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

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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.......Welcome! ...to the world of Martin 16 sailing — the world’s most comfortable sport boat! With a deep ballasted keel and all control systems right in front of you, the Martin 16 is the sport boat for sailors of all abilities. The lifting keel makes trailer launching simple from any ramp. There’s no need for a large crew — the Martin 16 can be rigged by one person and sailing in minutes.

WEBSITE - https://martin16.com/

My judgment is that this is the best all round dinghy for disabled people at the moment it will not sink or capsize and should be the bench mark for future designs...

Its downside is its cost and complex rigging.

10/10 - As a boat for all types of disabilities - let me know if your disability stops you using this boat as I have not found one.

10/10 - As a boat for experienced disabled sailors - 3 sails plenty of tuning that it responds to very well, easy to sail and rewarding to fine tuning.

10/10 - As a training boat - two seats, movable controls, wont capsize , responds and sails well all make it is very good indeed.

9/10 - Ease of rigging - very easy unless you remove mast and even then its not that difficult, I drop it a point because I cant do it by myself.

9/10 - Ease of transport and launching - electric keel lift makes this quite easy and mast stows without removing any rigging. See above for point loss.

10/10 - Controls - main and jib can be mounted in a number of positions, and power assist is well though out and works well, also it is very easy to modify steering method.

10/10 - Quality of fittings and build - good quality molding's and fittings.

9/10 - Getting in and out - is easy for most disabilities, I only drop a point because of I struggle a bit with legs and feet and the sharp bolts on back of front seat.

9/10 - Sailing qualities - its a very good all rounder, I drop the point because I am told it is deliberately under-powered, but I have not noticed this.

10/10 - As a club boat - 10 years of experience in Canada and the USA have shown the Martin to be outstanding in all respects.


In over five years of research the Martin continues to be my choice as best all round boat for disabled people.

The Martin’s party trick is that a completely paralysed person can compete on fairly equal terms with able-bodied people in safety and in dignity.

Its design, quality of build and fittings are all to the highest quality and its design and list of options give it the widest possible scope. The fact that it is equally attractive to able-bodied people leave it in a class of its own. All this is reflected in its price but you get a top quality boat that will give years of good reliable service and have a good resale value.

Although specifically designed as boat for disabled people the smart lines, asymmetric spinnaker and comfortable seats make this an attractive boat to able-bodied people and will attract sailors of all levels and abilities. The excellent quality of construction and fittings will ensure a long trouble free life as a club boat and provide good value to the individual. The boats forgiving nature under spinnaker (it wont capsize and broach recovery is easy) is enough to make this a super club training boat.

In the UK and Europe there are a number organisations that will help both individuals and clubs with the purchase price.

There are a range of options with the basic dinghy and very few have to be factory fitted meaning you can just add what you wish at a later date. The back seat (Jump Seat) comes a three versions. Option one is the single seat version Martin, and no back seat is fitted, you get a flat platform that and instructor can sit on safely. Option two is a moulded seat fitted to the access hole lid which is slightly above the height of the front seat. Option three is a lowered rear deck (factory fitted) that puts the back seat lower down at the same level as the front seat. All options have pro's and con's... you pay your money and take your choice.

The front seat is very adjustable, the back seat is normally fixed . Both are quite comfortable. The seats have a very smooth finish and are good if you are just wearing a swim suit or wet suit (if you want to, you can get wet in this boat as you will see later).You may want to put anti-slip material on the seat if you use a cushion.

Getting in and out is easy for almost every one - a boom clip is fitted to keep it out of the way if you use a lift.

As standard all the controls are fitted for single seat use and everything falls to hand very nicely. The main and jib jammer can go in 2 positions and are cunningly geared so that if you pull them both together the sails move in the correct proportion together to maintain your trim. All the rest of the controls fall nicely to hand. The joy stick is very solid and works well with very easy strap adjusters on the stern deck.

Any or all of the main, jib, helm and spinnaker controls can be led to the rear seat, so you can set the boat up for any crew configuration you like. This makes the boat very versatile and a super training boat. For racing typically the helm would take the back seat and the sail handler the front.

The up/down button for the electric keel winch sits at the side of the keel and is used only to raise and lower the keel for loading and unloading to a trailer or for overnight mooring in tidal/shallow waters. It should always be down when sails are fitted not be used while the sailing. Extreme care should be used when lowering the keel after launching because of the danger of trapping lines and fingers. Those who cater for people with learning difficulties may also wish to disconnect the switch - its in a very convenient position to play with. If you stuff the spinnaker on the floor by your feet you must also be aware of the winch motor tucked up under the deck.

On the right side inner hull there is a control panel for the automatic bilge pump (and any electric options) and a handle and socket for the manual bilge pump. The battery for the winch and bilge pump is tucked away under the back seat.

The standard fore-sail has a boom to assist trimming but a track system is available as an option as is a furling system. The furling system is the best bet for club and training boats. The main sail has no provision for reefing and my experience is that none is needed. The spinnaker is kept on your lap, on an optional net shelf or bag under the spray deck.

All the fittings, rigging and lines seem to be very good quality and many clubs in Canada and the USA will testify to their reliability and long life.

The rudder is slim and elegant and fixed with a pin and bolt swivel making it easy to lock up when being launched. The keel presents no problems – provided you have 3 feet of water to put it in.

The power assist system that has been developed for the Martin is very good.

The winch system clips over the keel bolts and can take jib and main sheets. There is no provision for individual trimming of each sail but in practice it is not required because of the proportional nature of the sheeting. You can operate the winch with the rocker switch on the winch itself or with a joystick or a sip and puff switch. The joystick can be held on your lap or velcro’ed to the boat somewhere. It can also be used in the front or back seat. The helm can be operated with the joystick or sip and puff.

It is possible for a completely paralysed person to sail the boat very well and compete with able-bodied people. In practice a severely disabled person will take a passenger/carer with them in single seat competitions. In two seat events the most severely disabled person will take the helm.

Sailing the Martin as a single seater is very easy and comfortable and if you have some hand movement and a little grip you can get to fly the spinnaker. I am told that the boat is underpowered using just the main and jib but it has never stopped me having a great time. In light airs I do not bother with the spinnaker and just make a straight line down wind for the mark and often get there at the same time as the spinnaker users who had to tack off to use their kites.

There is enough ‘tuning’ available to satisfy most sailors and although the Martin is easy to sail it takes skill and knowledge to sail it well. It points as well as any keel boat I have sailed and rewards you for sailing loosely with few and gentle adjustments by sailing very well.

The boat really comes into its own as a crew boat, my preference is to helm from the rear seat, if you are very tall you will have to watch the boom as it will be very close if you are 6 feet or over. The crew takes the front seat and handles the sails. The spinnaker works very well with the launch and recovery lines operating the bowsprit at the same time as the spinnaker. The spinnaker cleat bracket is pre-bent at the factory and if it gets bent or damaged you may not notice it but it will allow the sheet to jump out under load.

In winds up to 15 kts the Martin just performs very nicely and is very docile and just a very pleasant boat to sail. Once the breeze gets above 15 kts you get to choose, play it easy, keep the power off and dry, or wind it up and get wet, very very wet.

I have regularly sailed and competed in gusts up 30 kts and the boat is very exciting indeed. Powered up you will get water over the side (the electric bilge pump will deal with this). With the spinnaker up you will almost certainly broach sooner or later, this will leave the boat swamped up to bum level at least (and take the pump 3 or 4 minutes to clear). The Martin will try very hard to turn up into gusts if you keep the power on or the spinnaker up and if the wind is strong enough it will broach. If you turn up or release the kite the boat will immediately pop up. It feels absolutely safe and is very exciting.

Even completely swamped the Martin will keep its crew safe and sail, (it might be very slow) and it is not possible for the boat to sink because of foam buoyancy.

For people with balance or grip problems the Martin has a very effective harness and this is essential in competition or rough/windy conditions.

This was very effectively demonstrated at the 2004 World Champs in Florida where I finished every race ‘clipped in’ and one person fell out and had to be rescued and two others got a dunking. The conditions were gusting above 20 kts and 2 foot waves – the Martin just took this in its stride.

Would I sail one today if offered the chance?.............. yes please, and I love to race them.