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All-abilities set sail from season to season

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Ever wondered what it would be like if you couldn’t get to the beach by yourself? Or go paddleboarding, kayaking or sailing?

Well, unfortunately that’s the reality for many people living with a physical, intellectual or sensory disability, and that’s one of the reasons Mornington Yacht Club began its Sailability program more than 20 years ago. This awe-inspiring program run by a dedicated group of volunteers gets people with disabilities into boats and out on the water with the wind in their hair and grins from ear to ear.

Sailability co-ordinator Graeme Lyell explains: “The program began as a mobile unit. A representative from Sailability Victoria would bring a trailer load of dinghies around to different yacht clubs and knock on their doors. It was like a travelling roadshow. With the help of volunteers from the host club, they’d set up for the day and move on to another yacht club the next day and that’s how it went. The first five years were a bit on and off as it was difficult to sustain volunteers, but after strong support from families and the disability services sector to make it a permanent program, and the backing of the yacht club, we were off and running.”

Powered by people who give their time freely, the Sailability program runs weekly on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from October 1 until May. There’s also an all-abilities day twice a month on Sundays. Graeme continues: “We use Hansa sailing boats because they are safe and easy to sail. Each boat holds two people. Some of our participants in wheelchairs need lifting into boats with a crane, so it’s a big-scale operation, but when you see how much everyone enjoys themselves, it’s so worthwhile. We have 45 volunteers rostered across our programs and the majority of them are retired people who enjoy enriching other people’s lives. Quite a few of our participants like to exploit their ability and to develop their sailing skills, while others just enjoy the experience of being out on the water. All up, the Sailability program brings the pleasure of sailing and powerboating to 60-70 participants every week of the sailing season.” 

An enthusiastic sailor himself, Graeme is proud to be part of a program that he says is one of the best in Australia. 

If you or someone you know would benefit from Mornington Yacht Club’s Sailability program or if you’d like to volunteer, contact the club to help hoist the sail on participation for all. Log on to to find out more.


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