Wheels on Water: Making Boats Universally Accessible


Other than walking, getting on boats is another activity most people think we can’t do. Cruise ships sure, but speedboats, dingys, fishing boats and everything else, not so much. Didn’t you know a spinal cord injury makes stuff like that impossible (dripping with sarcasm)?

You can’t argue our mobility levels are severely limited, no denying that, but that doesn’t mean boats are an impossibility. All it takes is someone with a creative edge to create the accessibility features we need, whether it’s the company itself or the end-user (always more risky, but sometimes you have no other option).

If you’re dreaming of boating once again, know that it can happen whether you’re a paraplegic or quadriplegic. It can take some serious modifications, but for boat lovers with spinal cord injuries, that’s just minor details. Check out our three boating videos below.

Video #1: Paraplegic launches bass boat solo and goes fishin’

Our first video comes from Greg Washburn, a active paraplegic from Vermont. In this highly-requested video, Greg shows the world how he’s able to go fishing in his new bass boat by launching the boat completely independently, and boy is it something to watch.

Filmed on location on Lake Champlain in Vermont, Greg attaches the camera to himself and takes a great first-person perspective of the entire process of unloading the boat into the water, getting his truck out and then getting in the boat himself.  He also shows how he puts his boat back on the trailer. Greg makes it all look easy – that’s how you know he’s a master.

Check it out: Launch and loading of a bass boat, paraplegic style

Video #2: Farmer uses modified lift to get into his boat for fishing

If your boat of choice tends to sit higher than the average boat, then this hydraulic lift made by Bob Patterson, a paraplegic and farmer, may be the answer to your boating problems. He calls it a “modified hydraulic lift” and was kind enough to share how he uses it for the Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Center.

Bob gives a thorough demonstration too. First, he pulls up to the lift, enters it, then puts down a safety gate so in case he rolls at all, he won’t be rolling off of it.  And then he uses the controllers to raise himself up several feet until he is even with his tiny super speedboat.

How exactly he stays on the boat while the boat is in motion is unfortunately not included, or how he drives the boat for that matter, but if you are interested in a lift that can lift hundreds of pounds, say a power wheelchair, into a boat then this lift may be something to think about.

Watch: Hydraulic lift for a speed boat

Video #3: Completely accessible pontoon and driving set-up for a C6 quad

For any low level quadriplegic powerchair- users who dream of being able to enter a boat independently and drive it again, your only option – if you must stay in your wheelchair – is a boat with a flatter bottom, and the good ‘ol pontoon boat is one of the best options.

In this video of an amazing pontoon boat modified by the founder of Easystand, Mark Schmitt, a paraplegic, who modified it to accommodate his friend Ron who’s a a C5-6 quadriplegic, you get to see the two boarding via a ramp and then launching the boat with Ron behind the wheel, hand-controls added to the driving console and build-in chair removed.

Now this is a nice way to ride the water in style. It also has a canopy in case the rays get too strong. With a root beer in hand, the tunes going and the sun overhead, you can’t get any better than this.

Watch: Quadriplegic makes pontoon accessible for a wheelchair

It can be easy brushing off going out on the water if you can’t walk; the hassle can turn many away, but the rewards of being out on water – the healing it brings to the soul, the calmness, all of the hassle is worth the struggle. Just ask any disabled boater after a day on the water.

Have you been in a boat since your injury? How did you get in?

Watch the videos!

Launch and loading of a bass boat, paraplegic style

Hydraulic lift for a speedboat

Quadriplegic makes pontoon accessible for a wheelchair

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