MWF Dockside Program


When it’s not safe to leave port.
Explain in briefing how these tasks are part of the activity of sailing

Unique opportunities:
Going up mast
Going below (under supervision by two adults)
Some wheelies can get out of chair and participate more than if sailing

Boat prep:
Shore power off 
MOB gear in place
PFDs to be worn
Name tags
Halyards back to the mast
Snatch block to lead halyard to the primary winch.
Boom cover unzipped at fwd end and tied up out of the way
Sway preventer removed, consider having boom over to one side.
Bosun’s chair, helmet and tag line on deck

Crew Roles:
Mast Lift: 4 crews required
Below deck tour: 1-2 crew + support worker
Bucket Challenge: 1-2 crew
Knots: 1 crew member

Mast Lift Adventure

This involves at least 3-5 clients and 4 crew members.  It tends to be a spectator activity and can engage most of the group for some time. Spruik it up! Other activities can start after the first couple of lifts.


  • Bosun’s chair   
  • Helmet
  • Tagline
  • Sail tie (short)
  • Two halyards.
  • Two winch handles

Bosun’s chair is not kid-sized and a sail tie needs to go around the chair and child and the support straps to prevent children from falling backwards.

Helmet MUST be worn. This is not negotiable, although it may be a sticking point for some children. Thoughtful persuasion and help from support workers can help here.

The wind will blow the child onto the mast and shrouds, and a long tagline (eg headsail sheet) is attached around the seat of the bosun’s chair and used to guide the child clear of rigging and spreaders.

Two halyards are attached to the bosun’s chair using bowlines, one on the webbing ring and one around the upper straps. Choose halyards that keep the child to leeward of the mast, eg port/starboard hound.

The primary halyard runs to a sheet winch, with a snatch block lead if necessary.  The backup halyard goes to a pit winch. Check that the halyards have a clear run to winches.

Teach client hand signals  
Check the position of the child in the chair once just off the deck


One person at the mast calls the hoist and watches the client. 
How high is up to the person in the chair (within limits of safety regarding conditions) generally up to the second spreader?

The other mast person watches the client and controls the tag line – may have to stand well forward to get a lateral pull.

Caller directs winches to begin to lift, use hand signals for up, stop, down, faster, slower.

Halyards: Halyard crew follow instructions from the caller at the mast.

Crew should wear gloves and use safe winch practices.
First halyard taken to sheet winch takes the weight.
Second back up halyard goes to pit winch.
Pit crewmember ensures rope clutches are closed.
Fully load winch, tail in hand, not relying on self-tailer.
Engage clients in grinding, crew member tailing and maintaining hold on sheet.
Primary winch follows signals and commands from mast to begin grinding.  Watch client always, especially approaching spreaders
Pit winch follows primary to maintain tension on halyard.


Halyard crew follow instructions from the caller at the mast.
Winch handles removed, two turns of rope only on winches.  A crew member must be in sole control of halyards for lowering – no clients.
Clutches open
Slowly ease, maintaining weight on the primary halyard.
Tag line control to keep client clear of rig and mast.
Applause and cheering!

Overcoming fears and other resistance

  • It’s a “challenge by choice”
  • Often students on the autism spectrum are fearful/resistant to take on an unfamiliar challenge. Remember that for some just getting on the boat has been an achievement. Once they see how it’s done, they are inspired to have a go.
  • There’s usually one eager student who will go first. If not, a teacher could be first up.
  • Be guided by support workers especially with non-verbal clients.
  • Winching is hard work and many students will lose interest quickly, so be prepared with lots of encouragement, teamwork and an element of competition. Many of our clients lack strength and the crew need to work hard. Swap roles!

Wheelchair students going aloft
This is possible for some students with help and consent from support workers/parents who may be aboard.  Follow guidelines from support workers regarding moving students. Some may be able to leave their chair and sit, crawl, scoot around boat in cockpit area.

The bucket challenges

Choose the most leeward place, ideally bow away from the dock. (or near the stern so a wheelchair client can be involved). 2-3 buckets are tied to lifeline with long sail tie.
Watch students carefully at the edge of the boat.

  • First challenge is to drop the bucket into the water and retrieve it full on to the deck.Use small (5 litre) buckets so students can lift them. The fun can be increased by stickers or drawings of fish, octopus etc in the bottom of the bucket. If students can do this easily introduce a competitive element such as the fastest/fullest bucket on deck.
  • Second challenge involves tossing a few bits of bread in the water and seeing if students can catch them.
  • The third challenge is to have two jack stays mounted and two tethers available. (The two that have been used have simpler clips that children can operate.) Two smaller and one large bucket at the bow.

Two students (or two teams) stand either side at the stern and must:                                

  1. Clip on the tether to life jacket                                                                         
  2. Clip onto the jackstay on their side                                                                     
  3. Move as fast as possible to the bow (without dragging tether clip on deck)                    
  4. Fill a bucket with water and pour it into the third bucket                               
  5. Unclip from their side and reclip tether to other side                                            
  6. Run to the stern to the finish.  

If playing in teams, one group gets ahead of the other and the students collide and spill water on each other and chaos reigns…

Below deck tour

Always have a teacher/support worker below deck with you.

  • 4 students max at a time, you’d be surprised how quickly they can hide.
  • Set boundaries e.g. no-one aft of companionway steps.
  • Descend safely, going backwards – “it’s a ladder, not a staircase”
  • Have a settee and pipe berth clear.
  • Tell stories, help them imagine 16 people living on board for 5 days.
  • Galley: gimballed stove, try out the galley strap (Wot Eva), eating offshore, ice box, H2O etc
  • Try out the bunks, hoisting up.
  • The toilet is always a hit.
  • Nav station and radio interest some – do a live radio check.
  • Crew pigeonholes – limit on how much gear you can bring aboard.
  • Encourage questions and allow the interests of the students to determine pace the tour.  Each tour is different!
  • Recognise when they have had enough and bring them back on deck.


  • Assess the capacity of the group – may not be appropriate for all.
  • Short lengths of rope are on board for this purpose.
  • I prefer a “monkey see, monkey do” method of teaching knots. Demonstrate one step at a time and have them mimic it.
  • Start with a figure of eight knot.
  • Reef knot.
  • Clove hitch with loop as for sail tie or tying a fender to the lifeline
  • Show them a knot app eg Grog Knots

Other activities

Watching the wind gusts on the jumbo instruments.

Winding the coffee grinder in pairs.
Reading the compass – which way are we pointing?  Which way is north?

If the boat has been out in the morning and the afternoon is a dockside program, then some pack down events can become part of the program. We have had students assist

  • flaking headsail
  • coiling sheets
  • putting covers on winches,
  • pumping the bilge (when we had to on Kayle)

Note: The success of this program depends greatly on the enthusiasm of the crew and their ability to engage the will and imagination of the guests.  Without the momentum of sailing the crew need to give constantly to maximise the experience for the students.