If I might suggest another reason sailing is out of favor in the US? Risk. Or the perception of risk, which is the real issue. Sailing is lumped among "things that could kill my child." There is a powerful reluctance to expose kids to anything that might include danger -- we're the most protective, paranoid, litigious bunch of people anywhere.
Our parents would usher us outside and not see us for eight hours at a time. We rode our bikes a couple miles to play pickup baseball, or catch frogs at the creek, or climb trees. Our parents had a vague idea where we were and with whom, but it was understood that a generally benevolent community lookout would be kept on our behalf, and oddly enough I never did get axe murdered.
But I cannot imagine my sister employing that same level of hands-off parenting. They are the new model of adult, the so-called "helicopter parents," ever hovering just over the kids' shoulders. All activities must be structured, overseen by adults, and show quantifiable outcomes (pref. with awards given.) Schoolwork is micromanaged, so Junior can get into the best colleges. Playdates are arranged with military precision. Children are escorted from one Activity Module to another in heavily fortified cars with the sort of blanketing security that the Secret Service can only dream of.
I'd be more charitable toward these folks if I truly believed it was the child's welfare that drives their overbearing need to control every aspect of their kid's childhood. But cynically, I think they are mostly concerned with being perfect parents in the eyes of other people.
"Sheila's daughter fell out of a tree, she never won a ribbon in dance competition ... AND she's going to State College. How her parents failed her!"
Proof of this thesis is the real damage parents do in attempting to avoid perceived danger. Which brings us to sailing. Sailing is an activity where you sometimes come in second to uncontrolled forces, like the weather. You could drown. You could be killed by drunken powerboaters. It's unstructured and a bit freeform. It doesn't obviously fit in a world of controlled environments, tight schedules, and point-to-point transportation.
From age 10 onwards I went out on boats:Sunfish, daysailors, the Classic Moth
, cats, then some hardcore windsurfing. We rarely went more than a mile from home, but we were often out of sight of our parents, and no doubt they worried.
But they had the grace to let us go, let us make our own mistakes and discoveries, to fail and learn and succeed on terms we negotiated ourselves. It must have taken one hell of alot of courage to watch a twelve-year old set of on a solo hike for four days with no hope of communications. I'm desperately glad they let me go.
I don't know if this bunch of American parents have that courage. And so activities like sailing get crossed out. (Which is funny, because they'll allow BMX or skateboarding or motorscooters, and they'll drive 12k miles a year with kids in the car....)
If you haven't already, I urge everyone here to read Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons.
Ask yourself: how many parents today would allow their kids that sort of adventure?