YMCA Aquatics - Sailing Program

20230629 Sailboats

Learn sailing, seamanship, and water safety from our sailing club located in Kawaihae. Open to ages 10 and up!

YMCA supports a program to instruct youth in sailing small boats. It is our goal to build a program which serves the community and expands recreational opportunities in Kawaihae.


Students must be members of the YMCA and weekly tuition is $225

Youth Sailing Program

Island of Hawaii YMCA Youth Sailing Program introduces young participants, ages 10-17 yrs, to the fundamentals of sailing in small, single-handed, or double-handed boats known as “Dinghy’s”.  Our program uses El Toros, Toppers, Lasers and RS Favas.

What To Expect:

  • Introduction to Sailing: The program starts with an overview of basic sailing concepts, including boat parts, wind direction, points of sail, and safety procedures.
  • Onshore Instruction: Participants learn sailing theory and terminology through classroom-style instruction or interactive sessions led by experienced instructors. This includes topics such as boat handling, rigging, knots, and navigation.
  • Boat Familiarization: Students are introduced to the dinghy they'll be sailing, learning about its various components and how to rig and prepare it for sailing.
  • On-Water Practice: Participants transition to on-water sessions where they put theory into practice. They learn how to launch and recover their dinghies, maneuver in different wind conditions, steer, tack, and gybe.
  • Safety Training: Safety is emphasized throughout the program. Participants learn about personal flotation devices (PFDs), capsize recovery techniques, and how to respond to emergencies while on the water.
  • Skill Progression: As participants gain confidence and proficiency, the program progresses to more advanced skills such as sailing upwind, downwind, and across the wind, as well as mastering techniques for controlling boat speed and direction.
  • Race Training (Optional): Our Advanced Intermediate programs may offer an introduction to dinghy racing for those interested, covering racing rules, starting procedures, tactics, and strategy.
  • Teamwork and Communication: All our programs involve double-handed dinghies, participants learn the importance of teamwork and effective communication between skipper and crew.
  • Environmental Awareness: Our programs incorporate lessons on environmental stewardship, teaching participants about the importance of protecting marine ecosystems and practicing Leave No Trace principles while sailing.
  • Fun and Enjoyment: Above all, our programs are designed to be enjoyable and rewarding for participants, fostering a lifelong love for sailing and the water.

Throughout the program, safety is a top priority, and instructors closely supervise participants to ensure a safe and positive learning experience. Additionally, the program will culminate in a celebration graduation event where participants can demonstrate the skills they've acquired to family and friends.

2024 Sailing Programs

Beginning Youth Summer Sailing Class Schedule:

For eligible youths ages 10 thru 17, classes, with a maximum of 10 students, are held as weekly sessions as specified below, Monday thru Thursday from 8 AM to 3 PM. While 1 session is needed to successfully complete a class and demonstrate basic sailing proficiency and boating safety, sailors can learn at their own pace and may benefit from more than 1 session.

  • Session 1 June 3rd thru June 6th
  • Session 2 June 10th thru June 13th   
  • Session 3 June 17th thru June 20th
  • Session 4 June 24th thru June 27th

Intermediate Youth Summer Sailing Class Schedule:

  • Session 5 July 8th thru July 11th
  • Session 6 July 15th thru July 18th
  • Session 7 July 22nd thru July 25th


Students must be members of the YMCA and weekly tuition is $225

Eligibility Beginners:

  • Must be less than 6 ft tall; and less than 200 lbs (boats used for instruction do not permit larger sizes in this class.
  • Must be water safe: capable of continuously swimming 50 yards with a life jacket on.
  • Must be sufficiently agile that the sailor can pull themselves back into the boat after capsizing.
  • Must agree to adhere to the Code of Conduct and Safety Rules

Eligibility Intermediate:

  • Must be less than 280 lbs (limited by boats used for instruction)
  • Must have passed prior beginning sailing instruction or had comparable prior personal experience on a comparable watercraft
  • Must be capable of independently rigging, derigging, and launching the boat
  • Must be water safe: capable of swimming 50 yards with a life jacket on
  • Must be sufficiently strong and agile that the sailor can pull themselves back into the boat after capsize
  • Must agree to adhere to the Code of Conduct and Safety Rules


Kawaihae South Small Boat Harbor

South Gate Entrance of Kawaihae Harbor off of HI-270; Take a left through Gate 13 and follow the road back to the small boat harbor. The YMCA Aquatics facility is inside the fenced area to the left as you enter the main gate into the harbor. Each class day, staff will receive sailors after 7:45 AM and return sailors at 3 PM  at the old ‘Wind-On Water Pavillion’ inside the fenced area.

The sailing venue will be on the waters either inside or immediately outside the breakwater (within ~0.5 miles) of the small boat harbor. Boats will be launched from the ramp at the far end of the small boat harbor, close to the bathrooms.


Boats and gear are stored at the YMCA Aquatics Center in the enclosed and locked yard and shipping containers. On the first day of each session sailors will be issued a fitted life jacket and a large plastic tub for personal belongings.

Neil Barth YMCA Sailing Instructor

Neil Barth

YMCA Sailing Instructor

I have been a lifelong sailor since the age of 8. Growing up in Midwest sailing programs on the Great Lakes, I raced competitively in sailing programs through college (Notre Dame) and Medical School. I started in Sabots and went on to own and race competitively in Thistles, OK Dingy, Lasers, Fireball, Flying Junior, 420, Int 470, Finn.  I worked after school and weekends for a local sailmaker in Cleveland starting from age 12 to 26 where I learned all aspects of sailmaking from handwork to design. That experience opened innumerable ocean racing opportunities including: 3 trans-Atlantic’s, 6 Bermuda Races, 6 SORC circuits, and multiple years of regattas and long-distance races on the Great lakes

After relocating to California for my medical internship and residency, I began a 40-year avocation of big boat ownerships including an Olson 30, J-44, Andrews 53, ILC 40 and 2 Volvo 60's including Yamaha (Whitbread Round the World Winner '93-'94).and America's Challenge (Volvo Ocean Race ‘97-'98). In addition to years of racing in So Cal, San Francisco Bay, and Mexico I have completed 4 Trans-Pac races, won overall honors in the Hawaiian Kenwood Cup '94 US Red Team, and the San Diego to Tahiti Race. All of this culminated in the Volvo Ocean Race ('97-''98).

Sailing has provided the motivation for learning self-sufficiency on the water. I have acquired skills in boat maintenance and repair, sailmaking, electronics, and navigation. Today, I am a recently retired medical oncologist, husband, and father of 6 children, and 4 grandchildren. I love and appreciate kids and the learning process. I am excited to connect with our community through the YMCA sailing venue and to help build a program that will spark an interest in sailing, seafaring, and life skills.


Beau Donegan  MBA

Assistant Sailing Instructor

I have been a pleasure sailor for most of my adult life and welcomed the opportunity to help revitalize the YMCA’s Aquatics program in Kawaihae Harbor in the summer of 2022. I have a keen understanding of sailing techniques, safety protocols, and equipment handling.  Combining years of experience in operations, leadership development, executive coaching, I possess valuable communication skills which enable me to coordinate effectively with team members, students, parents and respond promptly to changing conditions on and off the water. With the challenging sailing environment of our harbor, safety and communication is my primary role.  Working with the keiki’s of our community the past couple of years has been a true blessing.

Beau Donigan

A Brief History of the YMCA Sailing Program

In 1994, a small group of sailors got together with the vision of creating a youth sailing program at Kawaihae for North and Kohala. We partnered with YMCA and connected with Guy Fleming, Youth Program Director at Waikiki Yacht Club and Regional Instructor Trainer for U.S. Sailing. Guy came over and taught an instructor course for us at the Kona Sailing Club.

1994 was the first year of sailing at Kawaihae, using two Lasers rescued from the boneyard at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. We obtained a permit to operate at a small yard on the outside of the Army fence at the Kawaihae Harbor LST ramp. In 1995 we even built a 16 foot power skiff at the former wood shop at Waimea Middle School. Guy Fleming came to teach another course in 1996, this time using the Kawaihae Terminals meeting room for classroom work.

In 2001, we obtained a permit to operate at the unfinished Kawaihae South Small Boat Harbor, where we dedicated a proper facility, funded by Fritz Jewett and Weyerhauser Corporation, and built completely by volunteers. A full range of sailing , seamanship, and water safety courses, including sailing outrigger canoe training, were offered until approximately 2005.  The facility was maintained by volunteers in the interim. Prior to the completion of the new small boat harbor, we were required to move to our present location, and youth sailors learned new skills, those of launch and recovery of boats in the old Hawaiian style. With the new harbor, we now have a double launch ramp for the future.