are Level 1 and 2, and the RHKYC offers a 5-day course for adults ($4,990/non-member – June 2017) where students learn how to helm and crew a two-man dinghy. At the end of the course, successful students will be able to sail in light airs, without an instructor on board, and they will receive a RHKYC Level 2 Sailing Certificate. Those who attend, but do not reach the required level, will receive a Level 1 Certificate. Children can start learning to sail at the age of six, following a four-step programme. Older children, 11 years and up, will follow the HKSF Level 1-4 programme, and those with passion and talent can join the racing squads. Top tip! These certifications are internationally recognised and will, for example, allow you to rent boats from the Leisure & Cultural Service Department facilities. 

How to enrol

Download the appropriate application form from the Club's website once you have selected your course. RHKYC, Kellett Island, Causeway Bay, (+852) 2812 7063

Leisure & Cultural Services Department (LCSD)

water sports With beautiful locations and rock-bottom prices, the LCSD offers a very tempting introduction to sailing. With five water sports centres located across Hong Kong, you are never too far from an adventure on the high seas. In addition to their training courses, the LCSD also organises regattas for certified sailors, and has a fleet of sailing boats available for hire for incredibly low rates - we're talking $30 per hour on the weekends! Of course, you must have the appropriate certifications and paperwork to apply online, through the water sports centres themselves, or through the Leisure Link Telephone Services Centre at (+852) 2927 8080.

Courses available 

The LCSD runs a considerable number of very economically priced sailing courses for both kids and adults. For between $70 to $200, you can hoist the main sail, with HKSF certification being awarded on completion of the appropriate courses. The main medium of instruction is in Cantonese, but all instructors are bilingual so there are no excuses! In addition to their training courses, the LCSD also organises regattas for certified sailors. Click here to check out their full course list.

How to enrol

Unfortunately, it's not all plain sailing at LCSD. The enrolment process is rather lengthy, with multiple stages and application opportunities.
  1. As many courses are oversubscribed, most places are allocated through the LCSD’s ‘balloting’ system, where the successful applicants are chosen through a ballot. You can even witness the process to ensure that the selection is totally fair.
  2. Courses are usually posted on the LCSD site for application to the ballot about 2 months before the course takes place. Simply click here to select your preferred course type. Application forms can be submitted in person, by post or by fax or through the internet.
  3. On ballot day (the date of which is indicated on the application), the LCSD will draw and notify the successful applicants, who must pay the course fee within seven days of the ballot to take up their place.
  4. Of course not everyone pays up so the LCSD pens a waiting list at the same time that they draw the ballot. Once the payment deadline passes, any remaining places are offered to those on the waiting list.
  5. But it doesn’t end there. If the reserves don't fill the course places, the remaining spaces are then offered on a first-come, first-served basis through the ‘Open Enrolment for Remaining Quota’ system.
  6. If you can’t cope with the balloting system and have a flexible schedule, you can just jump straight to the Open Enrollment system and take your chances.
This balloting system is how most LCSD resources (from bird-watching courses to tennis courts) are allocated, so once you get the hang of it, Hong Kong will be your playground. Click here for details of the five water sports centres located across Hong Kong.

Aberdeen Boat Club (ABC)

abc Founded in 1967, ABC is a long-standing member of the Hong Kong sailing community. Their Learn to Sail courses cater for a whole range of ages and capabilities, and both members and non-members are welcome to join. Private tuition is also available, along with the opportunity to dabble in the world of kayaking and windsurfing.

Courses available

Adult courses check in at around $4,000 to $5,000 for non-members, and junior courses will set you back around $1,000 to $2,000. In line with the Hong Kong Sailing Federation (HKSF) syllabus, adult beginners will set sail in a small yet tough, one or two person, Pico. Over the course of five days, you will master the basics of rigging, wind awareness, and the capsize drill, before progressing to a more spacious and challenging Laser 2000 Dinghy. On completion of the course, successful sailors will be awarded a HKSF Level one or two certificate, depending on their understanding and capability on board. ABC's beginner course opens the door for hiring club dinghies, and also enrolling in their Intermediate Courses. For sailors with existing experience, the three-day Laser 2000 courses and sociable trips are a fantastic way to put their skills to use out on the water. These versatile boats are manageable for those with limited experience, whilst still providing excitement when sailed at a more challenging level. The Junior Sailing Programme, which welcomes kids aged 7 to 11, has introduced nearly 2,000 young sailors to the high seas since it launched back in 2007. Students start off in specially designed Optimist dinghies, with progression through the four stage course taking them from beginner to club racer. Older children can enrol in the Youth Sailing Scheme, which builds on the foundations of the Junior Sailing Programme, and equips pupils with the confidence to go solo in Poco dinghies.

How to enrol

Click here to fill out your application form. ABC, 20 Shum Wan Road, Aberdeen, (+852) 2552 8182

Hebe Haven Yacht Club (HHYC)

hebe haven Whatever direction you want to take your sailing career in - whether it's achieving qualifications, racing, or socialising on the open seas - HHYC welcomes students of all ages and abilities through its doors. If you fancy hoisting the main sail, but want to learn more before you sign up, head down to HHYC for the open day on March 20, (10am - 5pm). With free sailing trials and demonstrations, as well as fun games, a bouncy castle, and a selection of food stalls, the whole family will be entertained as you suss out the sails.

Courses available

Adult enthusiasts can enrol in a five-day HKSF course, held monthly, for $3,675 (non-member). Catering for the total beginner, right through the regular sailor, on completion of all four HKSF levels, the successful student will be confident handling a high performing sailing dinghy. ASA and HKYF qualification courses are scheduled regularly throughout the year. Youngsters can join aged seven, and progress through the four-stage Slam programme. Their monthly Junior Sailing Family Fun Day gives your kids the chance to test out the water and see if sailing is a hobby they would like to take on. Plus there are jam-packed adventure weeks during the school holidays starting at $2,200 (non-member).

How to enrol

Simply download and fill out the application form, and return it to HHYC. HHYC, Hiram's Highway, Pak Sha Wan, Sai Kung, (+852) 2719 0926

Hong Kong Catamaran Club (CATA)

CATA REAL Founded by CATA, the American Sailing Association Hong Kong Sailing School is the first Hong Kong organisation to be officially affiliated with this American body. With a whole range of discounts and special offers, flexible classes scheduled at mutually convenient times, CATA is sure to put the wind in your sails.

Courses available

Perfect for the total beginner, Hong Kong Catamaran Club has a variety of one to three-day intensive programmes which will fast-track your learning process. With no prior experience required, you can enrol in Basic Keelboat Sailing ($3,900) or Coastal Navigation ($5,000). Experienced ASA instructors will help you to navigate your vessel through a multitude of weather conditions, during the day and at night, both as an individual and as part of a crew. Armed with your first ASA qualification, you can then explore Basical Coastal Cruising ($5,900) and Cruising Catamaran ($9,900). Click here to view their full course list.

How to enrol

To find out more information and submit your application, give CATA a call. CATA, Room 1703, Tung Wai Commercial Building, 109 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, (+852) 2511 9398
Read more! Looking for other ways to get in shape? Check out these 8 Wacky Workouts, or take a hike.

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Sophie Pettit


Sophie is always on the lookout for a great story and her next big adventure and loves nothing more than discovering the city’s hidden gems—and most delicious cocktails. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s off travelling and ticking countries off her bucket list.