Sailing for people with disabilities

Sailing a boat can be challenging, but adaptive sailing is a unique experience. Enjoy the freedom of movement and independence while jetting through the waters. From being alert to staying mindful, with sailing you need to be swift enough to take action. 

Why is adaptive sailing best for people with disabilities? 

Although it’s a challenge, sailing has several benefits. This priceless experience provides the sailors with a feeling of true freedom, unforgettable memories, and life lessons. Let’s take a look at some of the key advantages of trying adaptive sailing by people with disabilities

  1. Sailing is an experience of a lifetime that creates a positive difference in many lives. 

2. This specifically designed sailing program enhances the skills and teaches imperative life lessons that no other adventure can offer. 

3. With sailing, you learn to adapt and react to impromptu situations without thinking about your disability. This, in turn, reflects on your mental strength and builds hope. 

“When it comes to sailing, what matters is the ability rather than the disability.”

Whether you are able-bodied or not, all these above factors become your personal goal and achievement. Being a part of this adventure has no prerequisites or barriers. If you are up for the challenge and a new take on life, the world of sailing will welcome you with open arms. The inspiring example of Hilary Lister who set sail in 2005, was able to move only her head. But, she took on the adventure and was able to set a new mark with a world record by sailing solo across the English Channel using a ‘sip and puff’ system to control the sails and steering. Another great example is Geoff Holt, who was the first quadriplegic to successfully sail solo around Great Britain in 2007. These truly motivating stories are proof that your willpower can take you places and let you take on a new challenge.

Sailing programs customized to people with disabilities are hosted by several foundations globally. They don’t consider the skill set or physical abilities. The sailboats are tweaked to create provisions with modifications exclusively for them. 

Dock Modification

Accessing the dock and ramps are built with customization to have gentle slopes and levels to enable wheelchair accessibility. To avoid slippery surfaces, program hosts ensure safety using materials like wire mesh, non-skid pads or industrial-strength rubber mats. They also add hand and guard rails on either side of the ramp for additional support. 

Boarding the sailboat

Accessing the boat is made an easier process using a transfer box or board. When opened, this box includes a hinged board that provides a ramp to slide from the box top to the boat. The transfer board helps the sailor to transfer themselves directly from their chair to the boat by sliding from one to the other. 

Other boat modifications

To accommodate sailors with a disability, several boat modifications like non-slip, padded seats and padding around sharp objects are made. The objective of such modifications is made to increase mobility, stability, hand function and vision. Obstructions are minimized within and around the boat and consistent location of equipment is established for visually impaired sailors.

Convenience and comfort 

When you are abroad, stability is imperative. To maximize dependability, safety, and stability, there are harnesses and straps with quick release fasteners to secure these sailors to the seat. For those who have health concerns with stability, this helps them to physically hold him/herself upright. The belt is tightened across the lap and chest to harness around the shoulders. These modifications include quick-release fasteners to be able to reach and release easily. 

Making it an easy ride for those with impaired mobility 

With advanced technology and renewed designs and development, electronically assisted steering is used to manipulate the toggle. The 4-way joystick steering system can be used with either foot/toes or hand/fingers to control the boat. Whether you are looking to control both the tiller and sails or move the tiller in and out, these electric joysticks become handy and convenient to use. Another system that’s popularly used on sailing boats for the convenience of people with disabilities is the sip and puff system. This effective use of technology is used for people suffering from severe quadriplegia, especially if they prefer to limit the use of a joystick. The straw-like mechanism of sip and puff control enables them to control the sail movement. 

Visually impaired sailors

If you are planning to do a sailing program for visually impaired sailors, these sailboats have tactile cues. They help them find equipment on the boat such as tape on a line, knots in certain positions, as well as the use of cadences for timing transfers and actions. Even the labels are written in braille lettering to make it readable. Tactile maps and audio compasses are effectively and efficiently used to replace the visual maps to aid with navigation. In a press of a button, you get access to all the relevant information including the position of the vessel, wind direction, and the degree the vessel is pointed. 

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