Gifting Guide Day 22: Adapted Sailing Products

It wouldn’t be a gift-giving season without a request for sailing gear or boat parts. There is no such thing as a day wasted on the water, and there is nothing like sailing in a stiff breeze to clear one’s mind and calm one’s soul.

Man sailing a sip and puff controlled sailboat with crew.

Any boat can be adapted, sailed, and raced by people with various disabilities. I remember watching Nick Scandone win the gold medal for the USA with his teammate Maureen McKinnon-Tucker sailing a SCUD-18 in the 2008 Paralympic Games. Nick, who had ALS, was sailing as a Classification 1, the most severe mobility limitation. He drove the boat, and had the highest tech setup I’ve ever seen on an adapted sailboat. Incidentally, Nick is also the only Paralympic sailor to win the US Sailing’s Yachtsman of the Year.

Visit for interviews with adapted sailors.

Type 1 Personal Floatation Device with neck support designed to turn a person face up in the water.

Safety First

One of the essential pieces of sailing gear is an excellent Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or life jacket. Type 1 PFDs provide the most floatation, and most will turn an unconscious person face-up out of the water. A Type 1 PFD is what we would recommend for someone with limited motor function, poor coordination, or for sailing in extreme conditions. Many mainstream retailers sell this type of device, such as West Marine:–type-i-comfort-deluxe-life-jacket–15911373?recordNum=3 . There are also some specialty companies, such as Lifejackets Adapted (, that sell PFDs for people with specific needs.

Wetsuit that has been adapted for a person with a left left amputation.

What to Wear

Some sailors like to wear wetsuits depending on where and what type of boat they sail. Wetsuits help insulate and retain heat when sailing in wet boats (racing dighys) in cold waters, such as when “frostbite” sailing. A wetsuit needs to be tight and fit properly to work, which can be difficult for some people with disabilities. There are specialty companies that can modify wetsuits to fit based on their needs, such as Terrapin Wetsuits ( out of Texas. Check them out if you enjoy sailing in cold weather (or diving or surfing) and need help getting a wetsuit that fits.

Power linear actuator attached to a modified tiller, which is a stick that attached to the boat's rudder and controls its direction.

High Tech Driving

This article explains how the tiller, which is what controls the rudder and thus the direction of a sailboat, can be adapted for control with a joystick or sip-n-puff system. It is essentially a weatherproof linear actuator and electronics connected to a modified tiller.

Sip-n-Puff /Joystick Tiller Steering:

Example of a solid captains seat with lateral side supports that could be added to a boat with seat belt for a person with poor leg and trunk support.

Comfortable and Secure Seating

Another idea for people with limited leg and trunk support is to install fixed seats with seat belts or straps into the cockpit of a keel boat. A non-folding high back helm seat, such as: , could be a good choice.

Fixed captain’s seat that could be used to adapt a sailboat:

Hold Fast!

Like grab bars in a bathroom, sail boats have hand holds and rails all over the place to aid sailors in getting around the boat in rough seas or when the boat is healing over. Adding a handrail in strategic locations can  be very helpful in crossing the boat during a tack. Other tricks, like adding extra handles or wearing gloves with extra grip will aid people with poor grip strength in getting to the high side.

Stability Bar:

Common back saver shovel handle, designed to attach to shovels and other garden tools, can be added to a sailboat to create additional hand holds.

Adapted shovel handle or extension handle can be attached to rails, lifeline stanchions, or to the deck itself to provide extra purchase or something to hold onto with a closed fist. Sand Scoop Shovel Handle: or Just be sure to pick non-corrosive materials, and swap out any steel nuts and bolts for stainless steel.

Inexpensive polyester garden gloves dipped in rubber coating can provide a great deal of grip for sailors who need help holding on.

Not only can a good set of sailing gloves protect your hands from rope burn, but they can siginfcantly improve your grip. I’ve gone through a lot of gloves in my day. I’d say Zhik has the best full finger grip gloves out there. Extra grippy sailing gloves:

I also know people who pick up in expensive garden gloves that are dipped in a rubberized coating. They are thicker, very grippy, and a 3 pack can be purchased for under $10. Just make sure you get rid of them before they wear through.

Michael Papp has worked for ADRS since 1999. He has a Master's degree in Rehabilitation Engineering, and a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering. He worked for 3 years doing research and development for a prosthetics company. He creates customized tools, devices, and computer systems for people with disabilities to improve their independence at work, home, and school.