Autism and boating

Practical strategies to ensure the best experience every time for autistic people

When I come sailing I am me, not what other people want me to be. The rest of the time you spend trying not to be you, just to fit in. If you have had a really rubbish day, you just have to go sailing and you are fine.


I love the spirit of freedom that comes with sailing


Boating is fun, social and challenging. Activity outside and on or near the water is good for you physically and for your wellbeing. Learning new skills or doing something you are good at is rewarding. Boating can build character and develop key life skills.

Many autistic people miss out on these benefits because organisations, instructors and coaches aren’t always aware of the impact of autism such as heightened anxiety in social situations, experiencing the sensory world differently, repetitive behaviours, difficulties with flexibility of thought and communication. 


No two autistic people are the same so taking the time to get to know the person will enable the person to enjoy the many benefits of boating and bring the strengths they have to developing a lifelong love of being on the water. 

A person centred approach is needed, one that is based on:

  • Asking, not assuming
  • Listening
  • Assessing what is needed and adjusting plans
  • Doing – delivering a session, running an activity
  • Reviewing – reflecting on what happened and what you will do next time

This resource is a guide and offers some practical strategies for delivering boating activities for people on the autism spectrum. It is a guide only, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. It’s all about  the person and what is important to them.

The thing is with autism you get a lot of anxiety. Sometimes I’ll come home, I’ve had a really stressful day at school and I just get out on the water and forget all my worries and it’s a load of fun sailing around and going fast


Logan finds disruption stressful, large groups overwhelm him but because he loves sailing he has learned to deal with change and crowds. When he first started he wouldn't speak to anyone, but now he is much more confident

Marie, Logan's Mum
Autism facts

Over 700,000 people in the UK are autistic


Sailing is Murray's world, its his everything, and it has given him the confidence to be part of the team on and off the water

What is autism

Autistic people increasingly say that the way their brain functions and processes information is different

Practical strategies

Taking the time to get to know the person, what is important to them and for them is key to ensuring they have a positive experience on and off the water



Thank you to the following for their help with this guide: National Autistic Society; Bob Lowndes; Laura Kerbey - Positive Autism Support and Training; Logan Bell; Ben Foulsham; Marie Pears; Murray MacDonald; Sonia Humby

Further information

Download the guide as an accessible pdf

Autism and boating
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