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10 April 2003, 12:21 pm
More Blind to Sea After British Breakthrough
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RYA Sailability
Southampton

A British technology breakthrough will help blind people navigate at sea, it was announced today.

Scientists have created a pinpoint accurate 'audio compass' to boost the achievements of the blind and partially sighted at sea.

Vicki Sheen, one of the winners of the World Blind Sailing Championships, said: "This is a big breakthrough for blind and partially sighted sailors - or those who fancy trying. It makes sailing safer and more accessible. The audio compass means the disabled can be independent and achieve greater things at sea."

Vicki, medal winner, was presented with one of compasses by HRH Princess Royal, patron of the Royal Yacht Association's Sailability initiative, at the Royal Thames Yacht Club, Knightsbridge, in London today.

Marine technology company Tacktick created the Audio Compass after it was approached by RYA Sailability, which was looking for affordable ways to help blind and partially sighted sailors.

Since it doesn't need a power supply it can be attached to any vertical surface by double-sided tape or a bracket and thus can easily be transferred from boat to boat. Audio output is through a single earphone, which attaches comfortably to either ear and won't distract fellow crew members. The instrument also has an LCD numerical course display for use by partially sighted helmsman.

Control of the compass is via two push buttons located on top of the instrument. The helmsman can lock-on to the present heading by holding down the right hand button and change coarse when necessary by momentary presses of the left or right buttons. When locked-on, deviation from course results in beep tones with pitch depending on the direction course error. As the course error increases so does the rate of beeping. Holding down the left button returns the compass to standby. Nothing could be simpler!

Clive Clifford, Chief Executive of RYA Sailability, said: "Sailing is a sport and recreational activity for all, regardless of disability. We are very happy that a British technology firm has helped make sailing possible for thousands more."

Clive Johnson, Joint Managing Director of Tacktick, added: "The new system will enable blind sailors to be as effective sailors as those with 20:20 vision. This is a breakthrough for the visually impaired and we are pleased to have played a part in improving their lives."

RYA Sailability is the leading UK charity for disabled sailing and is the official charity of the RYA. RYA Sailability enables blind and other disabled people to sail at venues across the country. The Audio Compass is just one highlight of the Royal Yacht Association and Sailability's national drive to get blind and partially sighted people sailing launched this week. For more information visit the RYA website

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