Sail To Prevail Brings Zero Emissions Boating To People With Disabilities (With Video)

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Organized in 1996 in Newport, RI, Sail To Prevail has made it possible for tens of thousands of people with physical disabilities to learn how to sail and experience the personal empowerment that comes from being in control of a sailboat. During those 40 years, Sail To Prevail has not created one molecule of carbon dioxide while sailing on Narragansett Bay.

The program has a fleet of 7 specially equipped Independence sailboats fitted with swivel chairs that allow the participants to steer and adjust the sails while being securely strapped in. The boats are kept at specially constructed docks with wide ramps. They feature hydraulic lifts and transfer benches to assist the sailors to access and leave the boats safely and in total comfort.

The Sail To Prevail program was created by Paul Callahan, a quadriplegic and two time USA Sailing Paralympian. A registered charity, it originally focused on alternative or eastern medical therapies and combining them with traditional American medical therapies. The goal was to have each individual who suffered from paralysis be able to walk again or, at a minimum, reach their maximum human potential. As alternative medicines became mainstream, Mr. Callahan narrowed the focus of the organization to one methodology by having children and adults overcome any adversity through the sport of sailing.

The first sailing program took place in the summer of 1997 with 8 paralyzed individuals. Sail To Prevail has now grown to serve over 1500 individuals annually. It supports people with disabilities in several different categories.

  • Sail To Prevail
    Photo by Steve Hanley for CleanTechnica. All rights reserved.

    Physical Disabilities — including those that require physical therapy, amputation, cerebral palsy, deafness, muscular dystrophy, blindness, and paraplegia or quadriplegia.

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — Sail To Prevail offers special programs for veterans with disabilities, including PTSD. Its services extend to their family members as well.
  • Intellectual Disabilities — Sail To Prevail instructors are trained to work with individuals with autism, ADD/ADHD, Asperger syndrome, Down syndrome and cognitive impairment caused by multiple sclerosis and other diseases.
  • Cancer –In the “Sail Away from Cancer” program, pediatric cancer patients sail with resident doctors and family members to create a unique “out of hospital” experience.
  • Epilepsy — Often referred to as seizure disorder, this medical condition affects more than 3.4 million individuals in the US, and Sail To Prevail offers group sessions with Epilepsy Foundation New England.
  • Emotional Disabilities — Dedicated to those individuals who are experiencing emotional trauma in their lives, Sail To Prevail seeks to enhance the positive aspects derived from participating in the soothing and comforting environment of sailing.
  • Life Threatening Medical Conditions — Sail To Prevail commends the mission of Make-A-Wish to create life changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. We can assist in granting a sailing wish to every medically eligible child.
  • Training and Racing Program — In 2010, Sail To Prevail was the first adaptive sailing program to become an official U.S. Paralympic Sport Club and provide extensive off and on the water training and racing.

These programs encourage individuals with disabilities to be active participants in the sailing experience. They steer the boat, grind the winches, and trim the sails. Participants in Sail To Prevail demonstrate increased self confidence in all parts of their daily lives, the camaraderie of teamwork, and improved leadership skills.

Sail To Prevail is based at Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island. It has also pioneered a decade long program in Nantucket, Massachusetts, as well as a 5-year collaboration with the Harvard University Varsity Sailing Team. Paul Callahan has personally raised more than $20 million to expedite this mission.

What Sail To Prevail Participants Say

The comments from participants touch the heart. “I felt the wind at my face. I like the sensation of sailing,” says David, who is blind. Bethany, age 13, had this to say, “At first I never wanted to drive the boat, but after seeing the instructor do it — I decided I could do it also! If I can sail — it made me realize I can do a lot with my life!”

“I would really like to compliment you and the staff for the extraordinary sailing program you did this summer to benefit Veterans. The weather perfect, the setting in Newport the best, the equipment well prepared, and the staff on deck. A day to remember. The staff was particularly good and professional in dealing with the veterans and their particular disabilities. The total experience was enjoyable and refreshing. What could be better? These programs enhance the quality of life for each individual and provide experiences that will never be forgotten. Thanks to you the staff at Sail to Prevail. This work does not go unnoticed and is truly appreciated.” — Richard Early, president, Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 116.

This comment from Sean is the best of them all. “I have multiple disabilities ranging from Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, seizure disorder and autism. Sensory integration has always been a central part of my daily routine to be successful at living my life to its fullest. While I was still in high school, I had the opportunity to begin sailing with Sail To Prevail through their summer camp.

“My first time out was indescribable. I experienced a connection with the world around me in a whole new way. My body, often uncooperative with my expectations, was at one with the movement of the boat. I felt the power of the wind moving the boat and myself through the water with an ease that unified my senses. Each time I sail, I experience the same relaxing sensations except when there is no wind and I get anxious to feel the sensations of sailing.

“I look forward to sailing each summer and the feelings of accomplishment I get after having gone out on the boat. This feeling of accomplishment and sensory balance prevails into all areas of my life. Not being able to sail is like not having fruit to eat. My life is better balanced when I can sail.”

The Takeaway

Sailing is a zero emissions activity that connects us to the natural world. Instead of bludgeoning the seas into submission the way powerboats do, sailboats are attuned to the rhythm of the waves and the strength of the wind. That connection to the physical world is what makes sailing such a powerful experience. Paul Callahan has made it possible for so many people with disabilities to feel that power. The world is a better place because he is in it.


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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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