Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Boat Guide for the Handicapped Outdoorsmen


It’s summer and ever since I was a little-bitty boy, I can remember this time of the year being filled with days on the water.  In a boat with my dad, fishing until reaching terminal sunburn.  It was my favorite place to be.  In 1984, I was diagnosed with FSH Muscular Dystrophy and my very athletic body began to break down over time.  I realized rather quickly that I may never own and operate my own boat one day.  Or so, I thought.  What are the options?  What is actually available out there from tooling around in a pond to roaring in the open ocean?  This article will give you the tip of the iceberg on this very hot topic.  Ready?  Let’s go!

On many occasions I have written about fishing in ponds.  For a disabled angler, they represent one of the very best solutions for getting your fishing fix.  If you had a boat however, you could access these amazing holes with even greater precision and thoroughness.  But, let’s be real.  A wheelchair and a john-boat aren’t exactly complimentary to each other.  There are inherent dangers in attempting to DIY a solution.

Let me introduce you to Custom Pontoons Boats.  I spoke with Joe Collier who is their designer.  They specialize in building work platforms set over pontoons on just about any scale you can fathom.  I have selected them specifically for this part of the article because of their boat called, The Bass Sniper.  It comes in a 10, 12 and 14 foot editions.  Made specifically for trolling around a pond, the 10 footer can support up to 740 pounds of weight.  Ramps are not included but can be purchased separately.  Interesting tidbit – They have built floating classrooms for Penn State University and Fire Truck Boats.

Staying in the same genre but with a bit of a twist is Hotwoods Compact Pontoon Boats.  I spoke with the owner, Dan and I love that they broke out of the mold a long time ago to rethink how pontoons can and should be utilized.  Most boats like these are made with large round pontoons and then weld a platform on top of that.  The typical pontoon is usually very wide in diameter and does not make for an easy transition sometimes at the water’s edge due to their height.  Hotwoods created smaller diameter pontoons and use four of them for greater stability and weight differential.  The diameter of these pontoons is only 12” making for a much easier transition.  They offer two different styles of boats depending on how economically minded you are.  The Lil Sport is 12’10 x 5 and has a plywood deck for less of an impact on the budget.  They offer a 15’ x 6’ Fishin Sport also with plywood decking.  If strength is what you desire, then you can go with their Allumisport series.  Same lengths and widths as before but the deck is all aluminum welded.  Interesting tidbit – You can add a small outboard to these boats with 10-15 horsepower being the maximum and venture onto a lake.  You can even get one powder coated for duck hunting which is nice.

In both of the previous two companies, the layout of the deck is intended to be wide open.  If you desire storage or rod-boxes, any of these things can be added or customized later.

It is also noteworthy that to enjoy a lake, many of your current pontoon boats can also be customized at your request.  Just simply ask your local Tracker Boats dealer or visit Bass Pro Shops to inquire about any changes to a current layout that you might like.

Okay, it’s time to jump into the deep end of the pool.  Remember those WWII videos showing the boats landing the men on the beaches of Normandy?  The Higgins boat had that wonderful drop-down front end and could transport men, tanks, etc.  That same concept is now being used to build some incredible boats that are also handicapped accessible.

Koffler Boats of Eugene Oregon makes landing craft boats with a ramp that can extend from there.  The boats are originally designed for the great northwest where getting heavy equipment such as ATV’s or Tractors to remote locations can prove difficult.  With their landing craft front end, this becomes relatively easy.   If you have always wanted to take the family camping on an island this boat fits the bill. They also make a drift boat if fly-fishing is your thing.  It too has a landing craft style front where a fisherman can roll into the boat and can drift fish with the best river anglers in the world.  Options are endless on any of the boats offered through Koffler and a true wheelchair accessible boat would need to be customized.


Next up in the landing-craft style is a company that makes a wheelchair boat as one of its standard offerings – w00t!  It began when Franklin Graham, who now runs his father Billy Graham’s Samaritans Purse, orchestrated for the Wounded Warrior project to use their lodge in Alaska to bring wounded vets to fish.  They called on Munson Boats to build a completely accessible boat and boy did they ever.

Munson’s Model 34-24 Sport is a 34 footer.  The beam is 12 feet wide allowing for plenty of space on the deck coupled with incredible stability.  Although the boat pictured is a mono hull, you can get the boat in a catamaran style that is even more stable than a mono.  Powered by twin Yamaha 250 horsepower outboards and 250 gallons fuel capacity, you can stay on the water for a very long time.

I spoke with the designer, Jesse, who was all too excited to speak about this incredible boat.  Munson started by making sure that the boat would be accessible whether at the shore or a dock.  There are two boarding doors on either side of the boat for dock access.  The bow ramp can also be lowered while on the water to be used as a platform to get disabled people in or out of the water or a jet ski, kayak, etc.  They also wanted a boat that a disabled individual could not only ride in it but pilot the craft also.  All of the chairs in the cabin can either fold down or be removed so that a person in a chair can roll up to the helm and take command of the boat.

The boat features a 36 inch door in the forward and aft of the cabin.  Although there is a four inch lip for a seal on the cabin, there are ramps that make for a smooth transition.  There is also a large fishing deck in the aft of the boat big enough for three wheelchairs to sit and still have room for others to move around them.  Grab rails are lowered and conveniently located in the cabin.  The floor is coated with non-skid paint like on a ferry so that traction is never an issue.  With lots of storage, rod holders and a fish hold to put your fish after catching them, this boat has it all.  Base package is $200,000 which includes the boat, trailer and outboard motors.

So let’s say you really want the fiberglass feel instead of the aluminum boats we have seen so far.  No problem!  I spoke with John Christianson of Catamaran Coaches in Florida who makes custom wheelchair accessible boats and yachts.  Instead of it being a Catamaran, it is a Trimaran (3 hull design) for even greater stability in big water.  The only words you will ever hear John say is, “Yes we can do that!”  They make a deluxe wheelchair accessible boat already for as low as $60-$80,000.  The options however are truly limitless.

The cabin can be enclosed and can be cooled and heated using the on-board generator.    All of the gates are hydraulic open and close by simply pressing a button.  The front deck is large, open and only limited by the size of your imagination.   On the left aft of the boat there are steps that are molded into the body that makes it much easier to aid the disabled in and out of the water.  The boat can be fitted with an ez-lock system so that a disabled person can roll up to the helm and captain the vessel.  But all of this is just scratching the surface as to what is available.  For more details, give John a call.

Hopefully I have at least gotten your brain to begin thinking that your days on the water aren’t as limited as you once thought.  Never give up!  Where there is a will, there really is a way!

20 comments:

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  2. I am ambulatory but unsteady and I owe a 16 foot fisher pro-avenger. What can I do help move about my boat with less fear of falling?

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    1. A good idea is to add a strategic hand rail into the floor in areas that will help you get from bow to the cockpit. Aprt from going with a barge style boat instead of a 16 foot bass boat, I am unsure of other modifications to assist you. You may want to ask a local boat dealer. I have found them to be rather industrious.

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  3. Cheetah Marine outta the UK has made some cool boats for a non profit program called Wet Wheels http://www.cheetahmarine.co.uk

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    1. no prob, appreciate the info you put together

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  4. My wife is a high level quad. She uses a wheelchair. We live on the water in Florida and have always had a boat. Our current boat is a Hurricane deck boat. It has a basically flat deck. We modified the aluminum rail to make the gate wide enough to allow wheelchair access. The boat is on a lift, so I can level the boat with the dock. I built a gang plank to roll the chair from the dock onto the boat. She can either stay in the chair or transfer to a boat seat. They would work on a pontoon boat as well. I haven't solved the problem to getting her off anywhere else however. I think that would require a hoist on the boat. Cheers. Randy

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Randy, thanks so much for your post. The issue you raise about landing her anywhere but your boat dock is one that dogs everyone with a disability. One of the best solutions I have seen is this - http://www.handicappedoutdoors.com/2016/08/shore-s-ez-solution-for-handicapped.html

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  6. I have been looking for a couple of years for a way to get my special needs daughter into and out of the water onto my pontoon boat. She does well stepping to and from the boat and the dock, but cannot climb a straight ladder, especially since it is too high in the water for her to reach. She loves to be in the water with us, but getting on and off of the pontoon is too difficult. Do you know of any solution?

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    1. Check this out my friend. You can add it to an existing pontoon boat and is the easiest fix for yo situation: http://www.handicappedoutdoors.com/2016/08/shore-s-ez-solution-for-handicapped.html

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  7. Thank you. The ramp looks like it would be great for boarding from the dock or shore, but my daughter wouldn't be able to walk up a ramp without hand railings, and the surface does not look comfortable for her to crawl upon. She is a 33 year old woman, with the developmental abilities of a two year old, with substantial gross and fine motor problems. She is able to walk unaided, but virtually any slopes or stairs require hand rails for her to stabilize herself. Thank you for the suggestion!

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    1. Simple solution is to use a manual wheelchair to transition her back and forth from the dock to the boat.

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  8. "Simple solution is to use a manual wheelchair to transition her back and forth from the dock to the boat."

    As seems to be the problem through most of the threads relating to this issue, the problem is not getting from the dock to the boat - it is getting back into the boat after being in the water. As she is unable to go up a normal boat ladder, this is a huge issue. She loves being in the water, so we want to find a way to make this possible. Thank you.

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    1. The link I sent you with the ramp can lower into the water. That is exactly why I referenced amigo. Check it out again because it really could be your best option.

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  9. Nice to see someone taking initiative to help the disabled enjoy the great outdoors. Like the boating ideas. I've been in a chair for 26 years and have watched an evolution in accessibility in the boating industry. Unfortunately most of the innovation has financially been out of the reach of most disabled folks. The industry as a whole isn't going to make a wheelchair accessible boat. I had a friend, a process engineer who modified his own boat with a drawbridge type front end over 20 years ago. I'm surprised there isn't a patent for that device. It's sitting in a museum of boating now. Family donated it after his death. I've been a member of a group here in Minnesota for 26 years called Capable Partners that has been taking people hunting and fishing since 1987. We are, or are the oldest organization of this type in the nation. Www. Capablepartners.org

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    1. Thanks for the encouraging word! Always nice to connect with someone else who is helping people get back in the field or on the water. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help your members to achieve their outdoor dreams.

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  10. Does anyone know of a lift that could mount on the front of a pontoon so a lift could pick someone up off the dock in a wheelchair and swing to the boat from the dock . we have a ramp but when the tides
    high its to steep.

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    1. Follow this link for another article I did on this exact thing: http://www.handicappedoutdoors.com/2016/08/shore-s-ez-solution-for-handicapped.html

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