Boat Charter With A Handicapped Teen


This is the story of the Smail family, whom I have known for many years, and have been charter boat owners for 20 years. Rick, the head of family, and an airline Captain, wrote this very uplifting and inspiring text about their family charter cruises with their son Richie.


Those of us...

...who are fortunate enough to pursue our dreams and sail tropical waters are truly blessed. Most who do so likely have never considered what it might be like to sail with a family member who is physically, mentally or in some other way challenged. Our family is
fortunate to be able to include on our sailing trips our youngest son who has multiple challenges. In 1984 Richie was born almost 4 months too soon. Richie has no vision, is partially paralyzed on his left side with cerebral palsy and is emotionally and socially the equivalent of about a six year old, all directly due to his early birth. One other item that defines Richie is his love to sail. Richie has enjoyed his trips to the Caribbean as much as any other member of our family and looks forward to each planned event with great gusto.

Even though...

...he is profoundly handicapped, Richie has a knack for electronics, computers and communication. He has his own computer which has a program that “reads” to him any printed word on his screen. With this capability, he is able to e-mail, surf the web and enjoy most activities others engage in with their computers. Richie loves to “read” about sailing at Prior to every trip, he visits the web site and consumes every piece of information he can find about the area we will visit and places we plan to explore.
Additionally he will read everything about seamanship and offers his newly found knowledge freely to the skipper (aka dad).

Prior to departure...

Richie recites the pre-departure checklist found on this site. He makes sure that I check everything from the level of the water to whether we had a bailer for the dinghy. Once underway the fun really begins. There is nothing more confidence-building than being critiqued by a blind, mentally challenged young man whose knowledge comes from reading a website! Actually, we have enjoyed many laughs when something did not go completely as planned and Richie would explain it would be in his “report” to Michel Benarrosh (owner of sail

When underway...

...other than restricting Richie to the cockpit (unless he is being supervised by an adult) and having him wear a life jacket when we are in the water, he is treated just like any other member of the family, and he is definitely included in whatever we decide to do. Sometimes that requires us to be creative in order for us to accomplish an activity, but the point is where there’s a will there’s a way. Richie really enjoys being in the water, but without a floatation device we would not dare toss him in. He also wears a dive mask to prevent the salt water from irritating his eyes. We allow him (with supervision) to take the helm and pilot the dinghy. In fact, about the only thing he gets to escape from is cranking a winch.


My purpose... writing this article, is to encourage those who may also have family members with challenges to include them in your sailing life. While we certainly have to think through how we might deal with the practical issues of having Richie along, whether or not to include him based on his disabilities has never been a consideration for our family. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of our family’s involvement in the ownership of a charter boat in the Caribbean. We have enjoyed sailing with three different generations, often all at the same time. Regardless of any other considerations our sailing together has produced the best opportunities for our family to spend quality time together and provided our most fondly remembered experiences. I am convinced the closeness we enjoy as a family has
been significantly enhanced by sailing together which makes the experience priceless.

Captain Rick Smail, October 25, 2008