International Accredited Facilities To Boost Emirate’s Leisure and Marine Tourism Potential 

Visitors to Abu Dhabi will soon have a far wider choice of world-class watersport facilities to choose from, as a number of leading internationally-accredited sailing centres of excellence come on-line in the next few months.  

The increased development of on-water activities, a major fillip in the emirate’s ongoing pursuit to establish international credentials as a premier winter watersports destination, follows hot-on-the-heels of Abu Dhabi’s historic hosting, last January, of the Volvo Ocean Race – the gruelling round-the-world sailing odyssey debuted in the Middle East over the New Year.  

The swelling watersport activation is being spearheaded by the Abu Dhabi Sailing & Yacht Club (ADSYC), which is now based at the 55,000m² Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village site on the UAE capital’s Corniche breakwater built by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) to host the race.  

\ADYSC will open its Sailing & Rowing Academy with a winter training programme in September, with courses for optimist, laser, catamaran and keelboat classes. All instructors will be certified by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA). Within a year the centre will be RYA recognised, allowing it to provide students with internationally recognised certificates at the end of the courses. Open to visitors and residents, ADSYC will cater to walk-in guests and offer everything from daily boat rentals to full developmental training programmes.  

“The Volvo Ocean Race has spurred the development of sailing in Abu Dhabi, in particular the ambition to develop serious homegrown sailing talent. Abu Dhabi has a long heritage of sailing and we wish to continue this tradition by developing  strong youth sailing programmes  We want to expand the number of competitors in youth sailing and work towards opening up our facilities to visitors eager to experience Abu Dhabi’s beautiful – and plentiful - waters,” said Majed Ateeq Al Mehairi, CEO, ADSYC.  

“One of our objectives is to create a development path which allows and encourages young sailors to progress in the maritime industry as sailing instructors, shore crew, etc… all the way to professional  yachtsmen. For this we are working to develop certification programmes and host keel boating, match racing and yachting regattas in Abu Dhabi.  In addition, given Abu Dhabi’s increased prominence as an emerging sailing destination, we want to facilitate ease of access for in-bound tourists looking to have their own on-water experiences.”  

The move to introduce internationally-recognised RYA courses is expected to increase the emirate’s appeal to visitors, as they will facilitate a uniformed skill standard. In layman’s terms, the new measures will make it simpler and safer for qualified visitors to rent boats with minimum fuss.  

“Bringing our courses up to international standards means our trainees can go abroad safe in the knowledge that their qualification is recognised and accepted world-wide. It also reassures visitors coming to our facilities of the quality on offer and allows them to easily rent craft suited to their skill-set. The whole process is now far more streamlined, enjoyable and, ultimately, safer,” said Al Mehairi.  

“For visitors looking to gain additional qualifications during a holiday, they can now take a course with us that will be valid overseas – this gives the emirate a greater depth of offering and spreads our global appeal.”  

To target schools and youth development, ADSYC will launch the inaugural Varsity Sailing League this year. Initially a 100 student programme across six Abu Dhabi-based schools, the league will introduce UAE national and expatriate youngsters to the sport and provide a critical future development path.  

Additionally, the UK’s Cowes-based Pelican Racing expects to open its own RYA Recognised Training Centre in Abu Dhabi this October. The Pelican Marine Sports Academy (PMSA) will be based at the 131-berth Al Bandar Marina and will be Pelican’s first international sailing school outside Britain.  

“Abu Dhabi was selected as our first overseas site from our Cowes training company based on factors such as growth potential, attractiveness as a winter sailing destination for European sailors and the fact that it is extremely well suited to sailing. The potential to all concerned was obvious,” said Ian Gilmour, Managing Director, PMSA.  

“We formed the company just as the Volvo Ocean Race was announced. Abu Dhabi involvement in the race illustrated the destination’s seriousness about sailing and encouraged us to get involved. We plan to be part of the emirate’s Volvo Ocean Race legacy and ensure - at the grassroots level - that people young and old can get top quality sailing tuition. We want to provide kids with access to facilities that will allow them to emulate their heroes, whether it is Adil Khalid, the first Emirati to contest the race, or Ian Walker who skippered the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew and entry.”  

Starting with four RYA instructors, Gilmour says the Al Bandar facilities will grow in tandem with the uptake of the sport, and that the continued activation of the emirate’s sailing heritage, twinned with the opening of further world-class facilities, will be instrumental in the sport’s increasing popularity.  

“We have the planned capacity to run courses for up to 100 students a week. We aim to start small and grow alongside demand, mostly around sailing but also for powerboat courses, which do not exist in Abu Dhabi at the moment. We will also run safety boat courses to establish a basic level of training for safety boat drivers from various regional sailing clubs. The courses will help assist increasing the professionalism and safety for support staff at regattas and training events,” said Gilmour.  

“We need to get the whole sailing eco system working. That means not only offering RYA recognised sailing tuition, but creating individuals and companies that are skilled in boat and sail repair, engine maintenance, sailing holiday packages and staging regattas to attract pro sailors to the region.  

“This means we need critical mass in sailing, and that is going to take time - it will not happen overnight. We need to be realistic about how long it takes to build. Through positive messaging through the media, grass roots events and education, the next time we see Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in the capital’s waters, there will be more people able to comprehend the excitement generated by this classic test of human endurance.”

The sentiments were echoed by Belevari Marine’s Founder and Managing Director, Capt. Berend Lens van Rijn, who has been offering yacht charter and sailing experience in Abu Dhabi since 2004, and started his own training courses on July 1st.    

“The Volvo Ocean Race really helped get people out on the water and now we need to keep the momentum going with government support to further grow the possibilities. We need to get more people out on the water from all age groups and nationalities to increase interest. We also need to get corporates involved which will further help grow the sport’s penetration and its appeal to a wider audience,” said Lens van Rijn, who operates catamaran cruises of UAE capital’s coastline.   

“We expect to host 100 students a week when we start the programmes. We will have introduction courses on the first Sunday of every month and then students can sign up to a six-lesson package. We will also be increasing our tour packages for visitors, who want to experience the emirate’s stunning coastline without the hassle of sailing.”  

According to Abu Dhabi’s 2030 plan, the government hopes to set up 45 marinas with enough space to cater to 10,000 luxury yachts on top of the current six that expect to serve up to 1,600 vessels over the next 20 years.  

This is in line with Abu Dhabi’s hotel guest projections, which anticipate 7.9 million guests a year by 2030.