Adaptive Speed Sailing for Wheelchair Users

Speed sailing has been adapted so that people of all abilities who love to feel the wind in their face and feel the adrenaline rush of making quick decisions can participate and compete. Speed sailing is a sport where the athlete sails as fast as possible, only using the wind to propel the vessel, over a predetermined route, typically over water.

A regulatory body records the sailor’s overall speed or peak speed. Sailors with the lowest point total after the race, win. Points are calculated based on the sailor’s finishing position and the quickest competitors earn a lower amount of points. Competitions are spread out over a series of races and the sailor with the lowest cumulative point total at the end of the final race wins.

Speed sailing competitions take place all over the world and are now considered a medal sport in the Paralympics, consisting of three events: single-person keelboat, two-person keelboat and three-person keelboat.

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The Beginnings of Speed Sailing

Although sailing has been speculated to be around since as early as the 1600s, speed sailing as an adaptive sport is relatively new. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the International Handicap Sailing Committee, later renamed the International Foundation for Disabled Sailing (IFDS), was formed. Even with the formation of the IFDS, it took until 2000 for speed sailing to become a medal sport in the Paralympic Games.

Who Can Participate

Paralympic speed sailing is open to both male and female athletes, and in two- and three-person events specifically, at least one sailor on each crew must be a woman. Because of how the sport is played, allowing for boats to be configured to suit different sailors’ needs, all kinds of athletes can participate, including athletes with a physical impairment, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, dwarfism, limb loss, brain injury, visual impairment and may or may not be ambulatory.

Due to the nature of the sport and the fact that it’s a sport of technique and quick thinking, athletes with different abilities may compete against each other in the same race. It is stated that outside Paralympic competitions, sailors with impairments often do compete alongside able-bodied sailors.

There are a few options that you can investigate if you are interested in participating in Paralympic Speed Sailing. Consider joining a group, such as an adaptive sailing program, whether it be a local, national or college team, or enter a competition.

Aside from competing, there are other ways you can contribute to the adaptive sailing community. You can take a more educational approach to it by becoming an adaptive sailing instructor, developing your own adaptive sailing program or even spreading awareness of the need for adaptive speed sailing programs to your local sailing clubs and organizations.


Some events in the United States require Para-Classification to participate. Athletes can fulfill this by going through classification evaluation to determine their sport class. There are opportunities throughout the year when athletes can get evaluated.

There are seven levels of classification for athletes with a physical disability:

• Classes 1 and 2: Athletes with severely restricted control or movement in their arms, typically caused by quadriplegia or an amputation through the shoulders
• Class 3: Athletes may have amputations or an equivalent disability that restricts their mobility
• Classes 4 and 5: Athletes may have a range of moderate impairments, including amputations
• Classes 6 and 7: Athletes may have a range of mild impairments, including amputations

 Additional Information About Adaptive Speed Sailing

For more resources on adaptive speed sailing for wheelchair users or speed sailing events, you can check out the following websites: