The Wetwheels Foundation — barrier-free boating
Tell us a bit more about your background and why you founded Wetwheels
I was paralysed in a swimming accident in 1984 and have used a wheelchair since then. I’ve always had a passion for the sea and believe this should be accessible for all. In 1995 I became the inaugural Chairman of RYA Sailability. In 2007, I became the first disabled person to sail single handed around Great Britain and then in 2009 sailed across the Atlantic Ocean unassisted. My work led me to being awarded an MBE for Services to Sailing and I'm a council member of the RNLI and patron of several charities for people with disabilities. I founded Wetwheels in 2011 to provide an opportunity for all disabled people, including those with profound and complex disabilities, to access the sea in a safe, stimulating and rewarding way.
What makes Wetwheels unique?
The Wetwheels experience is designed to enable every disabled person, including those with the most profound and complex disabilities, the chance to experience the sense of freedom and excitement of power boating. Wetwheels boats are truly unique by being fully accessible — not just giving you the chance to be a passenger, but also to take the helm as the skipper — everybody gets the chance to drive! Central to our experience is active participation - helping to broaden aspirations, increase confidence and directly impact on health and wellbeing.
We have seven operators within the Wetwheels network as we want to make our experiences easy to access for people across the country. By 2025, we aim to support 12,000 people every year to participate in a Wetwheels experience across the UK, with the widest reach and awareness possible.
A Wetwheels experience challenges self-perceptions, extends horizons and opens up new opportunities. We ensure full wheelchair access to the boat — including a ramp to the steering position and adapted steering controls. All are active participants, rather than simply passengers, with the opportunity to steer the vessel and learn seamanship alongside peers, friends and families.
Our own research tells us more than 80% of Wetwheels’ participants have never previously been on the open water — which is something we want to change. Wetwheels is an inspiring organisation where perceived barriers are reassessed, new skills are learned and new-found independence is discovered. Participants are able to have a single experience or return over time.
We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit charities hard. How have the past three years been for Wetwheels?
We are funded by a combination of donations from individuals, businesses, charitable trusts and foundations. Participants are also encouraged to contribute towards the cost of their trips. Where this isn't possible, we seek to raise funds from third parties to cover the cost of participation as we want to ensure financial accessibility as well as physical accessibility. Companies like Rathbones who can make contributions allow us to continue with our work.
What’s next for Wetwheels?
Our next boat is planned for Torbay in 2024 so we are continually widening our offering so as many disabled people as possible can experience the Wetwheels experience. Any contributions towards this goal would be gratefully received.
To find out more about Wetwheels, visit www.wetwheelsfoundation.org. If you have any questions or would like to speak to someone about supporting the charity, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.