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Boats

Dismissing Disability

Despite his disability, Capt. Jim has no trouble getting on and off his boat, thanks to this gangplank with ropes and struts.

You're at the broker's sales dock, looking at a glistening yacht thinking, "You know, this boat has me written all over it." Without a second thought, you race up the boarding steps and clamber aboard. Yes! She's definitely your boat--big enough to be comfortable while entertaining family and friends, yet small enough that the two of you can handle her, and as stylish as a Chanel hat.

Now, stop and consider for a moment: How are you going to climb up that forbidding wall of glistening fiberglass without those steps? After all, you and your spouse are getting on in years. You could build some steps for your home slip, but what about when you're in Lost and Lonesome Harbor, where the dock is just some floating boards? You don't want to give up visiting those lovely places that are off the beaten track just because you aren't as agile as you once were.

Making a boat accessible to differently abled people isn't hard. We've been doing it for years since Jim (above), our captain, has a prosthetic leg. (I love him and his peg leg; he cruises around like a demon, docks like a pro, and whips up a mean barbecue. In fact, one of these days, I'm going to get him a bandana and a parrot to complete the picture.) If you assess your needs before you purchase, your new pride and joy can be easily accessible to folks with different physical capacities with only a few modifications and a portable aid or two.

Begin by focusing on the boarding process. Think of ways everyone can use their arms and legs to their best advantage as they board and move about. One of the easiest modifications is manropes, strategically located knotted ropes that crew and passengers can pull on or brace against when boarding. (We got the term manropes and the idea to use them from reading the wonderful adventures of Capt. Aubrey in the Patrick O'Brien novels.) When Jim boards our 50-foot classic yacht, Nonchalant, he grabs the manropes tied to the cockpit canopy, which hang down past the boarding ladder, one on each side, within easy reach of the dock. With a firm grip, he leans back like a mountain climber, takes the first step with his good leg, swings the fake one up to join it, changes his grip onto the next set of knots, and then takes the next step.

When we board from the dinghy, we never fuss about clambering on a slippery swim step; instead, we just rig the stairs and use our manropes. We use them for docking, too. I rig the steps, protect them with big fenders, and stand on the bottom tread, holding a manrope with one hand and our aft dock lines with the other.

Wherever there are steps, we look for somewhere on which we can hang. For dockside steps, we've installed double handrails. We like aluminum, as it doesn't add a lot of weight and is attractive and low-maintenance. We also mount manropes high up for that last, perilous step from stairs to deck.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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