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Sailors With Disabilities - Classes and Equipment

The goal of most programs for sailors with disabilities is to leave the wheelchairs and disabilities on the dock and allow everyone to enjoy the independence and freedom that is possible when sailing. Almost any boat can be sailed by people with disabilities, however some boats are more suitable than others. Some of the boats that have enabled this process in Canada are listed in the chart below:
There are several other small keelboat classes being used by sailors with disabilities in North America, and most sailors compete in open events in their own regions in many various one-design and PHRF classes.

Class
Length
Paralympics
Sailors
Built-in
Boats in Canada
2.4mR
14'
Yes
1
Scandinavia, Australia, USA
17
SKUD 18
18'
Yes
2
Indonesia
3
Sonar
23'
Yes
3
Canada
5
Martin 16
16'
No
1-2
Canada
51
Access
4 models
No
1-2
Austrailia, UK, France, Indonesia, USA
75
Hobie 16 with trapseat
16'
No
2
USA
lots of boats, 20 sets of trapseats
Freedom-Independence
20'
No
2
USA
3
Challenger-Trimaran
15'
No
1-2
Great Britain
2

1. International 2.4mR (Paralympic Class)

The 2.4mR (pronounced "two point four metre") is an international single-handed keelboat class, selected as the single-handed class for the Paralympic Games and the World Disabled Sailing Championships. Being a construction class, originated in Stockholm, there are different 2.4mR designs built by various boatbuilders. The Norlin Mark III is the designated design for the Paralympic Games and Worlds.

The 2.4mR is almost 14 feet in length, 2 feet 8 inches wide and draws just over 3 feet of water. The single sailor sits down in the bottom of the boat facing forward with all the controls within arms' reach. With the exception of specific events designated for sailors with disabilities, 2.4mR racing is done in one open class, with everyone racing together. There is a very active international racing schedule and the 2.4mR open World Championships annually attract 80-100 competitors, up to 40% of whom are sailors with physical disabilities.

Toronto has the fastest growing fleet in North America. The number of boats has gone from 2 in 2004 to 14 in 2005. Other centres of activity are in Miami, St. Petersburg and the Scandinavian countries. Our long term plan for a training fleet in Canada includes the 2.4mR.

2. SKUD 18 (Paralympic Class)

The SKUD 18 is a lead-assisted skiff. With a tube-launched asymmetrical spinnaker and a modern high performance stayed rig, the boat is an exciting addition to World and Paralympic Competition. Able-bodied and disabled athletes alike will enjoy this platform - and more severely disabled sailors will welcome the ability to compete on an equitable level.

Selected in 2005 as the boat for two-person Paralympic competition in Beijing, the SKUD18 is a strict one design class. Sailors are seated on the centerline for Paralympic events, but the boat can be sailed with or without either of the seats and configured to suit different sailors’ needs.

3. Sonar (Paralympic Class)

The Sonar is an international keelboat class, selected as the crew boat for the Paralympic Games and the World Disabled Sailing Championships. Normally sailed with 3-4 crew members and with a spinnaker in open events, the class rules have been modified for disabled events, specifying 3 crew members and no spinnaker. Only 2 of the 3 crew members are permitted to sit on the side deck and no one is permitted forward of the cockpit.

The Sonar is 23 feet in length, almost 8 feet wide and draws close to 4 feet of water. Designed by Bruce Kirby, the Sonar is built in Oakville, Ontario. The boat's high stability, balanced inboard rudder and large cockpit make it eminently suitable for sailors with disabilities, who are permitted to add some very creative seating and other approved assistive arrangements, provided they are not permanently attached to the boat.

We have a handful of Sonars in Canada and do a lot of our regattas and training in Florida where a resident fleet is established in St. Petersburg. Rochester, NY and San Francisco have been building fleets and we have a long term plan to establish a training fleet in Canada.

4. Martin 16

The Martin 16 is a single-handed keelboat class, designed and built in Canada. The boat is 16' long with a drop keel, and the sailor sits in a single seat facing forward, with all lines within reach. The joystick steering is centred in the boat, between the sailor's legs. There is also a seat behind the sailor if a companion is required for training, crew or safety purposes.

The Martin 16 is used for most of the disabled sailing programs across the country and could be considered to be Canada's development class for racing for sailors with disabilities. Assistive technology developed in Canada enables sailors with severe disabilities, such as high level quadriplegia, to sail and race independently, either through electronic joystick or "sip and puff" breath controls.

The class has recently added a spinnaker option to the boat. Mobility Cup is currently sailed in the Martin 16.

5. Access Dinghy

The Access Dinghy comes from Australia and has the same principle of getting people with disabilities sailing independently. The Access Dinghy has a less sophisticated form of the assistive steering and sheeting systems developed in Canada, but they are highly effective (and much less expensive). The Access Dinghies are not high performance boats like the Martin 16, but they are far more economical and enjoy large fleets on the race course. Several Canadian programs have purchased Access Dinghies to supplement their training fleets and the regatta schedule in North America is growing.

There are several other small keelboat classes being used by sailors with disabilities in North America, and most sailors compete in open events in their own regions in many various one-design and PHRF classes.

6. Hobie 16 with Trapseat

The Hobie 16 can be fitted with racks called trapseats, which extend outside the 2 hulls. Normally sailed with 2 able-bodied crew members in open events, the class rules have been modified for disabled events, specifying a disabled skipper and an able bodied crew. The skipper can sit in the trapseat or on the tramp, but is prohibited from crossing the centre line of the tramp.