Kayaking for People with a Disability

Inflatable Canoes

The Innovative Recreation Cooperative (IRC) associated with the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center provides opportunities for challenged individuals to try a variety of different activities - among them river paddling or kayaking. These pictures show such a paddling activity on a summer Saturday.

Inflatable canoe seen upright

There are many, different, small watercraft that can be used with little modification by someone who feels comfortable around the water. The first four pictures here show some of the types available. Some are inflatable, some are hard shell plastic. You can find a small kayak or canoe made from almost anything. Just pick one that floats even when it's filled with water.

A hardshell plastic two-seater kayak

River canoes or kayaks are more stable than kayaks designed to be operated in fast moving rapids and you don't have to wear a waterproof kayak-attached skirt. You don't have to wear a helmet for protection. It is, of course, intelligent to wear a personal flotation device (PFD). In fact, if you don't wear one, I think the Coast Guard will give you a ticket.

Several kayak types side by side

I used the yellow boat. It has a stadium seat to help keep me in a sitting position. I use my regular wheelchair pad/seat to protect my bottom from the hard plastic kayak bottom. Those are the only adaptations that I need for paddling. Other people may have either more or fewer requirements.

Smooth river - good exercise

If you have good muscle control above the waist you can probably control kayaks or small canoes without too much trouble. I fit into that category and may get a small, river kayak for relatively mild exercise and outdoor activity.

With a kayak I can go heron there

I find that it helps my attitude to get outside as much as I can. It helps if I adopt activities that change my surroundings. Kayaking does that. I can explore all sorts of interesting places with relative ease. East Tennessee has many rivers with islands that are Tennessee Wildlife Resource (TWRA) areas. They have herons and deer and all sorts of animals that are fun to watch.

I sit up high because of my chair pad

This is me. My wheelchair pad raises me up from the bottom of the boat by a few inches. That makes me slightly more unstable. The boat tends to tip from side to side a little bit more than it would if I were able to hunker down in the bottom of the boat. I got used to it without much trouble.

Give barges lots of leeway

It's better to leave the tugs and barges plenty of room. It's a good idea to learn the rules of the waterways by taking a Coast Guard approved course. Of course, even if you have the right of way - give the big guys plenty of room! Once they're on the move, they don't stop or change direction easily.

Kickin back in a canoe

I'll leave you with Al pictured here with his daughter. They're kickin back enjoying the ride. Perhaps it will be a good activity for you too.