Will Street and Megan Pascoe, GBR, Two Person Keelboat (Skud) at Day One of the ISAF Sailing World Cup Weymouth & Portland. Image: OnEdition

Sailability has always been about getting people of all abilities on the water and enjoying the freedom and buzz of sailing with independence and dignity. But how does someone ‘having a go’ become a regular sailor? Racing can be key.

The first hurdle is overcoming the ‘what ifs’. What if the boat capsizes? What if the sailing club is not accessible? What if there is no one else like me? What if getting in a boat is humiliating?

RYA Sailability has been answering every ‘what if’ since 1997, and that is the reason around 12,000 people across the whole spectrum of disabilities get into a boat and sail every year.

Approximately one in every five people in the UK has a disability. That is anything from a slight visual or hearing impairment to mild physical side effects from illness.

“Many of these people would never describe themselves as disabled,” explains Brett Cokayne, Disability Development Officer and Sailability racing lead. “That is why Sailability focuses on what people can do and the abilities they have.

“If the thing a person has trouble with stops them going on the water Sailability can support them in getting afloat. Transforming them into regulars is the next step.”

The competitive bug

Racing is a proven way for all sailors to boost skills, confidence and enjoyment, not to mention the social benefits, which keep them sailing more often. The word ‘racing’ can feel scary to new sailors. But competition does not have to mean competitive. To start with anyway!

With sailing currently fighting to be reinstated as a Paralympic sport for 2024, much focus has been on the elite end. But without the grassroots there can be no high performance racing in any class.

Brett continues: “We have our eye on both ends of the spectrum to ensure anyone can race to whatever level they aspire.

“Everyone loves the buzz of friendly competition; it is why we play cards and board games and so on. So we work with everyone, from Sailability groups, sailing clubs, training centres and class associations to individual sailors, to make ensure there is a pathway in place for people of all standards and motivations to go racing.”

At the start of this pathway nurturing basic racing activity is crucial.

The RYA Sailability team works locally to help groups and clubs introduce racing, with ideas as simple as identifying one marker and seeing who can get to it fastest.

As racing becomes more popular, so the Sailability team can support clubs and groups to put in place more structured race training and developing a regular race series. Boat type does not matter as different classes can race against each other using the Portsmouth Yardstick numbers, while format and rules are considered too.

Meanwhile, the RYA also aims to identify a small number of regional club ‘hubs’ to further develop grassroots racing, with resource channeled into coaching, fleet support and race management development.

Venturing further afield

As confidence and skills flourish, so does the desire to push oneself. Where Sailability groups are part of or affiliated to a sailing club, sailors can get involved in club racing with the Portsmouth Yardstick again helping to create a level class playing field.

For others, getting out on the road is the next step and the RYA Sailability Multiclass Regatta, over 4 – 6 August at Rutland SC, can be the perfect introduction to an ‘away’ event. The regatta is the biggest of its type in the country and offers two action-packed days of racing across a range of classes.

“Standard does not matter, the Multiclass Regatta can help improve any sailor’s skills and let them experience the buzz of a big event in a friendly, easy environment,” insists Brett. “There is an optional race training day on the Friday before two days of racing follow with the training and racing tailored to cater for sailors of all levels.”

This year for the first time an ‘open class’ is included so everyone is welcome to compete no matter what boat you sail.

More information about the regatta, notice of race and booking can be found at

Class associations, such as the Hansa, 2.4mR and Challenger classes, also play an important role in getting people competing regularly. Many run regional training events where coaches provide technical boat advice as well as racing skills, tactics and strategy. They run traveller series’ too, both within regions and further afield.

Hansa is running a project to make six Hansa 303s, including road trailer and towing vehicle, available for loan to non-boat owners at racing and training events.

Additionally, the RYA owns 15 2.4mR keelboats, and over the next year these boats will be hosted at a small number of sites to provide opportunities for competent sailors who are non-boat owner to access the boats and experience sailing a 2.4mR.

Extended support

Going to events can be a significant logistical and financial challenge, however, and the further along the pathway a sailor goes the tougher that challenge can become.

Supporting sailors at international competitions, including European and World Championships, is as important in sustaining participation as grassroots investment.

To achieve this, as well as to support World Sailing in their objectives to evidence the sport’s robust international competition programme in their bid to get sailing returned as a Paralympic sport, the RYA has provided a number of travel grants for 2.4mR competitors to attend four events this summer.

These events were Sailing World Cup Hyeres, France, Delta Lloyd Regatta, Holland, the Para World Sailing Championships in Germany and the Para Europeans in Poland, with RYA coaching and RIB support provided at each with no extra cost.

Will Street, Nev Millard, Megan Pascoe and Carol Dugdale are amongst the sailors to have taken advantage of these grants, with Megan winning gold in Holland.

As Brett concludes: “The whole Sailability ethos is about removing barriers. The RYA is committed to making all disabled sailing more affordable and inclusive, this includes increasing the quantity and quality of racing opportunities.

“Maintaining a talent pipeline in the event of sailing being reinstated for 2024 is critical, but nurturing a healthy competitive circuit that allows people to develop their skills and sail more often at any level is equally important. We think the strategy we have to support and develop this activity can make this happen.”