It is likely that we all know active sailors in their 70s and even 80s; stepping lithely around the boat, diving in icy waters to free up a fouled prop and displaying enviable stamina on long passages. We are equally aware however how ageing generally leans towards a deterioration of functionality and a higher risk of health problems. Falls can result in greater damage and so the importance of well-placed handrails and the awareness of and mitigation of risk become increasingly important.
Marinas are now much more appreciative of the need to be more accessible for members of the local community and tourist visitors, so that disabled and elderly people or parents with babies can enjoy the sights and experiences of a boating scene and often attractive waterfront cafes and restaurants without having to negotiate obstacles.
Further ways to address inclusivity can include ensuring that there are rest areas with benches, pedestrian walkways from parking areas, setting-down areas close to entrances and extra supports in bathrooms for people with mobility restrictions. Beyond suitable ramps or lifts to access different levels, wheelchair users benefit from designated parking spaces, automatic doors and taps, reception counters and access panels at the correct height. It is worth giving some thought to opening devices to ensure that these are easy to handle. With signposting, it helps if this is uniform, easy to read and doesn’t dazzle. Pictograms, particularly universal ISO icons, are also helpful for visitors that struggle with the local language.
Within TransEurope Marinas, many members have already installed bathrooms and shower facilities for disabled users, ramps with handrails and included designated parking spaces. Those that welcome disabled sailing groups such as Port de Plaisance de La Rochelle whose team has retained the ISO 14001 since 2006, have had the benefit of appraising their facilities from a new perspective. This has led to the incorporation of an “easy access” pontoon and 2 “handi move” devices (electric cranes with articulated arms), for boarding adapted sailing boats.
Mylor Yacht Harbour in the southwest of England, host Mylor Sailability, the charitable arm of Mylor Sailing School. They offer RYA courses and outings using a motorboat with wheelchair access and a sailing boat with supported seating. Staff are trained in different types of disability and learning difficulties and the accessibility guide for newcomers is inspirational in its comprehensive and reassuringly detailed content.
Sailing with friends and family is one of the activities that can be enjoyed well into late life and offers a marvellous way to keep relatively agile. In the interests of allowing those who have accrued a lifetime’s experience to be able to continue sailing and also pass on their knowledge to younger generations, we should do our best to make our marinas inclusive environments.