Sailing has often been depicted as an elitist sport. Something only movie stars, the people from Downtown Abbey, and those who own a fridge-freezer with a self-contained ice-making machine can afford. 

But there’s an organisation in the Isle of Man that makes sailing more accessible than it’s ever been before. 

Sailing for the Disabled, if you haven’t already heard of it, is a volunteer-run charity offering sailing experiences for people of all ages with disabilities, seen or unseen, temporary or permanent. You might have spotted their 48-feet yacht – The Pride of Man III – in Douglas Marina. Not to brag, but it’s the biggest one there. So, you might need a bigger boat, Roy Schnieder, but they’ve already got one.

The organisation was created back in 1984, and since its inception, the evolution the charity has undergone to make its services accessible to more and more people has been no mean feat, and even won it the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service back in 2006, which honours unsung heroes in the community. 

Speaking of unsung community heroes, I had the pleasure of chatting with chairperson of Sailing for the Disabled Paul Atkinson and vice chairperson Carole Quayle. Each had an energy and clear-headedness as refreshing as the sea air they spend a lot of their time inhaling. 

Their passion for the charity was tangible with each having a clear drive to continue adapting, so Sailing for the Disabled can be as inclusive and comfortable as possible. An example being with the current ship’s predecessor, The Pride of Man II, some users had to be hoisted on board, while on The Pride of Man III, a ramp has been installed so users have independent access onto the yacht. But it’s not only the ships that have changed; attitudes have too.

Paul discussed the preconceptions of how people interact with those who have a disability. ‘When I first came to the charity, I was very much focussed on someone who had a disability was someone who had a visible disability’ says Paul, which is what many of the boat’s original adaptions were tailored around. However, in the last 10 years The Pride of Man III has expanded its services to assist people with hidden disabilities, such as adults and children with special educational needs, those with mental health issues, people who have been diagnosed with or are undergoing treatment for a life-altering disease, and, for the first-time last year, people with dementia and their carers. 

‘We refer to our clients as “enabled sailors” because we are enabling people with all disabilities to sail, and people can do as much or as little as they want’ says vice chair Carole. You can go full-on Captain Jack Sparrow and take the helm (looting is frowned upon) or you can simply go aboard, sit in the cockpit and enjoy a cup of tea in a safe space. 

All sea clothing is provided by the charity thanks to its sponsors, which Sailing for the Disabled relies upon for funds. Patricia Wild Opticians clearly saw the organisation’s value early on and has been a sponsor for 17 years now. The company often pays for members of BLESMA – The Military Charity for Limbless Veterans – to come to the island especially to take part in Sailing for the Disabled services, of which there are several to choose from. Whether individually or in a group, you can book on a short sail (four hours), a day trip, or, if you’re a bonafide sea dog, you can do a weekend trip, or week-long voyage to various places in the Irish Sea where you live and sleep on the boat.

It's a big year for Sailing for the Disabled, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. To commemorate the milestone, the charity is getting the old gang back together for a big reunion on July 21.  Supported by the RNLI, the Pride of Man I, II, and III will all be reunited in Douglas Bay to bask in each other’s glory and appreciate the huge steps each ship has taken to continue evolving so more people with disabilities can be enabled to sail. There’ll also be a dinner fundraiser evening in September especially for the anniversary.

The main thing Paul and Carole want is for people to realise Sailing for the Disabled’s inclusivity; it is for everyone. The organisation aims to break down the outdated reputation that sailing is exclusively for Ralph Lauren polo-shirt-tied-in-that-rich-person-way-around-their-shoulders-wearing elitists (although they are also welcome). It’s for people of any age, any social background, and any disability – visible or hidden, temporary or permanent. And the organisation is constantly assessing its facilities to push and expand limitations so they can enable more people to take to the seas.

If your interest has been piqued but you’re still unsure, the charity does taster days so you can give it a go rather than deciding from a distance. And, be assured, if you’re like me and need quick access to a sturdy sick bag while simply walking over a puddle, Paul reassures ‘it’s not the same as going on the Manannan in a Force 6. It’s entirely different.’ 

If you’re still a little apprehensive, don’t worry. You, either individually or as a group, can go to one of the Sailing for the Disabled open days, where they get people on the boat while it’s still moored in the harbour. I hear there’s also free tea, coffee, and biscuits, just to seal the deal. 

The charity sails all year round, seven days a week, and is run solely by volunteers. If you’d like to get your sea legs and help out, the organisation is always looking for people to get involved in any capacity, particularly during mid-week. 

More information can be found on the Sailing for the Disabled’s fancy, new, very accessible website, created by local web agency ClickSpace. There, you can find lovely information videos, details on its history, services, members, volunteers, and how you can get involved, with some gorgeous pictures thrown in for good measure. There’s something for everyone. Which is the wave Paul and Carole have been riding this whole time.

For more information or to get involved, please visit