The Kayaking System – 2011

During the summer of 2010, I was introduced to all thee gadgets and gizmos of adaptive kayaking during a clinic at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Colorado. Up to that point, my experience with adaptive kayaking had been camping seats and duct tape. Having heard incredible stories from a disabled friend who kayaked the entire length of Alaska’s Inside Passage, I knew I wanted to give it a try as soon as I saw the real possibilities of the sport. The equipment I used – a kayak with outriggers and an adapted seat complete with a backrest, cushion and lateral stabilizers plus a paddle rigged with quad friendly wrist grips – opened my eyes to the enjoyment of cutting across the surface of the water and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.

When I returned home, I began working on developing a system for our dock that let me independently enjoy the sport right in our backyard. Instead of launching from a beach or shoreline, I figured if I could put the boat in the water then simply lower myself from the wheelchair in to positioned kayak, I’d be good to go. I first got the idea from seeing how Shake-A-Leg had modified their docks to help disabled sailors get on their boats and I customized it a bit.

The photos below show the system I developed and began using this summer. The key to the system is a battery powered lifting device called “Sure Hands” that effectively grabs me under the arms and lifts me from the chair. Two hooks positioned under my knees ensure my legs come along, too. The system works via an attached remote control. Once I’m above the wheelchair, I grab the horizontal rail to swing out over the water, lower myself down into the kayak, unhook my legs and simply push the “Sure Hands” out from my under my arms. I get myself comfortably situated and then head out onto the water. More practice will help improve timing, balance and comfort and hopefully by next summer, once I learn how to move in a straight line, I’ll be able to begin my journey right in the back yard and kayak all the way to Alaska. Or maybe the Outer Banks. Or maybe the swamps of the Deep South. Or maybe the Wailua River in Kauai. Who wants to come?