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The History of Disabled Sailing Association

At Expo '86, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher donated a British-made Sunbird sailboat to Rick Hansen in honour of his “Man in Motion” world tour. In 1989, Rick presented the boat to Sam Sullivan, who subsequently used it to help found the Disabled Sailing Association of BC (DSA). Within a few short years, DSA had a total of 16 specially adapted Sunbird sailboats in three British Columbia Chapters -- Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna.

A breakthrough came in 1993, when Sip 'n’ Puff controls were added to one of the Sunbirds. This technology opened the world of sailing to tetraplegics -- those with little or no upper body mobility. Through pneumatic switches they can control the boat. Although the Sunbird remained functional, the equipment and safety modifications required for Sip ‘n’ Puff technology affected the performance of the boat and prompted DSA to search for an alternative.

Today, at the heart of the program, is the Martin 16 sailboat - a vessel designed and built in Vancouver that is becoming the standard for disabled sailors everywhere. The Martin 16 is unsinkable, maneuverable and fast. It can be easily equipped with the modular Sip 'n' Puff system.

DSA currently operates a fleet of eight Martin 16s. Program support comes from a team of student/instructors hired for the summer months and a rich contingent of volunteers who devote hundreds of hours each year assisting sailors, maintaining equipment and operating DSA’s safety zodiac.

During DSA's first summer season in 1989 at the Jericho Sailing Centre in Vancouver, 22 sailing sessions were logged with the original Sunbird sailboat. Today, the DSA has branches in Victoria, Chemainus and Kelowna as well as Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Moncton, Sarnia, Regina, Winnipeg, Kingston, Montreal and Halifax. Branches have also been established in the United States in Washington State, Oregon, California and New York. The sailing programs teach the basics of navigation and provide quality instruction for younger children under adult supervision. To date, DSA has provided over 10,000 sailing experiences to both children and adults and has attracted over 400 volunteers.

This year, more than 1,000 sailing experiences will be enjoyed by people with disabilities at the Jericho Sailing Centre. Recreational outings will be interspersed with regular and special racing events on a weekly basis for both adults and children.

DSA sailing programs provide opportunities at every level, including quality instruction for children under adult supervision. As sailors become more confident and skilled, they often begin to compete in regular racing sessions, leading to larger regattas and cup races held annually across the country. Three DSA alumni, Brian MacDonald, Paul Tingley and Jamie Whitman teamed to win bronze medals at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.


The Organization

DSA is a not-for-profit organization that depends on philanthropy, membership fees and the efforts of volunteers to fulfill its mission. Its core values are:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of all individuals.
  • Relationships embodying the qualities of openness, acceptance, respect, and honesty.
  • The importance of working together to achieve healthy, inclusive communities.
  • The unique potential within all persons to learn, to grow, to care for others, to make their own decisions, to enjoy a fulfilling quality of life, and to contribute to their community.


Guiding Principles

DSA is shaped by the following beliefs:

  • That volunteers are essential partners in the development of people with significant disabilities and in the advancement of DSA in the community.
  • In the potential of all individuals and the role each person plays in the growth of strong, healthy communities.
  • In programs that are healthy, safe and fun for participants, staff and volunteers. DSA programs encourage fun and laughter.
  • In structuring programs to build self-confidence and self-esteem. DSA programs are designed to stimulate personal growth and independence.
  • Celebrating diversity.
  • Offering programs aimed at increasing leadership capacity and developing specific skill sets

Sam Sullivan

Image: Sam Sullivan, founder of DSA.About seven years after he became tetraplegic in a 1979 skiing accident,
Sam Sullivan made the decision to "reach out". He wanted to reach out to the community of disabled people to help them take more responsibility for helping themselves.

He wanted to make legislators, politicians and key community officials aware of the latent potential possessed by people with disabilities. He wanted the general community to know that barriers preventing or limiting full participation in society on the part of people with disabilities could be overcome by & "reaching
out " and by taking action.

That was in the mid-1980s. Today, Sam Sullivan is recognized widely as having achieved his objectives. He has attained his goals through the promotion of his ideals and through the activities and programs offered through six non-profit societies - all founded by Sam - working to improve the lives of people with disabilities, not only in Vancouver and British
Columbia, but across North America and around the world.



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Our Mission

The Disabled Sailing Association is an independent, charitable society dedicated to enriching the lives of people with significant disabilities through leisure and competitive sailing.

1 women sailing with a volunteer in the Martin 16