It's all fair winds for people with disabilities at Sailability Auckland

25 Mar 2024 | Articles


Life isn’t always plain sailing, but the team at charity Sailability Auckland go out of their way to ensure that everyone has a go out on the water at Westhaven Marina. Established in 1991, Sailability Auckland has been providing opportunities for children and adults with disabilities to experience the joys of operating sailboats. It is one of 12 Sailability chapters across New Zealand, and connects in with a wider international community.

Head Coach Finn Drummond describes sailing as a popular interest because it’s one of the few times for sailors where there is an equal playing field. With customised boats and dedicated volunteers, it’s easy to see why there are so many repeat sailors. There are also plenty of repeat volunteers – bar a two-year work break, Finn has been with the charity since 2016.

Whatever floats your boat
The secret to Sailability Auckland’s success is their commitment to modifying boats to align with the various needs of their sailors. Engineering magician Steve Cranch plays a big role in determining how to adjust the boats so they can be operated in a variety of ways. Finn shared that one sailor had cerebral palsy and they were able to adapt a boat so it could be operated solely by one foot. Another sailor can operate their boat using their chin alone.

Sea-ing the difference
Finn observes a sense of pride and achievement in the sailors, often with the added benefit of spending some time away from their parents! He believes sailing is popular as it’s relatively rare to have such an active activity available to people with disabilities and it supports sailors to leave their comfort zone. For some sailors, it gives them the opportunity to get time away from their wheelchairs and other physical aids. ‘Once they start coming, they continuously want to come!’

Where possible, Sailability Auckland aim to pair sailors with the same volunteers so that they can build those relationships. And buoy, it’s not a casual pursuit at times – the team are planning to send nine boats to Sydney for the World Championships next year!

Nauti-cool volunteering opportunities
Seeing the sailors’ eyes light up or smiles on their faces is a big factor of what makes volunteering at Sailability Auckland rewarding for the existing volunteers. When asked who might make a good volunteer, Finn exclaimed ‘EVERYONE!’ – but later added that a love of the ocean and enjoying interacting with people would be helpful.

Volunteer tasks can range from helping the coach set up the boats for the day, to assisting the sailors into their boats and helping to set-up the course. At the end of the day, the boats also need to be cleaned and put away.

Story & photos: Caitlin Craigie
Video: Abigail Paul

For more information about Sailability Auckland and/or to express an interest in volunteering head to:
Volunteering Auckland:
Sailability Auckland Website:

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