Making use of powerboats to get people of all abilities on the water is nothing new.

But the RYA’s new Powerability scheme now extends the accessibility of powerboat skippering to all by introducing the opportunity to do recognised RYA training and gain certificates in another type of boating activity.

Powerability has been developed with Dart Sailability in Devon, who, six years ago, launched their own powerboat certification after recognising a gap in the potential for skill development in the young people and adults who sailed with them.

And such has been the success of that programme, that Dart, led by Chief Power Instructor, Andrew Cushen, have worked closely with Rachel Andrews, Chief Instructor Motor Cruising and Power, to roll the scheme out nationally.


As Rachel explains: “For many disabled people skippering a powerboat may not have been an option before as, for example, limited mobility might have meant they are unable to keep lookout around them or they might not have had the upper body strength or dexterity to operate the throttle and use the wheel at the same time.

“Powerability overcomes that by effectively making the skipper the manager of the boat. In much the same way that the captain of a container ship never touches the controls, can a skipper complete tasks themselves or clearly instruct crew to carry out actions enabling the safe travel and manoeuvring of a boat under power?

“The new scheme enables people to achieve an RYA certificate by recognising the skills they do have as a crew or as a helm, removing any barriers, to reinforce learning and achievement and build confidence on the water.”

So what’s it all about?

Powerability compliments and dovetails into the RYA Powerboat scheme at Level 1.

The syllabus covers the clothing and safety equipment an individual needs, getting started in a powerboat, developing crew skills and what it takes to be a helm.

Some 30 tasks are set out under these headings with Bronze, Silver and Gold certificates available. For each level a number of tasks must be completed and a minimum number of sessions attended. The aim is to encourage skill development and ongoing participation on a pathway into the rest of the RYA Powerboat Scheme.

Logbooks and certificates for Powerability will be available by June. To run the scheme a site has to be an RYA Training Centre recognised for powerboating, an accredited RYA Sailability site and the training must be delivered by an RYA qualified Powerboat Instructor.

Rachel continued: “We wanted to make sure the syllabus included crew skills, such as coiling a rope or deploying a fender, as these can often get overlooked in their importance whereas in Powerability, through the helm’s command, these skills all contribute to if a boat can even move, so crew involvement can be crucial.”

What can Powerability achieve?

Andrew Cushen doesn’t hesitate when asked that question - he estimates around 50 Dart Powerability certificates have been issued over the six years to students of widely varying disability and ages.

One young person with learning and short-term memory difficulties has achieved his Powerboat Level 2, and become part of Dart Sailability’s safety crew. Some of their Sonar keelboat and Hansa sailors are working towards their Powerboat Level 2 too.

In addition Andrew has run Powerability training for other river users, who may be experienced powerboat drivers but who, through age, arthritis, injury or illness etc, want to make sure they are safe to continue using their boats.

Dart carries out their Powerability training in RIBs and dories as well as their specially designed duel control landing craft, which includes side loading and a hydraulic ramp at the front, to extend driving opportunities to motorised wheelchair users. Check out the landing craft and more about Dart Powerability in this video...

Andrew admits Dart now have people who come along to Sailability who don’t want to sail and just want to develop powerboat skills to support that side of the group.

He said: “One of my aims was to get disabled members involved in all aspects and at all levels of Dart Sailability and Powerability has been the key to this.

“Not only do we have members acting as safety drivers and crew for our own activities, including wildlife and history cruises on the River Dart, but we do a lot of safety boat work for other events and regattas on the river and our powerboat trained members can be involved in these too.

“We started Powerability as a way for one of the schools we work with to evidence what the students were achieving through Sailability, and the school’s training officer, John Ballantyne, was very involved in setting-up the scheme.

“Now we are delighted Powerability has been taken on nationally and even more disabled people across the UK will get the chance to develop skills and confidence in the same way our members have.”

Rachel added: "We are really grateful to Dart Sailability for being so open about their approach and for their help in developing Powerability. Their experience and willingness to share has been invaluable.”

How can we get involved?

Powerability has already attracted a lot of interest. If you want to run the scheme but are not yet a recognised RYA Powerboat training centre contact recognition@rya.org.uk or for more information on the scheme, including becoming an RYA accredited Sailability site, contact the Sailability team.