Wheelchair Accessible Yachts, Suitable Dinghies and other Equipment of Interest to Disabled Sailing

click to enlarge

wrong keels can be fitted
(303 pic taken at UK Nats 04)


Report by wheelchair user Mike Wood, who has a spinal injury at C6/7, paralysed from chest down with partial use of hands, good triceps and biceps and some lats. Dinghy sailing since 1988 and yacht sailing since 1995 Mike designs, modifies and builds yachts and dinghies for disabled people and has a sailing program that provides over 2000 sailing places a year for disabled people.

Email....       mikewood@disabledsailing.org

QUOTE FROM WEBSITE....... Twenty percent longer than the 303 but the same width makes the Liberty a very fast and high pointing sailing dinghy. The Liberty is indeed a totally accessible performance craft which anyone can sail, regardless of ability. The high coamings and wide side decks keep the boat dry even at extreme angles of heel and the two high aspect rudder blades ensure directional stability. We do however recommend the "C" Crane and Keel Caddie for handling Liberty keels which weigh 70Kg. The Liberty has two rudders because, being a single seater with the sailor possibly strapped in on the centreline, the boat has to be free to heel to extremes and still maintain directional stability. This is achieved as the Liberty heels, the canted leeward rudder digs in and becomes more efficient.

Class Association - http://www.hansaclass.org.uk/

My judgment is that the Liberty is not fast, my 303 seems faster, it does not point very well. The high comings are a pain, the two rudders would be better replaced by one that works and it needs much more development...

5/10 - As a boat for all types of disabilities - not very good... the single seat and not being able to reach the controls or see where you are going at times.

1/10 - As a boat for experienced disabled sailors - poor performance, controls and fittings will not attract experienced sailors.

1/10 - As a training boat - not very good... single seat, sail materials, control quality and layout hinder training.

5/10 - Ease of rigging - the keel is a real problem but it is possible to leave masts in so rigging is just a matter of trying to get the furlers to work.

1/10 - Ease of transport and launching - the weight and method of fitting the keel make this very difficult and potentially dangerous.

4/10 - Controls - layout is not good and quality poor.

3/10 - Quality of fittings and build - the molding's are good but fittings poor.

9/10 - Getting in and out - very easy, and very comfortable for almost everyone.

4/10 - Sailing qualities - sails are poor and difficult to set well, the boat does not point very well.

5/10 - As a club boat - I cant see it as good value and its performance and single seat is a drawback.


MY OPINION.......The latest offering from Access Dinghies, will need more development to be a really good boat for disabled people and Hansa/Access do not seem to have a good development record. Boats tested in the mid 90's still have the same faults to-day. Ten years of development and we still have keels that can be fitted to the wrong model and still the same poor quality fittings.

However good marketing a well organised class association and regular worldwide regattas show all the other 'disabled sailing providers' how it can be done -


- the boats may not be the greatest but the organisation, support and dedication are second to none.

So you take your choice and pay your money. The Liberty is not a real bargain when you consider the other the other small dinghies available. The poor quality fittings and some of the very poor design features may entail modification and maintenance and add to the problem of keeping club boats running.

So a serious Club or individual could be looking at spending more than they think by the time they have a decent reliable boat and this puts you in a different ball game. If you look around you may be able to get a 2.4m, a Challenger or Martin 16 for this sort of money and they are all tried and tested quality built boats, by almost anybody's standard in a vastly superior league to the Liberty.



This was very effectively demonstrated at the UK National Championships in 2004 when a 303 capsized in 20 knot gusts, and stayed down if front of 50 or so spectators. This happened right in front of me and I was able to take many pics. The conditions were 10 to 15 kts. - gusting to around 20 kts. A gust hit the 303 and it went over far enough for the crew (NOT CLIPPED IN)to fall out into the mainsail which put the sail well into the water.

The crew was very quickly and effectively rescued by the safety boat. The 303 stayed down until a rescue boat lifted the sail allowing the 303 to pop up. I was told afterwards that a keel from different model Access had been mistakenly fitted.

The Liberty is similar to existing Access models. I am informed that the keels are different weights and can be easily be fitted to the wrong models and keels can actually fall out during a capsize with potentially disastrous consequences.

The steering lines are in a potentially dangerous position behind the seat as people can 'pop things behind the seat' and foul the lines. They also seem to stretch by the minute and should be replaced with some half decent non stretch stuff - all this hassle for 2 worth of string!

The hard seat is a vast improvement on the 'hammock' and the base is a good shape to hold a cushion. The seat and the back are adjustable but not easily. The novel side/lateral supports are very good, but they and the seat in general are not quick or easy to adjust and I think a club would soon curse them.


You also have a choice with the seat... adjust it so that you can see where you are going and you need a crash helmet to ward off the boom. Adjust it so that the boom does not hit you and you cant see where you are going. The jib generally gets in your view when you are heeled anyway and really is a serious problem to me.

The twin rudders had no adjustment between them and I must assume one rudder stalls and acts as a brake when you turn and curiously, taking cost saving to the limit, no means of tying a mooring line at the back!

The rigging in general on all the boats I tested seemed the very cheapest and nastiest you could get. I would expect this on an Escape Solsa dinghy costing a 900 inc Vat, but not on a dinghy aimed at the disabled market where free running lines are essential. The other dinghies in this price range run reasonable kit - why cant Access.

Most fittings and pulleys should be replaced immediately to avoid frustration and possible accidents. The running rigging also seems to be poor quality and should be replaced for similar reasons.

The jib sheets can catch in the oar yoke on the boom and cannot be freed by a seated disabled person and this could be very dangerous. The running lines through holes in the deck without pulleys are difficult at best and a disaster in salty conditions.

The roller reefing on the main did not work easily on any of the three boats I tested which is a nuisance or dangerous depending when you need it. It was just too stiff or got tangled with the lines on the floor.

The fore-sail was interesting , the 'stick thing' got caught up with the (B*!!!y useless) tell-tales which need replacing as they are not very good. You really need good tell tales as the self supporting rig leaves you nowhere to put a reliable wind indicator. The 'stick thing' also stopped the jib setting properly on each boat I tried and being disabled I could not reach to try and sort it out when in the boat.

The control lines are based ahead of the keel are difficult to reach, probably impossible for some disabilities. The jib sheet cleat is in a particularly poor position and very difficult to use. The angle the main sheet come through the main jammer makes it hard to pull under load and the two blocks together on the boom get tangled and interfere with each other.

The keel is a nightmare and jammed every time I tried to lift one. It is foolhardy and possibly very dangerous to try and fit one by hand. The safe way to fit it was demonstrated by a hard working dad who used a sack barrow to move the keel about and a person lift to pop it in and out, and he had this off to fine art.

So now we know why Hansa are recommended for disabled clubs (they have lifts). So you can use an Hansa anywhere King Kong lives? or you can qualify for sailing an Hansa with the hernia you get putting the keel in!

One of the Liberty's I tested ran full electric's and I thoroughly enjoyed it! The Reason! the dinghy belonged to an individual and had been very nicely set up with a number of mods to make the boat work better and easier to use. I will try to get him to document his mods for the web site.

The electric helm was quite precise and fun to use, able to turn quickly enough to avoid problems and fine enough to steer nicely... but it was even harder to balance the boat to sail it in a straight line.

Sail adjustment was OK and a small button on the front of the control box enabled you to disengage the fore-sail motor, although quite why this is useful is not clear to me. It would make more sense to me to be able to set the main, switch it off and be able to make fine adjustments to the jib. Its all a bit academic because most electric sailors I know would not be able to operate a small switch in that position anyway!

The batteries and wiring are a bit vulnerable sited under the keel housing and it is easy to knock the wiring connectors and disconnect them.

The lines to the pulley wheels are also a bit exposed and the smallest kink in the line jambs the system, sometimes reversing the control un-jambs it sometimes you have to do it manually, potentially dangerous.

All the 'string' on the floor sometimes gets caught up in the winch system and causes problems so rope bags would be an essential accessory for normal use.

So sailing Access Liberty...... the sails are not great and you cannot do much to trim them. The boat does not want to point at all, I could not get it to sail well in a straight line, it tacks OK provided nothing jams and you can get the jib sheet in its cleat.

Not very precise at anything really but I enjoyed sailing them and would get in another one to-morrow providing it was a warm day, not raining, not too windy, someone else would set it up and recover it and so on and so on... yes its fun and I enjoyed it, but I think its overpriced, poorly equipped, and needs a lot more development.

In the opinion of many people the boat needs a lot of development otherwise it is a bit of fun that you will tire of very quickly indeed. There are too many things wrong for it to be a beginners boat and it doesn't offer enough for someone who wants to sail.

If you buy one be prepared to spend a lot of money getting it sorted. If you are a Club be aware of its limitations - Accesses can capsize/lose their keels if you are not careful.


If you strap a disabled person in one that capsizes are you prepared for the possible consequences?

There are other dinghies that offer similar facilities as the Hansa at a fraction of the cost or for a few pounds more you can have a Challenger or a Martin 16 that are just better.