Set Sail at The GRYC

What is the Grand Rapids Junior Sailing Association?

The Grand Rapids Junior Sailing Association (GRJSA) is a nonprofit organization founded to support and encourage youth sailing in our area. Sailing can be an intimidating sport to navigate for beginners, so we do our best to make it more accessible and affordable for anyone interested.  We offer sailing classes for both kids and adults and Race Team for more advanced sailors, all summer long. The GRJSA is independent of the Grand Rapids Yacht Club (GRYC), but we work closely with them. All GRJSA operations are conducted at the club and we race under the GRYC burgee. You do not have to be a member of the yacht club or own a boat to take sailing lessons or join Intro to Racing through GRJSA. We maintain a large fleet of sailboats for students of all ages and levels to learn on.  

Why Sailing School?
Learning to sail through GRJSA, is a fun, and often exciting, way for kids to spend their time during the summer. Make new friends learning a great sport they can do for life, all on beautiful Reeds Lake - what could be better? 

Sailing is pretty unique, there aren’t many activities out there that require kids to navigate wind and water, make quick decisions and adjust to changing weather conditions. It is a great sport for building confidence and problem-solving skills, as well as learning patience and the ability to think critically under pressure. Getting around the lake for fun or during a race, is often as mentally demanding, as much as it is physically, so all the smiles on the faces of the young sailors returning to shore are always a rewarding sight. 

Through games and fun activities, on and offshore, sailing school students will learn water safety and boat parts, so they can communicate effectively with other sailors and make adjustments to the boat. They'll learn about wind and weather and how they affect getting anywhere with a sail. They'll practice basic maneuvers, such as tacking and jibing. Sailing can give kids a sense of independence and self-reliance as they learn to handle the boat and make decisions on their own. 

While it’s always all fun and games in sailing school, kids get the idea pretty early on of how important know-how and communication are if you want to stay upright in your boat, successfully navigate a race course, or avoid a collision. Then again, intentionally tipping the boats to go for a swim, is the best part for many of the young sailors! Perhaps one of the best aspects of sailing is the sense of excitement and independence kids have when they successfully navigate the lake on their own for the first time. 

With any luck, the kids also walk away with a love for the outdoors and an appreciation for the beautiful lake environment around them.

Just about all of our coaches and instructors grew up sailing in West Michigan, and most through GRJSA and then GRYC. Over the years, our sailors have gone on to sail through high school, college and even professionally. It’s a testament to this great community how many come back to raise their children here and send them through the sailing program. The sailing community in West Michigan is pretty wonderful. We’re excited to spend another summer encouraging new and returning sailors to keep at it because their hard work will pay off. 

Max Keonan, Race coach and sail school instructor said “I loved sailing school as a kid and now I work there, it’s just a fun way to spend the summer. The program offers a fun learning environment that is a great way to make friends and have fun memories. There are days when it’s relaxing to sail and other days when it's a rush to ride the water. I've learned a lot of unique skills and I've learned about a whole sailing community that I feel lucky to be a part of. Racing with my friends was just as fun as tipping and swimming around the lake. I only hope the community continues to grow as the years go on.”

What GRJSA has to offer the kids...
Max Ralston, Sailing School Director, said “We can accommodate everyone from 6 years and up to promote the love of sailing that all of the instructors hold close to them. Being able to experience the water on Reeds Lake is unforgettable.”

Students at all levels will experience the thrill of sailing through various games, activities, and informal competitions designed to develop boat handling and safety skills. Our youngest and most inexperienced sailors will start sailing with an instructor and 1-2 other students onboard a 420. Then they move up to sailing with a partner (Opti 1 & Butterfly 1), and finally, sailing on their own (Opti 2 & Butterfly 2). 

Our instructors are all sailors, they want to help grow the sailing community, bringing more competition and future friends to their regattas. Encouraging the students to become proficient at each class level, is important to the instructors. They understand that everyone learns at a different pace, and gaining know-how and confidence to handle a boat on your own takes time and practice. Student to instructor ratio is intentionally small, so the instructors get to know their students and will modify the curriculum in each session based on student experience and skill level. We recommend kids take a few sessions at each class level and if they're ready to move up early, the instructors will let you know.

Once a student has completed the Opti 2 or Butterfly 2 class, meaning they are ready and excited to independently navigate a race course, they will be invited to join the introductory level of Race Team or Intro to Race Team. Unlike sailing school with sessions only lasting one week at a time, Intro to Race Team is 8 weeks long and sailors have the opportunity to attend some Friday regattas at different yacht clubs in West Michigan. After a summer of sailing at the introductory level, our hope is the coaches formally invite your sailor to join the Race Team. Membership on Race Team is by invitation only, but you are encouraged to inquire if your child feels ready to race. 

Race Team is run by GRJSA, but the kids sail under the GRYC burgee, representing GRYC at all of the regattas. Race Team practices twice a week all summer and travels to different yacht clubs in Western Michigan for regattas on Fridays. Race Team members range from age 7 to 16, with the youngest ones sailing Optis, and the older sailors on Butterflies, Lasers and 420’s. Another perk of getting to this level of sailing is having the opportunity to partake in junior sailing through GRYC. GRYC Junior sailors are yacht club members, so they can race on Reeds Lake three days a week all summer and participate in the club’s holiday regattas. 

How GRJSA is made possible?
Grand Rapids Junior Sailing Association is led and managed by a 100% volunteer group of Board Members, each with specific oversight responsibilities. 

It is the responsibility of the board to develop and implement strategies to continually improve the scope and content of our physical assets, educational programs and outreach. One of our responsibilities is finding great coaches and instructors to share their knowledge and love for this great sport with our youngest community members. We’re so grateful to all of our staff for their commitment to GRJSA and for the fun environment they provide the students.

Our goal is to make learning to sail affordable and accessible to anyone interested. Our sailing school tuition covers most of our direct operating costs for the program.  For everything else, such as sailboats, coach boats, sailing equipment, and youth sailing events, to name a few, we rely on donations and sponsorships from our community members.  

If you want to contribute, become a Race Team Sponsor - GRJSA is offering a new opportunity to support youth sailing as well as the GRYC Race Team.

Save the date! 
The Shrimp Boil, our annual fundraiser, is Saturday, August 27th, 2023, at GRYC. This party is just for grownups, we'll have live music, dancing, and great food - we hope you’ll consider joining us this summer! Tickets will be available in August. 100% of the funds raised through any event hosted by GRJSA go directly toward growing and improving our sailing program. We greatly appreciate all the support this community has shown us over the years and look forward to another fun and successful summer!

Questions/Interest in Sailing?
If you or your child is interested in sailing, but need help navigating the classes, please reach out to us at For more specific class information, dates, times, and availability, please visit: