March 25, 2024

Contact: Layla Airola (

Historic Student-Run Yacht Club in Jeopardy on UW Campus

Seattle, WashingtonWhat happens to a student sailing club when you deny it access to water?


University of Washington (UW) students are about to find out since administrators have informed a 75-year-old student sailing club that they are no longer welcome on the UW’s waterfront.


The Washington Yacht Club (WYC) has learned that, as of July 2024, they won’t be allowed to keep their boats at the student-funded waterfront, ending the long tradition of students sailing on the UW campus. The announcement followed a multi-year-long project plan to remove most of the docks for student use at the waterfront. UW Recreation never consulted student organizations during the planning and has yet to show a good-faith effort to accommodate the club despite over 600 public comments submitted to the city opposing the master use permit. 


“We’re baffled and disappointed at the UW’s decision,” says Layla Airola, a student and member of the club. “The WYC has taught over 40,000 people to sail, has had members become Olympians, and is an integral part of the Seattle sailing community. Its elimination would reduce opportunities for people who typically don’t have the means to sail.”   


The club provides an equitable way for students to experience sailing, a sport often reserved for those who can afford its high costs, for just $39 a quarter. Currently, WYC stores and offers many different types of boats to members, ranging from beginner boats like single-person dinghies, to high-performance catamarans, and over a dozen varieties of boats in between to teach advanced sailing skills on the Puget Sound with larger crews. 


Bhanu Sharma, a grad student from India, states: “I’m originally from a landlocked city where my only exposure to sailing was through pirate movies. I decided to join the WYC because it was affordable and located on campus. The members were incredibly welcoming and inclusive. Even though I struggled with learning the sport at first, I stuck with it as everyone around me was really patient and encouraging. As an international student, it’s a challenge to feel ‘at home’ so far from where I’m from, but I can confidently say that a major part of my sense of belonging at UW is due to the sailing club.”


Since 1948, the club has sailed and stored its boats at the UW waterfront. It first resided in the old ASUW Shellhouse of Boys in the Boat fame and has been at the UW Waterfront Activities Center (WAC) since 1976. WYC has been deeply involved with the UW East Campus waterfront since its founding and is one of its most active participants. 


The dock renovation project is one of many university projects along the waterfront displacing student groups. The renovation of the ASUW Shellhouse will reduce storage for several student organizations and replace it with a venue space that will primarily host events for non-students.


Project documents indicate that the administration may be misleading decision-makers about its impact on student life. UW Facilities and Recreation’s SEPA document for the docks renovation project states that “the proposed project has been carefully designed to meet the current and projected demands at this facility” and that the project will enhance recreation as seen in the excerpt below which makes no reference to the impact on the yacht club. In answer to the question, “Would the proposed project displace any existing recreational uses,” the document states, “No, the proposed project is anticipated to enhance these activities.” 


“The WYC understands the University’s plans for the waterfront, but we are disheartened by the administration’s refusal to allow students a seat at the table, particularly in deciding the future of students’ access to the waterfront,” says Renee Chien, a club officer.  “The Club believes that the current renovation plans clash with the original mission of the Waterfront Activities Center, which was paid for with student funds to promote water activities. We hope that the University shares the club’s vision of making sailing and maritime recreation available and accessible for future generations of students to enjoy, and we look forward to working with the University to accomplish this goal.”



The WYC is a student-run club and a 501(c)(3) at UW whose primary mission is to teach and promote sailing in a safe, inclusive, accessible, and affordable way. It is one of UW’s most active clubs and a staple in the Seattle sailing community.

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