One of the oldest sports in the world, sailing is also one of the most popular. And among people with disabilities, sailing is just as loved, which may surprise some. Sailing, however, at its essence is all upper body, making it the perfect sport to adapt. Plus, technological advancements in recent years have made this sport an option for nearly anyone. In fact, vent-dependent quadriplegics are even racing in regattas.
What’s great about adaptive sailing is that it allows ALL people with disabilities to master it, even those who don’t have a strong upper body. This isn’t true for most other adaptive sports. Hilary Lister, a quadriplegic from the UK who has no movement from the neck down, became the first quadriplegic in the world to sail around her country. And many other people with disabilities have begun to race competitively. It’s a fantastic sport!
Below are the basics on adaptive sailing for both paraplegics and quadriplegics. The boats vary, but they must be designed to not capsize and they must have an easy customizable cockpit design. Most adaptive sailing centers carry the Martin 16, the Freedom 20 and the SONAR, all deemed safe. For more in-depth information on everything adaptive sailing, please follow the links at the end of the article.
How Paraplegics Sail
When paraplegics arrive for their first day of sailing, they are always concerned about one thing – how will they get on the boat. But it is actually very simple with transfer boxes. Transfer boxes have a slide that you can maneuver into position, then slide down to get into the boat. Once in, you either transfer to a bench or seat depending on your balance ability.
For paraplegics without full torso control, a seat is used to provide more control of the boat while sailing. Most also use a strap across the lap to keep fully secure. To steer the boat, paraplegics can easily grab and maneuver the rudder with a tiller extension arm. For the most part, paraplegics can pull on the ropes just fine, but for those who need assistance, power winches are utilized.
How Quadriplegics Sail
For quadriplegics, a few more pieces of equipment are needed to sail independently. For transferring, a Hoyer lift is used. Once in the boat, they’re strapped into a chair that swings to different sections of the boat while sailing, giving them independent mobility. Not all seats, however, move like this. Some are stationary.
Several straps are used to keep quadriplegics in their seats securely. A chest wrap and lap strap are typically enough to keep a quad in position even in rough waters. And the type of steering equipment a quadriplegic uses depends on the severity of their injury. For low-level quadriplegics, many can steer the rudder with a tiller extension arm and can operate the ropes by pulling on them, but some may need to use a power winch to supplement their strength.
For those that really need assistance with gripping onto the tiller extension arm and/or ropes, ActiveHand gloves are used (or even duct tape by some). For quadriplegics with less movement in their wrists and arms, joysticks are used to steer. Joystick steering offers full control of the boat, from the steering to the sails. Splashelec is a well-known manufacturer of sailing joysticks in France.
For those with a high-level quadriplegia, a Sip ‘n Puff steering system is used that’s quite intuitive. There is one straw to control the rudder and one for the sails. You sip to starboard (to move right), puff to port (to move left). And to operate the sails, puff to let the sails out and sip to let them in (a skipper is behind you if help is needed).
Visit the following link to shop adaptive sailing equipment: Accessible Sailing Technology
Adaptive sailing offers people with SCI the rare opportunity to feel completely free from their disability. To leave their wheelchairs on the dock and be in control of where they’re going is a great feeling. And with more than 75 adaptive sailing organizations throughout the country (and counting!), the opportunity to try it may be closer than you think.
Have you tried adaptive sailing?
Adaptive Sailing Videos