Disabled Sailing

Disabled Sailing in Canada and The U.S.A.


Photo of a disabled person sailing a small boat
Disabled sailor sailing a small boat.

The Adaptive Sailing Association of British Columbia (ASABC) (formerly DSABC) has been providing opportunities for people with physical disabilities to experience recreational and competitive sailing in fully accessible sailboats for over 30 years.

Sailing for people with significant physical disabilities got its start in Canada in 1989, when Sam Sullivan used a British-made Sunbird dinghy to launch the first few sails at the Jericho Sailing Centre on English Bay. Today, the ASABC operates eight specially designed Canadian made Martin 16 sailboats and hosts 1000+ sails each (non-COVID) year at Jericho and more from its affiliated branches in Victoria, Chemainus, and Kelowna. The Martin 16 sailboat is designed specifically to be accessible for all levels of ability, with use of either a joystick control or sip and puff technology. Participants range from novices to experienced racers who advance to join the Race Club, representing ASABC in local regattas and national competitions.

Inspired by ASABC and Sam Sullivan's efforts to expose more and more people with very high levels of physical disabilities to the sport, adaptive sailing has now spread across Canada, throughout the US and around the world. Disabled sailing played a major role in the Summer Paralympics every four years up until 2020 when it was dropped for the Tokyo Paralympics. See the post Para Sailing will not be included in the Paralympic Games for LA28.

There are several other training and competitive programs throughout Canada such as:


Photo of a sailing assistant with a disabled sailor.
Assisted sailing.

Adaptive Sailing, once part of the Disabled Sports USA organization, is now part of the new Move United organization that was created when Disabled Sports USA merged with the Adaptive Sports USA organization in 2020. [Wikipedia]

Move United is a member of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. The organization (headquartered in Rockville, Maryland) operates community parasports programs through over 210 member organizations in 45 states. Mission: Ensuring everyone, regardless of ability, experiences the life-changing power of sport and is included in their community.

Follow Move United in one of several social media aps.

There are several adaptive sailing training and competitive programs throughout the U.S. such as:

Persistent Memory in Cats is Created by Doing, Not by Seeing

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Cats remember where their paws have been. Researchers from the Department of Physiology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, report that cats can create memories of their environment without having to rely on vision. Stepping over and touching a physical obstacle with their forelegs creates a memory of the obstacle that persists for up to 10 minutes even after the obstacle is removed. Just seeing the obstacle does not appear to create a memory. The study found that visual memory lasts only a few seconds.

A cat's physical obstacle memory.
A cat's physical obstacle memory.

Keir G. Pearson studies the science of walking (the neurobiology of locomotion). For over 20 years, his test subjects included mice, cockroaches, locusts, humans, and felines. He is studying how animals learn to navigate complex environments, especially when they're moving around. His research has practical applications ranging from treating spinal cord injuries to building robots. "I'm interested in the general problem of how we remember the location of objects relative to the body as we move," Pearson says.

Over a 2-year period, Pearson compared cats' working memory of their recent movements with their visual memory and found that cats remember better with their bodies than with their eyes.

We put an obstacle in front of them and we stopped the cats after they stepped over it with their front legs, but not their back legs. We found that, even many minutes later, the cat would step high with their back legs, even though we had taken away the obstacle.

Pearson with his cat obstacle.
Keir Pearson with his cat obstacle. Credit: ExpressNews Staff, Univ. of Alberta
Felines' memories may in fact be longer but "many minutes" translates into about 10 minutes for the purpose of their experiments. Ten minutes is the maximum length of time Pearson and his fellow researcher David A. McVea were able to distract the animals, usually with a bowl of food.

To compare this working memory to the cat's visual memory, the researchers repeated the experiment, allowing the animals to see the obstacle (a small wooden block) but stopped them from moving forward before they made their first step over the obstacle.

The action of moving the front legs provided the information about the obstacle and the mechanism to establish a longer-term memory. The surprising thing to us was how short visual memory was. We thought it would last longer than a few seconds.

Similar research by Pearson's colleagues on other quadripeds such as dogs and horses, mirrored his results with cats exactly.

It's like driving; if you're a passenger, you really don't remember much about the trip, or the route, but if you've actually driven the car, you'll probably remember much better, and much longer.