One of the great things about sailing is that you can take it as far as you want, whether your aim is a small boat on an inland lake or taking part in a crew of a race boat. Plus there are also plenty of opportunities for people with disabilities to be able to take part in a wide range of sailing activities too.
Whether your disability means you to walk with a walking stick right up to people in a wheelchair, there are adaptations that are easily made to different types of boats to allow them access. Here are some more information on walking sticks and canes. Adaptations can be made to seating, controls and rigging to allow people of all abilities to take part and there are many courses at sailing centres that offer an adaptive program especially designed for the disabled.
Disabled Sports USA have details of a number of different programs available for learning about boating. Many of these start with basic classroom sessions, particularly for those completely new to boating. It covers the terms used such as rudder, keel, etc. as well as the basics of sailing, such as how sails are trimmed or adjusted depending on the wind and how the keel works. There is also a section on the safety of boating and the rules of the road.
The theoretic then becomes the practical – people get on a boat with an experience skipper so that they can see in reality what they have discussed in the classroom. Skippers will let people take the help and sails but are always nearby to make sure nothing goes wrong.
Getting around the boat
These courses are ready to assist those with physical disability to transfer in and out of the boat from mechanical lifts, transfer boarding benches and even just personal assistance. Once on board, paraplegics have routinely been able to sail the boats due to the broad and open decks they use. All the boats have stainless steel hand guards along the side and there is a special seat for those who are not ambulatory.
Freedom 20s are one such boat ideal for training and adaptability for disabled sailors. The mast is made from carbon fibre and doesn’t need stays, the wires that normally hold the mast in place. This means that with the broad deck, access to easy and so is getting around. They are also large and heavy in the keel so are nearly impossible to capsize, giving people the sense of confidence on board.
Other boards have special seating for those with stability issues, seats that are modified wheelchair seats and even control systems for those with limitations in hand function.
With adaptions such as special seating, electrical powered winches and starter motors, GPS systems operated and responding vocally and joy stick controls, the world of sailing is opened up to many more people than ever before. Once basic knowledge is in place, a disabled sailor can have the same freedom aboard their board as anyone else and can enjoy the independence and enjoyment that sailing has brought to so many people.