The sip ‘n’ puff technology opened the world of sailing to people of varying abilities, including tetraplegics – those with little or no upper-body mobility.
A small sip or gentle puff of air is all that is required to activate this switch forward or reverse. The mechanism is completely enclosed within the machine. The mouthpiece ergonomically shaped to fit comfortably between the lips. The Sip n’ Puff is a term used to describe a dual-switch system which utilizes pneumatic switches. A single piece of tubing, accessible to the user, controls both switches. A slight pressure (puff) operates one switch, while a slight vacuum (sip) operates the other.
All functions, including setting the sails and steering the boat, are controlled by the sailor’s breath. The term Sip ‘n’ Puff, is somewhat misleading. Implication is that the user must sip from the tube, or puff into the tube, much like drinking from a straw, or blowing up a balloon.
In reality, the pneumatic switches are very sensitive. The switches are activated by a slight vacuum or a slight pressure. This is accomplished by creating this vacuum or pressure within the mouth. No actual sipping or puffing, to the degree normally thought of as ‘sipping or puffing’, is required.
Unlike other control methods, sip ‘n’ puff control keeps conductive material away from the user. This eliminates the possibility of electrical shock.
The integration of the Sip ‘n’ Puff system into the Martin 16s owes much to the success of Steve Alvey of Calgary, founder of DSA Alberta. Steve’s work in the early 1990s also paved the way for development of the windlass auto helm, which allows sailors to select how they wish to pilot a boat: manually, by joystick control or by sipping and blowing.