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Volunteer Profile: Jay Okamoto

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This is the second in a series of interviews with Sailors with disABILITIES volunteers. In this interview you will meet Jay, a crew and on-water program volunteer with SWD.

Click here if you're interested in volunteering with SWD.

Meet Jay and keep reading to find out what inspired him to volunteer with Sailors with disABILITIES

 Jay Okoamoto


Please tell us about yourself

I’m originally from Los Angeles California. I owned a gardening company and I was fortunate to be able to manage it from a distance. This allowed for some “fun” jobs including working at a summer camp at Big Bear Lake, which is outside LA, in the mountains. This is where I learned to sail at the late age of thirty-three. From there, I was introduced into the wonderful world of club racing and spent the next fifteen years as a bowman and learning how to sail. (I’m still learning on the last point!)

My wife and I moved to Australia in 2003. We have enjoyed raising our daughter, Sydney, who is now eleven. Sailing has taken a back seat though.


What made you want to volunteer with SWD?

I’ve always enjoyed passing along knowledge, whether it be sailing, gardening or teaching my daughter math! I thought about volunteering and making a difference, but I didn’t know what I could do.

I saw the TV ads about Sailors with disAbilities and thought, “Hey! I could do that. What a great way to give back to the community and also be involved with sailing again!”

So I contacted SWD and it’s been fantastic.

Jaycheerful as ever and doing what he loves. 

 Jay Okamoto 1


Did a connection with disability, disadvantage or sailing influence your decision to volunteer?

Yes, I had missed the friendships and camaraderie from the sailing environment, as well as teaching and working with kids. It was always fun to watch kids solo their dinghies and take pride in learning new skills.


What activities have you undertaken on the boat as a volunteer crew member with SWD?

I’ve started with SWD in the past few months. I just completed volunteering in the 8-week Winds of Change youth program. I’ve also been on some of the training sessions and participated in one of the Sunday winter series races. I’m currently participating in the 12 week training program.


What are some of your achievements, personal and skills-based, since you began with SWD?

Sailing on new boats is like opening up a gift package; it’s always exciting and there is tonnes to explore. Every time I go sailing, I find I’ve learned something new, which is why I enjoy it so much. I’m still learning my way around each of SWD’s three boats, but each time I’m out I find out something new about the boats. Most of my past experience has been on smaller boats, so big boat handling offers a new dimension. Much is the same, but there are also subtle differences. I’ve learned how to use a “coffee grinder” style winch, learned about navigation markers, different types of flashing lights, and compass reading declination, to name a few.


What have you enjoyed most?

Passing on knowledge.

I love learning, but I like passing it on even better! Working with the kids on Winds of Change, and the young men returning from Inverell. And listening to a few talk about their plans has been inspiring.

I’ve enjoyed meeting the volunteers learning a bit about them, and sharing a common interest.

What have you found the greatest challenge?

I found the first couple visits with the kids from Winds of Change a challenge. I’ve never dealt with disadvantaged children or young adults so I found it rather confronting. I’m sure they also found it confronting to meet and work with strangers. Opening up dialogue and keeping them engaged was, and is, a struggle. As the weeks progressed, I found them more open to dialogue and getting involved, but it does take persistence. I’m looking forward to meeting the next group!

Jay with the students from Inverell Clontarf Academy this year in Sydney in our sailing programs

What have you found surprising?

That these kids really do live in a different world than I do. I take for granted the peaceful and prosperous life I’ve lived. One day, a few kids didn’t show up and we were told there had been a few dramas over the past week. I was ASSUMING some had gotten into a bit of trouble, only to find out a few of their friends had taken their lives!

I grumble when the weather is bad, while some of these kids can’t even see themselves past the next week. Working with them has shown me truly different and sobering realities.


What would you say to anyone considering volunteering on the water with SWD?

I would say: "Just jump in and get your feet wet! Even if you know nothing about sailing or working with disabled people, the staff and volunteers of SWD will gladly help you along the journey. You’ll make new friends, learn new skills, and surprise yourself along the way.

Watch the Inverell Clontarf students and our volunteers in this video

What do most people not know about you that they’d find surprising to know?

I tear up easily.

And...Jay also does the Sydney to Gong ride to raise money for MS Awareness

Jay Okamoto 2

Jay has supported MS for years through the MS Sydney to The Gong Ride, this year planned for Sunday 1 November. If you're interested in doing this fun ride to raise money and awareness for MS, then send an email to and we will put you in touch with Jay direct.    


SWD wishes to thank Jay for being so candid and generous with his time with SWD and this interview.

If you're interested in volunteering, don't let the big yachts deter you. Anyone can learn how to do the basics to volunteer in our youth programs. We also have off-water (office-based) volunteer opportunities. For those who really want to get on the water, we do have training programs for all levels, and the old hands help the new hands along the way. The yachts are just the vehicles we use to work with children and help create transformative experiences. You can be a part of any of our volunteer programs here.


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