A busy pontoon with boats moored alongside, people being hoisted into  boats, people in wheelchairs waiting to get into boats, and general excitement about going sailing.
Final checks at Rutland on a busy pontoon before going afloat

The right equipment used properly

An important part of people feeling safe, having fun and being able to take part is the right kit, prepared properly with everyone involved knowing how to use it

Jonathan Schofield (Rutland Sailability) and David Griffith (Chesil Sailability) both believe that safety is the cornerstone to fun activities on the water for disabled people. Brett Cokayne talked to them about the role equipment plays to ensure safe and fun activity.

Jonathan has a navy background, is a Sailing Trainer for the RYA training scheme and chief instructor at Rutland Sailability. He first came across Sailability at Whitefriars and firmly believes that any session has three key ingredients: 1) it is safe; 2) it is fun; 3) it achieves its objectives.

David has been involved with Chesil Sailability since 2017 and is currently Chair of both Chesil Sailability, and the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy. He is ex police force, where he managed the operations of helicopters and boats where hefty operating documents and protocols were the norm. These kinds of documents were limited when he first came to Chesil, so he drew on the Sailability community and the knowledge they had to improve them.


Jonathan and David both emphasise the role that checklists and pre-use checks play in ensuring that the right equipment is available and used properly, and is regularly inspected and maintained. Don't forget first impressions count - flaky varnish, mouldy sealant, frayed ropes, or excessive corrosion do not give sailors and volunteers the assurance that the vessels are looked after and safe to use.

For safety boats, Jonathan’s start point is the RYA Training Checklist for Powerboats (requires access to the Training Support pages on the RYA website). Sailability activity may require additional items – both David and Jonathan recommend  jacobs’ ladders, hypo hoists or wet nets as they can assist with recovery from the water. These wet nets are an effective way of recovering people from the water who can’t assist in their own recovery – a bit of practice easily builds confidence around how they are used. The RYA Sailability programme has a hypo-hoist if you want to borrow one and see how it works for you. 

Whatever you use, making it visible is key – laminated sheets on the vessel so that anyone using it can check that everything is there and knows what they need to check before they leave the dock.

Know what to do – make it easy

It is not just about safety boats though, David is a big believer in a common understanding of the boats being sailed – from rigging guides to the checks needed to make sure they are ready for use. Again RYA Training have a checklist for dinghies, keelboats and multihulls (access to training support pages needed). 

At Chesil, they are working toward making sure each boat of a similar type is set up the same – even the borrowed ones. The halyards are all the same colour (red as it happens) so that whenever you get in the boat and see the red rope, you know that is the halyard. Those involved in providing safety cover get involved in rigging the boats, so they know how they all go together, how to de-power and de-rig them if they ever need to. 

If you are bringing new boats into a fleet, take the time to assess whether they are right for your operations; update procedures and allow sailors and volunteers time to get to know how the boat is set up and used. David emphasises the approach at Chesil to condense fleets – fewer variables and easier to build the understanding of what is used and how it is used. Jonathan mentions checking that your operations can cope with a new type of vessel – have you got the right safety boat, with enough power in the engine, to recover the new sailing vessel you acquire? Risk assessments based on what you do have in place are key – if you know your safety boats only have limited power, don’t buy a dinghy that requires more power to recover them until you can upgrade your safety fleet as well.

Shared responsibilities

In a theme that runs throughout the conversation, David and Jonathan talk about the systems in place to make sure that no one person is responsible for ensuring equipment is ready to use. Checklists give the framework, a team may rig or prepare the vessel using the guides and training they have been given, and someone else may make a final check that all is well, all with delegated authority from the group of people responsible for governance within the organisation (e.g. trustees / board / management committee). At Chesil, for example, no Hansa can leave the pontoon before the duty officer has eyes on the long keel pin, checking it is in place and secured.

David and Jonathan were keen to point out the same principles apply not just to the sailing vessels and safety boats in use, but all the equipment used to get boats and people on and off the water, whether that is hoists, tractors, trailers or anything else.


You can have all the equipment in the world, but it is useless without people with the right knowledge, ability and skills to use it – people who are familiar with the boats and equipment being used, familiar with the procedures and protocols and who know what to do and how to do it. Safety systems are a combination of documented procedures, checklists and protocols that are functional and concise, along with people who have the right attitudes and behaviours.

In a world where volunteers don’t want to jump through lots of hoops to get involved, where they want flexibility to fit volunteering into their busy and complex lives this can be hard, so for both David and Jonathan the ongoing process of training people, practicing skills, refreshing knowledge, reflecting on practice and keeping a record of who is deemed competent on and off the water in different roles is a balance. Enough so that participants can be assured that your organisation has competent people involved, not so much that it is too daunting for volunteers.

If you'd like more information or have any questions on safety and equipment please get in touch by emailing sailability@rya.org.uk

fun - I feel welcome and have fun
safe - I feel safe and can raise my concerns
open - I am able to take part
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