Accessibility for Paddlers

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Paddlers of all abilities want to launch and land smoothly without capsizing or damaging their watercraft. They need firm surfaces that support their movement from their arrival place to the launch at water’s edge and sufficient space to accommodate the length of their watercraft during put-in and take-out. In addition, paddlers must be able to stabilize their watercraft during transitions into and out from their vessel and into and out from the water.

The recommendations for designing a launch site that addresses inclusive universal accessibility for everyone, including paddlers with disabilities are:

  1. Accessible routes throughout the launch site with gentle slopes (less than 5% grade), to accessible parking spaces, restrooms, water spigots, picnic areas, water’s edge, docks, and canoe/kayak launches
  2. Route Width: At least 5 feet wide, preferably 6 to 12 feet to accommodate a two person watercraft carry and it provides enough space for two people to pass by.
  3. Gangway and Ramp Slopes: Below 8.33%, which is the maximum slope allowed in the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessible design guidelines.
  4. Inclusive and universally accessible site amenities: Single-user unisex accessible restrooms so opposite gender caregivers or parents can assist and there is enough interior space for someone using a walker or wheelchair, or parents with kiddos in strollers to maneuver; water spigots for filling water bottles where the water flow stays on so you can fill a bottle with one hand; accessible car/boat parking as well as traditional accessible parking; accessible designed picnic tables and grills, etc. all of which are useable by everyone together.
  5. Accessible Launch: Connected to the accessible route; at least 25 feet long to allow paddlers “dry” access to entire length of their watercrafts when preparing to enter/exit the craft prior to launching; a means of transfer/boarding assistance such as boarding bench that centers the paddler over the craft to enter/exit; pull rails & rollers to assist moving the vessel into and out of the water on a surface that stabilizes the craft and doesn’t damage the crafts bottom.

It is also important to consider universal design practices in the development of the complete water access facility, from car to launch. Simply put, universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.