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Old 24-10-2011, 11:03   #1
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Handicapped-Accessible Companionway Rig ?

My daughter has something like cerebal palsy. She loves the sea and we hope to go cruising again, but she does not have good coordination. The companionway has always been the biggest challenge for her. She can do it, but she is much more likely to miss a step and fall. When she was younger and lighter it was easy to spot her, and I could easily just catch her if she fell. Now that she is ~70 pounds I think we need something better.

I want to make or figure out a rope clutch thing that will attach to her harness. The goal is that it would somehow take up the slack as she ascends or descends, but have a limited rate that it will let the rope out, to break a fall.

I'm competent with basic machine shop work, and feel like I can machine or weld or hack together something that would work... But how?

Do any of you have an idea for how such a mechanism would work? Maybe some combination of off the shelf things or ideas might do it, such as the ratcheting blocks on small boat mainsheets combined with some rope with the central core replaced with bungee cord. Or maybe something like a Dutchmen Boom Brake, with a big rubber band. Somehow?

We also hope to find a next boat with a short companionway that can be retrofitted to be more like a staircase than a ladder, with a railing on both sides. There are really not many boats like this (usually aft-cockpit boats with a pilothouse or deck saloon, but no living space under the cockpit), so I'm hoping that some kind of harness ratchet thing might expand our options a bit to boats with a normal height companionway.
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Old 24-10-2011, 11:34   #2
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Perhaps you could look into rock climbing suppliers for recreational manmade rock walls. They have automatic belay devices that let you go up or down, and at the point that you fall, they kick in and slowly lower you down. Wouldn't be a perfect solution, but perhaps with some modifications...
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Old 04-02-2012, 21:42   #3
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Re: Handicapped-Accessible Companionway Rig ?

Try something like a clothesline reel running around a drum 2,3,4,.. times then to the harness. The reel provides a bit of tension to the system and the drum provides a lot of drag. Ascending the reel will retract the line. Not really sure how well this would work, just thinking off the top of my head. My inspiration is any number of boom brakes (how appropriate given the where you need this) that slow the boom down during a gybe using rope friction on a drum.
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If the drum could rachet one way it would make retraction a lot easier ascending.

For the descent, it may be that a fixed drum gives too much drag and she would constantly hang up, maybe a rotating drum with friction controlled by a nut and bolt that could be adjusted to suit.
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Old 06-02-2012, 09:50   #4
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Re: Handicapped-Accessible Companionway Rig ?

Thank you for the advice.

We ended up purchasing a unique boat with short companionways. It's an aft cockpit pilothouse, so instead of one tall companionway there are two that are only a few steps each. From the cockpit, she can sit on the bridge deck and then skootch forward and almost end up with her feet on the floor of the pilothouse.

I've been looking at climbing equipment and it really does look great. Hopefully I can find ones that will last around saltwater. I think we will end up using some kind of climbing harness and belaying system when she goes from the dinghy to the swim platform, and then climbs the swim platform stairs up to the deck.

We're also planning to make an abrasion proof suit with padding, sort of like a kids motorcycle suit, for her to help scramble up rocky or concrete piers or old metal ladders when that is the dinghy landing. Like in Rarotonga, where there's a ~6' steel ladder you have to climb, or Darwin at low tide, or the numerous other places with a concrete pier. Our idea is that one of us will go up first with a rope, then be able to spot her as she climbs. And then, with the suit, even if she messes up she won't skin her knee. But I think we'll just skip some places, like Niue, where you pretty much have to hop onto a slippery staircase as the dinghy is moving up and down in the swell.

Maybe we'll make a cruising guide -- handicapped accessible dinghy landings of the world. Or maybe we'll be comparing notes often with 80+ sailors, who also don't hop or jump. Since even splintery wood docks are a problem if you aren't coordinated enough to hop into a dinghy from the dock and have to skootch on your bottom into it-- again, maybe some kind of kevlar pants will be the ticket. I think we'll probably end up doing more beach landings.
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