Programs can include learning to sail, all-out racing, or simply going out for a day cruise to enjoy the sun and fresh air aboard a boat that previously would have been inaccessible to people of different physical and developmental abilities. Today’s adaptive sailing and adaptive boating programs continue to evolve, offering all kinds of options for all kinds of people with all kinds of needs.
US Sailing encourages the creation of adaptive sailing programs and maintains an online list of locations that offer adaptive sailing programs in freshwater as well as saltwater locations such as Lake George, New York; San Francisco; Clearwater, Florida; and Boston.
SEAS in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, is another good resource not only for adaptive sailing, but also for adaptive racing. Most of the sailing is done aboard 23-foot Sonar sailboats, which can be adapted as people’s abilities change, including to address conditions such as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Even sailors who have lost the use of arms and legs over time have been able to sail with this program.
2. Courageous Sailing
Boston-based Courageous Sailing has adaptive sailing programs for everyone from autistic children to visually impaired people to individuals interested in training for the Special Olympics. The SailBlind program, for adults and children alike, has a racing component for visually impaired people who want to get involved with racing. The organization also hosts Adaptive Sailing Days in Charlestown, creating opportunities for adults and children to head out onto the water for a one-hour sail with an instructor.
3. Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors
In San Francisco, the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors is a volunteer organization that serves as many as 50 participants each weekend. These sailors range in age, experience and abilities; some are complete beginners. The participants can learn to sail on their own, with a partner or as part of a crew. This organization uses numerous adaptive technologies, including joysticks that let people with certain difficulties command the boats. Special seats and straps are also employed to ensure safety on the water.
4. Adaptive Boating Center
On the Chesapeake Bay, an Adaptive Boating Center is expected to open in 2023. The organization Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating—aka CRAB—is working on replacing an old marina with a new one that exceeds the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The same type of renovation is happening with a 2,600-square-foot learning center, and there will be an open-air pavilion and picnic area for families and caregivers to use.
Plans are for the use of virtual technology to help participants learn sailing skills, to earn a Maryland Boating Certificate and to receive information about the marine trades and job opportunities. An adaptive pontoon boat is being added to allow people in wheelchairs to experience the bay’s fishing, crabbing and boating opportunities, and a larger sailboat will allow CRAB sailors to participate in racing.
5. Baltimore's Downtown Sailing Center
Baltimore’s Downtown Sailing Center has a volunteer-led program that offers single- or double-handed dinghy sailing and instruction, as well as therapeutic recreation with a skipper and crew who take participants for a sail around the harbor. The center’s docks have ramps, Hoyer lifts and shaded space, and the adaptive sailing program is offered free of charge.
6. Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation
In the Chicago area, the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation provides classroom and on-water instruction. The on-water instruction takes place aboard various types of sailboats, with Freedom 20s built specifically with safety features for sailors who have different abilities. Some of the boats can be used for the type of racing done in the Paralympics.
7. Hudson River Community Sailing
Hudson River Community Sailing in New York City has an adaptive sailing program for youth and adults. The organization has worked with veterans since 2014 and hosts the annual Heroes on the Hudson adaptive sports clinic for injured veterans.
Numerous other organizations offer adaptive sailing and adaptive boating all around the United States, at marinas of all sizes and on bodies of water big and small. An online search for the terms “adaptive sailing” or “adaptive boating” turns up a wealth of opportunities for people of all ability levels who want to get out onto the water, all around the nation.