Sailing as Therapy

Recreational therapists have evolved from traditional methods of therapy and intervention sessions into fun-filled outdoor activities. They are being effectively utilized to assist with the development of play and leisure skills, education, social skills training, and even therapeutic community. Emotional, physical, cognitive and social functions can all be improved with the help of outdoor activities as recreational therapy intervention sessions.

A study that was recently conducted to understand the impact of one such outdoor activity, sailing programs, and its physical prerequisites. Sailing interventions have developed into occupational therapy or medicine.

A Quick Overview of Adaptive Sailing Programs

The United States Sailing and the International Association for Disabled Sailing has come together to co-create a manual that describes the development of safe and quality adaptive sailing programs. The objective of this manual is to encourage the community to build new sailing programs for individuals and disabilities. In the last few years, sailing has gauged attention as a popular sport and leisure activity. It has also developed into a method of therapy with several psychosocial benefits that have been proven.

An experimental recreational sailing program was created by the Long Beach Memorial Rehabilitation Hospital, in Long Beach, California. It indicated the positive effects on the participants including boosting self-esteem. Therapeutic sailing facilitates healing and enhances well being while improving the quality of life. This is a natural progression of adaptive sailing that is socially impactful and helps develop community partnerships.

How does it work?

The foundation of occupational therapy is built on the base of mental well-being. Sailing therapy involved numerous criteria like daily living, leisure, work, play, sleep and rest, education and social participation. Beyond adventure, sailing gives you a sense of freedom. A noticeable improvement in communication, motor skills and coordination, self-confidence and other psychosocial benefits can be achieved.

As an adaptive sailing program, which is an effective occupational therapy intervention, it’s imperative to have staff on board who are well trained in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation certified. It impacts the quality of the programs. Sailing is an activity that requires consideration of special accommodations of every program participant, especially for people with disabilities. Based on the boat size, the program hosts have to consider the capsize to create a safer environment. The docks and the boats have to be equipped with basic necessities including access to wheelchairs, seat belts, and every other mandatory security measure. The therapeutic intervention of sailing supports physical and psychosocial benefits amongst the participants who are actively involved.

Sailing, as an occupational therapy has proven results of increased self-confidence, overcoming mental and physical challenges, teamwork skills and improved positive outlook on life. The benefits of therapeutic sailing extend beyond all this. As a part of cognitive benefits, sailing can develop character, communication skills, improved self-esteem and gives you a sense of accomplishment.

Sharing an Experience

Based on the studies that were conducted on several therapeutic sailing programs, numerous personal experiences and sailing stories have come to light. One such interesting story was James, who was an eight-year-old boy diagnosed with a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. He was a part of Little Traverse Sailors. During the initial stages, he had a very shy character and the tendency to stay closer to his mother until the classes began. During his participation in sailing, there was a noticeable interest in learning the various positions in the boat. As time progressed, he developed confidence in initiating conversations with other students and staff. In the mere time span of three months, he overcame his characteristics or symptoms like fear in making conversations and fidgeting that were a part of his mental disabilities.

Overall, sailing is a successful attempt at occupational therapy. There’s no better way to develop and refine skills in a safe and fun environment.

Content reference: Sailing as a Therapy Modality for Occupational Therapy; Requirements Prior to Participation. An Honors Theses published by Western Michigan University Scholar Works at WMU

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