Accessible Boating Opportunities Abound Throughout the United States!
Being out on the water can be a very freeing experience for everyone. Seeing gorgeous sunsets drop into the horizon, feeling the wind in your face as the sails tack, or experiencing the thrill of rafting white water rapids along a canyon river all come to mind as adventures not to be missed. These invigorating adventures are not exclusive to those who are able-bodied. There are many opportunities for people with disabilities, too! We've highlighted some fantastic water expeditions that include everyone so that you can get your feet wet, too!
The opportunities for sailing abound! A wonderful non-profit organization Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), located at the Sandy Point State Park Marina by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Virginia, cater to people with disabilities who wish to sail. They operate four boats named "Freedom Independence 20's" with several adaptations. Two chairs, for those with mobility impairments, pivot from one side of the boat to the other for tacking and jibbing and a 900 lb. fin keel for extreme boat stability are a couple of the adaptations.
The Downtown Sailing Center (DSC) in Baltimore has sailing boats that have been designed to handle a wide variety of people with disabilities. In their words, "DSC is committed to providing access to sailing, regardless of physical ability." Accessible ramps and Hoyer lifts are present and there is no cost. DSC has two Accessible boats, one used by the U.S. Paralympic team and the other is adapted with a "sip and puff" steering system and or electronic joystick. Accessible sailing season at DSC is between April and August on one or two Saturdays per month meaning space is limited so plan ahead by signing up early.
Another east coast area sailing adventure can be found at Lake George in New York. Y-Knot Sailing offers free sailing for people with disabilities. The organization was founded in 1996 by a group of sailors with disabilities. According to their website "Y-Knot has a fleet of six Martin 16s. With a deep ballasted keel and simple control systems, the Martin 16 is safe for sailors of all abilities."
Lake Michigan sailing from Burnham Harbor in Chicago is very accessible. The Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation, founded in 1990, was designed to help make sailing accessible for people with disabilities. Over 10,000 people have been introduced to sailing through this wonderful organization. Accessible features listed on their website include: "Transfer-boarding benches that sailors use as they move from wheelchairs to seats aboard, counterweighted seats that provide support while enabling sailors to pivot from one side of the boat to the other, Chest and waist belts that add stability and safety, Lines, tillers, and rigging that are positioned to enable easy participation, life jackets and parking conveniently adjacent to the wheel chair-accessible docks." To view a fantastic video and find more information on adaptive sailing in Chicago visit the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation website.
For youngsters and adults out there that want to learn how to sail, as well as other adaptive water sports, Shake a Leg, located in Miami, Florida, is a great organization that will get one started. Founded in 1982 by then twenty-two year old Harry Hogan, paralyzed from an auto accident, Shake a Leg provides one of the largest adaptive water sports facilities in the United States. Sailing, kayaking, boat charters on the Biscayne Bay, power boat excursions, and even power boat certifications are among many of the various water activities at Shake a Leg.
Moving to the west coast, San Diego houses an exceptional organization for sailors with disabilities. Challenged America was founded in 1978 by two disabled veterans. They were watching others sailing on Mission Bay in San Diego and commented, "That looks like fun...and all of them are sitting too. Now, that's something we should be able to do." Thus, Challenged America was started. Sponsored by the Disabled Businesspersons America (DBA), Challenged America's main goal was to create a therapeutic program to get inactive people with disabilities involved in the community. DBA's main thought was if they could show people with disabilities how to sail they would then in turn feel confident to try and get involved in other life activities. Challenged America had the first team of sailors with disabilities to compete in the Transpac Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu, HI. One thing that sets Challenged America apart is their ingenious affiliation with the engineering department at San Diego State University.
Engineering professors and students are consulted to help develop unique assistive technology to accommodate anyone with a disability. Challenge America has many programs and opportunities for sailing.
The Grand Canyon is a magnificent display of nature at its best and experiencing the Colorado River while rafting is about as good as it gets. Colorado Discover Ability, located in Grand Junction, Colorado, does just that by providing river trips through the Canyon. They also provide seven other trips along the Colorado River in addition to the Grand Canyon tour. One can take a day trip or opt to go overnight trips. Colorado Discover Ability provides three types of rafting vehicles: oar boats, paddle rafts and inflatable kayaks. Many non-swimmers attend the trips so Type 5 floatation devices are used to float one "face up". There is a reasonable cost for trips yet scholarships are available. They recommend calling ahead to discuss your individual needs as they desire to accommodate them. They also welcome service dogs and provide guidelines on how to keep them safe with K-9 life jackets. Remember to state your individual needs when planning your trip.
Environmental Traveling Companions, ETC, is an organization providing many accessible outdoor adventures since 1972. They will be hosting both a Grand Canyon rafting trip, March 18-25, 2012 and a Baja Sea Kayak Expedition, August 26- September 9, 2012, Espiritu Santo Island, Vanuatu (East of Australia). Sliding-scale prices are available and their adventures are open to people of all ability levels.
Kayaking on the sea and down the Colorado River would be awesome to maneuver and getting some of the basic kayaking moves beforehand would be a wise move. One can find out how by visiting Texas Rowing for All (TRFA) in Austin at Lady Bird Lake. Their mission is to empower people with disabilities by providing a positive learning experience in rowing. As a non-profit organization, TRFA does not charge people for rowing experiences and relies on its vast number of volunteers. The Texas Rowing Center at Lady Bird Lake helps TRFA by providing facilities, dock space, equipment, and storage space. In 2009 TRFA was chosen as the third, Paralympic Sports rowing club by the United States Olympic Committee/US Paralympic division. A major aim of this organization is to make rowing adventures inclusive by having people with disabilities integrate into the able-bodied community of rowers. Ten different programs are listed on their website that include programs for "Wounded Warriors", people with intellectual disabilities, visual impairments, hearing disabilities, Special Olympics or simply anyone who wants to learn how to row
Located in Terrell, Texas, but having many chapters throughout the state including Dallas, Turning Point is an organization dedicated to encouraging people with disabilities to enjoy outdoor recreation. Adaptive kayaking and sailing are included in their programming. They have a few adapted beginners sail boats and kayaks and give lessons on how to use them.
A final rowing destination started by an amazing woman, Angela Madsen, must be mentioned. California Adaptive Rowing Programs (CARP) out of Long Beach, California, has a mission to encourage people with a disability to not give up and confine oneself. In their words "Our mission is to provide instruction and training for competitive and recreational opportunities in the sport of rowing to physically and developmentally challenged individuals." CARP is committed to finding ways to make rowing possible for anyone with challenges due to a disability. In fact, Angela has a background in mechanical engineering and strives to make rowing accessible and safe for all. One feature seen on their site is a transfer lift getting people from the shore to the boat. In addition to her engineering background, Angela is an accomplished rower having won several Paralympic medals and is the first woman with a disability to have rowed both the Indian and Atlantic oceans!
Now that you have dipped your toes into a river of knowledge on available sailing, rowing and kayaking adventures for people with disabilities, it is time to make a splash by trying them. We hope this information is helpful in making plans for water sports. We would also love to hear about your experiences on your excursions. Please post your stories on our website for many others to see and create their own dreams. Thanks for reading and happy sailing/rowing/paddling!