Frequently asked questions

What is adaptive kayaking?

Adaptive kayaking is simply the process of making adjustments to a kayak and/or kayak gear so that someone who might not normally be able to kayak can do so safely. These might be people with disabilities, those with certain health conditions (e.g., asthma, arthritis), paddlers with injuries (e.g., torn rotator cuff), or people who lack the strength. mobility or coordination to use a traditional kayak and paddle. The adjustments can range from simple to complex. One easy "adaptation" is inserting foam padding to provide additional support to the paddler or prevent skin chafing. Or, adaptations might entail using special transporting devices (e.g., a patient lift, cart or transfer bench) and specialized paddling equipment, such as the Versa Paddle or outriggers. Adaptive kayaking is often, but not always, done within the context of some type of program or oversight. Non-profits, veterans groups, parks and recreation departments, recreational therapy programs and many others sponsor such programs. Two key components of these programs are having trainers and/or volunteers who are certified in adaptive kayaking and a set of specific safety measures in place.

What types of adapted kayaking programs are there?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of adaptive paddling programs throughout the world. Their focus and purpose varies from group to group, but some of the most popular types are:

  • Community-based and non-profit programs that seek to give people with disabilities or others with special needs the opportunity to recreate
  • Veterans programs that aim to provide military personnel (with and without injuries or disabilities) access to the transformational powers of nature and paddling
  • Recreational and physical therapists - both through organizations and individually -- who think kayaking may help in rehab and/or simply provide a positive recreational outlet for a client
  • Kayak rental businesses, outfitters and paddling clubs all over the world
  • Some universities and higher education organization also participate in adaptive paddling, whether through research or hands-on learning opportunities (e.g., student workshops associated with engineering or kinesiology departments)
  • Parks and recreation departments that offer summer programming or camps to children and adults
  • State and federal parks programs that seek to provide accessible kayaking opportunities for visitors
  • And then there are the thousands of individuals and families who have the desire to participate in kayaking. These might be experienced paddlers facing age-related challenges (e.g., arthritis, limited mobility), injuries (e.g., torn rotator cuff) or cognitive or coordination issues (e.g., children with Autism).

Is there a formal training program to become a certified adaptive kayaking instructor?

Yes. The American Canoe Association (ACA) periodically offers adaptive paddling workshops which offer certificates of completion to participants.The ACA also offers a wide range of general kayak instruction training and certifications. You can find a list of certified adaptive kayaking instructors on their website. In some cases, adaptive program instructors may have a background in physical or recreational therapy or in working with people with disabilities, which gives them a fuller understanding of what types of adaptations can be done for various functional limitations. If you would like a referral or recommendation for someone who may help as you develop your own program, please reach out to info@angleoar.com

What is adaptive paddling?

Adaptive paddling is the general term used to describe the practice of adapting any form of watercraft (e.g., canoe, kayak, SUP) that can be propelled with a paddle so that someone who might not normally be able to maneuver the vessel can do so safely. This might be a person with a spinal cord injury, someone who is blind, a veteran with a missing limb, or people with disabilities, injuries or insufficient strength, mobility or coordination to paddle.

The adaptations can range from simple to complex. For instance, a blind kayaker may only need pieces of tape added to their paddle so they can gauge hand placement and know which is the top side of the paddle versus the bottom. They would, in most scenarios, also have a paddling companion assisting with verbal directional cues and safety.

A more complex adaptation might be adding outriggers and special seating, or even their own wheelchair, to a standup paddleboard so that someone with paraplegia or limited trunk control can sit and paddle.

Sometimes, the phrase “universal paddling” or “accessible paddling” is used in place adaptive paddling. Dragon boats, surfboards, some outriggers, rafts and other paddle-driven watercraft often also fall into this category.

Adaptive kayaking is a subset of adaptive paddling, but the terms are often used interchangeably when referring to kayaking.

What is an adapted kayak paddle?

The term adapted kayak paddle is a general phrase used to describe a range of possible modifications that will enable a person to effectively propel a kayak with a paddle. Just like with adaptive paddling overall, the adaptations range from fairly easy to very sophisticated. For paddlers with shoulder injuries or joint problems, the “adaptation” may simply be using a more lightweight carbon fiber paddle or learning a different paddling technique or stroke.

For someone with limited hand flexion or grip strength, hand grips (manufactured or DIY) can be added to the paddle shaft so that it can be maneuvered by the user without having to grip the paddle.

Experienced kayakers, including many older adults, find that arthritis or shoulder problems prevent them from continuing the sport they love so they make the transition to a mounted-paddle holder, like our Gamut. They benefit from the "weightlessness" of the having the mount but can continue to use their own preferred paddle.

If a paddler has poor coordination or limited strength due to Cerebral Palsy, for example, they can try a mount-supported paddle. Mounted paddles have the benefit of bearing the weight of the paddle, thereby reducing joint stress and requiring less strength. In the case of our Versa Paddle, the paddle itself can be angled downward on both sides so that if a paddler has quadriplegia, for instance, they can use whatever mobility they do have to gently “pedal” the paddle without having to raise either arm. This feature is also helpful for paddlers with only one limb who want to protect the range of motion in their functioning limb.

There are a handful of manufactured products like those described above available on the market, but there is also an array of DIY devices that industrious paddlers and organizations have created. Those include foot-propelled paddling devices, paddle blades that attach directly to someone's hands, and a canoe paddle for people with one arm.

How much does it cost to fully adapt a kayak?

Every individual has different needs in regard to paddling adaptations. Some who want extra peace of mind on the water may just need outriggers for added balance. Others who are quadriplegic may need everything from a special seat, adaptive paddling, outriggers and transfer bench. Someone missing an arm may only need an adaptive paddle and nothing more. To fully equip a kayak with the full range of adaptations can cost as much as $7,000 and that's only items related directly to the kayak and getting in and out of it. We have created a budget estimating calculator that gives people a sense of what they might expect to pay for their needed equipment.

What is the range of adpated kayaking equipment available?

We have put together a detailed list of the categories of adapted kayak equipment available and the range of options available in each category. You can find that information here.

What happens in an adaptive consultation?

No everyone needs a full assessment to begin kayaking, but for people with severe or complex injuries or disabilities, a consultation is highly recommended. Here's what you can expect if you schedule one through Angle Oar.

How do you decide what types of equipment to choose?

When it comes to adaptive sports equipment, it's not "one size fits all." There are tradeoffs between functionality, price and methods. This blog post provides a good overview of some of the issues to consider. An adaptive consultation is also a great place to start.

What tips or lessons have others learned after adapting a kayak?

Everyone's experience will be different, of course, but here are some of the main takeaways that one family learned after going through the full experience.

How do you install some of the major pieces of adapted equipment?

Manufacturers will include specific instructions with their products, but here is some high-level information on one family's experience installing outriggers, an adaptive seat and our Versa Paddle.

How do you use a Hoyer patient lift in an adaptive paddling?

Not every indivdual nor program will need a patient lift, but for those who do, we've put together some pointers on using them at the water front. You should always get hands-on training with an experienced professional before trying this transfer method.