Sailing Club Forced from UW Campus

Student Sailing Club Forced from Campus

After 75 years at the UW Waterfront, the University of Washington has informed us that we are no longer welcome. As of July 2024, we will no longer be allowed to keep our 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.

Background

A group of students learning how to rig a sailboat.

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.  Over our 75-year history, we have successfully fulfilled this mission by teaching tens of thousands of students to sail and fostering a community deeply connected to Puget Sound’s waterways. The club provides an equitable way for students to experience sailing, which is often regarded as an expensive hobby, for $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. Today, the WYC remains a thriving student-run 501(c)(3) non-profit and registered student organization (RSO), serving as both a cornerstone of student life at the UW and a respected entity within Seattle’s boating community.

The WYC’s history is interwoven with the space it occupies. In 1965, responding to an increasing use of the waterfront, the University began planning for a new dock and facilities, leading to the creation of the Waterfront Activities Center (WAC). Student clubs and the broader community were actively involved in the planning process, ensuring that relevant stakeholders had a voice in shaping the landscape of the University’s waterfront. The resulting docks, completed in 1976, have served as the hub for student sailing since. Every year, from April to September,  the WAC uses one section of the docks for canoe rentals (predominantly to non-students), and seven days a year, Athletics uses these docks for Husky Harbor (tailgating). For the rest of the year, student clubs use these spaces, the biggest of which has always been the WYC.

The current renovation plans

Diagram showing the proposed changes to the UW waterfront docks. Large sections used by the WYC are to be removed while sections used for Husky Harbor are to be increased slightly.
The above image shows the proposed changes at the UW waterfront. Large sections of the docks used by the WYC are to be demolished, and the WYC will no longer be allowed to store its boats at the UW waterfront.

After decades of heavy use, the East Campus Docks are in dire need of replacement. The WYC is aware of the environmental and safety concerns with the current docks, and welcomes the prospect of a general renovation of the space! The waterfront is one of UW’s most unique features and it deserves some investment in order to improve the space.

However, the renovation thus far has been marked by a lack of consultation with key stakeholders. The project has proceeded without meaningful input from the WYC or the broader student community. Despite the project beginning planning in 2022, the first explicit opportunity to provide feedback came at the start of 2024 via a public comment period related to the City of Seattle permitting process. Club and community members submitted over 600 comments to the city opposing the project as outlined and calling for a public hearing.

Since the current renovation plans were drafted behind the backs of critical stakeholders, it should come as no surprise that they don’t take into account the dock’s current usage and threaten to disrupt student access to sailing at UW. The current proposal entails the removal, without replacement, of critical facilities essential to serving the original function this space was intended to serve. These facilities include the dinghy docks (Docks A & B), effectively terminating the club’s small boat sailing program—a staple in its offerings for both beginning and advanced sailors. Additionally, the removal of Docks E through F will severely diminish the club’s keelboat fleet, limiting access to larger boats, which are essential for training students to sail the Puget Sound. What’s more, the proposed dock extension poses creates a new navigational hazard due to its placement in the only safe channel for navigation from the waterfront to Lake Washington.

The Bigger Picture

WYC members sailing in Union Bay.

The dock renovation project is one of many university projects along the waterfront displacing student groups. In addition to the renovation of the docks, there is also a major renovation happening to the ASUW Shellhouse. This renovation will reduce storage for several student organizations and replace it with a venue space that will primarily host events for non-students.

These projects may be misleading decision-makers on their 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. Would these decision makers still think that recreation would be enhanced if they knew the effect it would have on student organizations at the waterfront?

The WYC understands the University’s plans for the waterfront, but we are disheartened with the administration’s exclusion of students from having a seat at the table, particularly in deciding the future of students’ access to the waterfront. 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.

Our Requests

  1. We seek a statement of support from the university administration affirming that WYC’s essential offerings will not be eliminated from the campus waterfront. Additionally, we request access to the space and facilities necessary for students to safely conduct their sailing activities, including storage for boats and essential equipment, in keeping with the intended function of the facility’s establishment.
  2. We urge a halt of the East Campus Dock construction process until designs can be thoroughly assessed and the input of student stakeholders, including WYC and other waterfront clubs, is rightfully accounted for. This will ensure that such changes align with the needs and interests of the student community. ASUW already passed legislation showing support of the student body for this request.
  3. We petition for the establishment of a waterfront oversight group that includes students to give voice to their interests. Given the history outlined above and current plan of prioritizing commercial activities, we do not trust UW Recreation to advocate for student interests.
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