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Barton Marine 2019 728x90

Seating options for sailors with a disability - in dinghies and the smallest keelboats

by Magnus Smith 7 Apr 2023 12:00 BST
RS Venture with twin seats and 'joystick' steering fitted - the adjustable foot brace can also be seen © Magnus Smith / YachtsandYachting.com

What do accessible craft look like on the inside, and how does the crew get in?

Through this series of photographs taken at the RYA Dinghy and Watersports Show 2023 and in previous years, we aim to illustrate some of the many different ways in which a sailor with a disability can safely sit in a dinghy (or very small keelboat) and how it can be made easier to get in and out.

We discuss options for a range of different sailors, and clarify how the steering works. Hopefully this will help beginners to get an appreciation of what is possible. Photographs are grouped by the class of boat.

RS Venture

The photo above shows twins seats fitted to an RS Venture dinghy, which also has a weighted bulb keel instead of a centreboard, and a masthead float. This configuration is known as the RS Venture Connect SCS. The boat is steered by one or two levers (a vertical tiller, in essence) and the sheets are led back to a centre console.

If helpful, the feet can be braced on the bar (adjustable fore/aft) seen in the bottom right of the photo.

The photo below shows how the steering levers (often called 'joysticks') pivot forward in order that the crew can get in and out more easily.

RS Venture with twin seats and 'joystick' steering fitted - steering mechanism has been pivoted down to allow for crew to enter/exit - photo © Magnus Smith / YachtsandYachting.com

The seats are adjustable in the fore/aft directions to accommodate sailors of different heights.

RS Venture with twin seats - showing how seat position can be adjusted fore/aft - photo © Magnus Smith / YachtsandYachting.com

Sheets are cleated on the centre console, between the two crew members. The crew decide how to allocate tasks, and one of the joysticks can be removed if not wanted.

RS Venture with centre console fitted, to being sheets/cleats within reach of crew using the twin seats option - photo © Magnus Smith / YachtsandYachting.com

The stability of the dinghy is dependant on the weight of the bulb keel, as the crew will not move between side decks as able-bodied sailors do. The heavy keel is winched up in order to land/launch the boat, or when on the road trailer. A removable curved metal arm mounts the winch to make this easy to deal with.

Apparently, with the keel's weight down low it is rare that the masthead float will ever touch the water, but it is there for extra security.

RS Venture showing bulb keel retracted for landing/towing - the curved metal arm with winch on top is removed for sailing, after the keel has been lowered - photo © Magnus Smith / YachtsandYachting.com

Hansa

Popular worldwide for both racing and cruising. Over 180 sailors from 25 nations attended the 2021 Hansa World Championships in Italy. A variety of rig sizes and configurations means these boats can be sailed by one or two people. Beginners can have an instructor with them.

The photos below show a two-person hull with simple fabric seat. Most of these boats are steered with a vertical 'joystick'...

Hansa dinghy seating - showing the simplest option (for 1 or 2 people) - photo © Magnus Smith / YachtsandYachting.com

...which can be removed when the crew are getting in/out. Simple use of cushions is often enough to support a sailor in the best position for them to be comfortable and in control.

Hansa dinghy seating - showing the 'joystick' removed for ease of access - photo © Magnus Smith / YachtsandYachting.com

The photos below show a narrower Hansa model, with a single solid seat.

Sail controls are led to the centre console, just in front of the joystick.

Challenger

This is another popular racing class for able-bodied and sailors with a disability to compete on equal grounds. The trimaran design (three hulls) gives lots of stability yet still allows an exciting turn of speed.

These photos show a Challenger's standard seat with the tiller in front at waist height. Any design of seat is permitted (see more photos on the class Facebook group).

The tiller pivots upwards to allow helm's entry/exit (when ropes are unclipped from tiller).

Challenger trimaran dinghy - showing a typical seat with the tiller in front at waist height (tiller pivots upwards to allow helm's entry/exit) - photo © Magnus Smith / YachtsandYachting.com

The seat is mounted on tracks allowing for fore/aft adjustment to suit a sailor's height, or to aid entry/exit. The centreboard is raised in this photo, but would be lowered for sailing, so it does not always stick up between the sailor's legs.

Tiller lines (ropes) connect to the rudder stock in far right of this photo.

Challenger trimaran dinghy - showing the lines leading to the rudder stock - photo © Magnus Smith / YachtsandYachting.com

Windrider

A newer class of trimaran than the above, but no longer manufactured. Nevertheless it is worth featuring as the seating arrangements can be seen on other classes of boat. Steering can be via foot pedals or a forward tiller bar.

The Windrider is a trimaran and gets its stability from its wide base - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

This Windrider trimaran has a comfortable seat and is steered by a metal handle - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

Another newer trimaran is the Weta : you can see some information on seats and getting in/out and see information on one specific type of Weta seat.

SKUD 18

A former Paralympic class of skiff (a word indicating speed and performance), the SKUD is still sailed in Australia. Seating and steering were heavily customised for sailors who raced professionally.

This is one option for the crew's seat on a SKUD 18 - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

The helm sat behind the crew, both centrally, unlike the side-by-side arrangements seen in other classes. The crew has a variety of control lines to manipulate.

The crew has a variety of control lines to manipulate on a SKUD 18 - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

This helm's seat on a SKUD 18 as a motorised tilting mechanism to compensate for the boat heeling (leaning over).

This helm's seat on a SKUD 18 as a motorised tilting machanism to compensate for the boat heeling - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

'Tank' steering means there are two levers to push/pull to control direction.

This is one of several options for the helm's seat and steering controls on a SKUD 18 - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

The crew's seat looks rudimentary here, but helps the crew lean forward more, which suits their needs when pulling ropes.

Seating positions on a SKUD 18 - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

On this SKUD 18 the skipper steers with a lever between his/her legs.

On this SKUD 18 the helm steers with a lever between his/her legs - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

Sonar

The Sonar keelboat is frequently used for crews that combine both able-bodied and disabled sailors, including those who are partially sighted or blind. It featured in the Paralympics for several years.

This photo shows how the skipper (a wheelchair user) has a seat at the rear, and steers with a single lever; the front of the cockpit is open for the crew who can move from side to side.

The large metal bar spanning the decks makes it easier to embark/disembark. These stability bars help some sailors move about or feel secure when on the water.

Artemis

A larger and more expensive keelboat, several different sizes of Artemis yacht have been adapted for disabled use, including Atlantic challenges undertaken by a teenager with cerebral palsy, who used a sip-puff control system.

Seating positions on an Artemis yacht - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

This rear seat has a special harness, and the helm can steer using the metal lever.

This rear seat has a special harness, and the helm can steer using the metal lever, on this Artemis - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

The crew sits at the front of an Artemis and has all the ropes to hand.

The crew sits at the front of an Artemis and has all the ropes to hand - photo © Magnus Smith / www.yachtsandyachting.com

Squib

This is not typically considered a class for sailors with a disability, but the cockpit is deep, and the keel provides stability, so some Squibs have been adapted for specific seating needs.

One club uses the Squib to teach blind sailors, and another ran sailing for the Special Olympics for two years with Squibs.

This photo shows the large open area available for the crew seating, on a standard unmodified boat, looking forward.

Crew's area on a Squib - photo © Magnus Smith

Further viewing

Other websites have photos showing seating modifications on two other classes of boat: the Ideal 18 and the Martin 16.

Sip and Puff controls are available for sailors to control steering, or winches (for the ropes) without using hands/arms.

The RS Venture electro pack is explained in a video, and the sip-puff controls are shown in a video (steering and mainsheet control).

'Rebound steering' is useful for for blind sailors.

For getting from a dock/pontoon, to a boat that is floating alongside, many organisations use a 'transfer box'.

A detailed document from US Sailing is very helpful: Adaptive Sailing Resource Manual [PDF], in particular page 38 Transfers and Assisted Lifts, and page 43 Equipment Adaptations.

Our next article deals with hoists and slings: How do sailors with a disability get into a dinghy?

Get in touch

To notify the author of errors/omissions, or make requests for future articles, please email

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