Ray welcomes the launch of the Disabled Powerboating Trust
The launch of the Disabled Powerboating Trust (DPT), a new incentive recognising disabled enthusiasts keen to do their boating under power rather than sail, is a most welcome development.
Catering for those who may not have the same physical ability as others has been high in my mind since my days on the RYA Development Committee (now defunct) in the 1980s.
Sailability has been with us for many years and indeed does valuable work. It is a recognised RYA charity which somewhat reflects the association’s stronger leanings toward sail rather than the much larger pastime of motorboating.
As well as Sailability, disabled sailors have the Jubilee Sailing Trust with its two square riggers, Lord Nelson and Tenacious, designed and built specifically for the disabled.
In fact, disabled people under sail have achieved outstanding feats, many which fully able-bodied people would think twice at attempting, but until now those keen on power have generally been overlooked.
I suppose many wrongly feel that once aboard a motor boat a disabled skipper has little to worry about apart from using one hand on its single-lever control and the other on the wheel but supposing mobility with arms and legs is severely restricted? Craft therefore need to be adapted like those for disabled yachtsmen and women.
I’m sure the new charity will handle this type of modification in its stride but it’s most important that the DPT attracts the same level of public awareness as Sailability.
One thing not lacking is enthusiasm. One of the trustees of the DPT Geoff Holt MBE, the 2011 YJA Yachtsman of the Year, who was the first disabled yachtsman to sail solo round Britain.
But there is still much to be done to help disabled motorboaters on the water.
I well remember when serving on the RYA Development Committee suggesting that leading marinas should be approached about installing facilities to assist with disabled boaters. I felt that two or three spaces could be reserved on visitors’ pontoons nearest to the shore.
These could be fitted with some form of wheelchair-friendly gangway to ease boarding. Spaces could be booked in advance by telephone with a midday cut-off allowing the marina operator to rent to regular crews.
And how many exhibitors at the recent Tullett Prebon London Boat Show were offering craft which could be modified to accommodate disabled owners? I’m guessing zero, although there are some companies out there offering bespoke constructions for less physically abled owners.
Companies hiring cruisers on the inland waterways of Britain and Europe is another area which should consider the disabled.
I have spent several years cruising the waterways of France and Belgium and currently share a canal cruiser with ten other members of the Cowes Island Sailing Club.
We travel from the northern system to canals in southern Burgundy and west to east from Paris to Strasberg. Only once have I seen a hire cruiser designed specifically for the disabled.
Among the trustees of the new charity is Robert Braithwaite CBE, president of Sunseeker International. There’s not much his company doesn’t know about boat design. Their luxurious cabin layouts are second to none. I just wonder if we will ever see a layout creeping through likely to benefit the disabled customer. If so, let’s hope others follow suit.