Excursions arranged by Cowes Sailability Club help young people with autism learn how to engage in social activities, cope with new experiences and express themselves.

Kate and Freddie Thorne

Luke Board

Harry Thorne

Freddie Thorne after his boating trip

Parents of children with autism on the Isle of Wight have spoken about the benefits that their children have gained from participating in boating trips facilitated by Cowes Sailability Club.  The excursions gave the young people a special opportunity to develop their social skills, learn how to cope with new experiences and improve their communications abilities – while having fun.

Kate Thorne has two children who are on the autistic spectrum, and they both benefited in different ways from taking part in boating trips.  “My thirteen-year-old son Henry doesn’t like to leave his bedroom, and it can be really difficult to find social activities that he will engage with,” she says.  “The opportunity to go on boat trip really captured his interest and encouraged him to try something new that involved interacting with people.  He thoroughly enjoyed going on the boat with his Dad and it was a special time for them both. 

“My younger son Freddie, who is five, finds it hard to express himself, but when he saw pictures of his brother on the boat he made it very clear that he wanted to have a turn on board!” she adds.  “He was anxious at first, but then during the trip he became more confident and showed us, through his actions, that he was enjoying getting splashed by sea water.  It was a complete sensory experience for him, which helped him grow in confidence and learn how to verbalise his feelings.”

Another parent, Joy Board, shared her views on how a boat trip benefited her son Luke.  “With his autism, Luke doesn’t cope well with crowds, so we find it hard to find activities that he will be able to deal with,” she says.  “He loved being out on the water and the experience really calmed him.  He was very happy, which was lovely for me to see.”

She adds: “The volunteers at Cowes Sailability Club are so welcoming.  They know how to talk with young people who have autism and learning difficulties and what to expect.  As a parent, that puts me at ease and helps me to enjoy the experience too.”

Cowes Sailability Club hopes to be able to secure funding so that it can offer many more boating trips for young people with autism, and their families, during the sailing season next year.  During the summer of 2019, it funded motorboat trips on Wetwheels Solent, a nine-metre catamaran, owned and operated the Wetwheels Foundation.  In addition, Cowes Sailability Club provided weekly sailing opportunities for several young people with autism, who joined the club as members.  New members with autism are always welcome.

“It is clear just how beneficial boating trips are for our participants with autism,” says Trish Rooke, Fundraising Officer for Cowes Sailability Club.  “We often see them arrive at the sailing club reluctant to engage with other members. Then, once afloat, they join in with sailing the boat, happily chatting.  Back ashore they are smiling, happy to have tea and cake, engage with other members and talk about their sailing trip.  It’s a real privilege to see the value they gain from being on the water.”