Safety practice guidance - Sailability

Guidance around safety practice where disabled people and those with long term health conditions are taking part

This guidance is for staff and volunteers responsible for delivering training or providing support around safety on the water during Sailability related activities. 

The Sailability programme has delivery principles:

The guidance supports these principles from a safety perspective and considers a number of issues:

  • Personal flotation
  • Self righting boats
  • Adaptations to boats, including servos and switches
  • Recovering boats
  • Recovering people
  • Seating and posture

The guidance supplements existing RYA safety related information, courses and RYA Training Guidance. It reflects the issues that may need to be considered given a range of complex and diverse personal needs that some sailors have.

Key messages

  • You need a systematic approach to safety
  • Familiarise yourselves with the knowledge, competencies and techniques covered in the RYA Safety boat course
  • Plan for the worst, and test the procedures you have in place
  • Boats and equipment should be well-maintained and regularly checked
  • Familiarise yourself with the boats and equipment you are using
  • Record and reflect on accidents, incidents and near misses
  • Discuss sailors’ individual needs with them
  • If you have sailors who may have restricted ability to help themselves if they end up in the water, carefully consider the level of safety cover you need in the immediate vicinity, mast head buoyancy, reducing sail area, and when the conditions may limit activity


A systematic approach to safety

An overview of the key elements of safety systems


Providers of activity have a clear duty of care to keep those involved in the activity safe. People of all ages, with a wide range of impairments go sailing. It is important to consider the person, the situation and the staff / volunteers involved before making safety decisions.

Personal flotation

It is important to get the choice of personal flotation device right each time a person goes afloat, particularly for people who may not be able to actively participate in their own self-righting if they were to end up in the water.

Strapping and harnesses

Strapping and other equipment are used for several reasons including to maintain posture and improve control of sails and steering. Straps and harnesses can be used by a person day to day (for example, in a wheelchair) or as a specific part of sailing equipment.

Self righting boats

Self-righting means different things for different vessels. Experience shows self-righting boats can and do get ‘knocked down’ or capsize, increasing the risk of inversion and entrapment. There are known examples where through a variety of factors they have subsequently inverted, including with the keel or weighted centre board retracted.

Adaptations to boats

Any modifications that deviate from the original design specification may alter the stability characteristics of that vessel and access to the full range of controls (steering and sails).

Recovering boats

When towing vessels participants usually remain in the boat. The seating arrangements in some vessels used for disabled people, and participants’ own limited mobility, may make it harder for the crew to stay out of the way of a tow rope, particularly if multiple vessels are being towed

Recovering people

Explore equipment like slings or wet nets, the importance for having a plan for individuals who may not be able to fully help themselves and the role really good communication plays

Seating and posture

Seating and posture are important for both personal safety and the ability to take an active part in sailing.



The advice contained in these pages follows work to appraise the collective knowledge and practice around recovering people and boats that has been gathered from testing and observations as well as learning and recommendations from previous incidents. If you have knowledge or practice to share, or have feedback on any of the content, please get in touch.

Further information
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