No announcement yet.

Kayak Refinements: UVic students design prototypes that give disabled a chance to get on the water

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

    Kayak Refinements: UVic students design prototypes that give disabled a chance to get on the water

    Kayak RefinementsUVic students design prototypes that give disabled a chance to get on the water 
    Richard Watts
    Times Colonist
    Monday, December 23, 2002CREDIT: Special to Times Colonist
    Dr. Doug Nichols, the director of UVic's school of physical education, tests the prototype of a radio-assisted kayak that would allow people with some physical disabilities to enjoy the water.
    When quadriplegic Joe Coughlin wants to move, he uses a wheelchair. When Coughlin wants competition, he sails. And now when he wants peace, he kayaks.
    He can propel himself along the surface of the ocean, observe at close range sea creatures like jelly fish and seals, and, for the first time, dip his own hand into the cold water, without fear of tipping the boat. It's as close to the ocean as he can get without swimming.

    "It's an amazing experience," he said. "There is a real feeling of independence and freedom."

    But now, with the use of special devices developed at the University of Victoria, he no longer fears the slim boats. He uses a pontoon system to prevent tipping. And he has a radio-powered tiller, controlled by push-button switches attached to his paddle that allow him to steer.

    Even though he is a long-time sailboat racer, Coughlin was always nervous about kayaks. A neck injury at birth damaged his spinal cord, leaving him with diminished control to his arms and legs and a left side very much stronger than the right. That made balance tricky for him.

    With the steering device, he can even keep the boat moving in a straight line, even though his strong left side would naturally propel him in circles.
    What made it possible for UVic to develop these devices was an process of inspiration, and co-operation co-ordinated by the university's Innovation and Development Corporation.

    The original idea of opening ocean kayaking to disabled people was the brainchild of Doug Nichols, a professor of physical education.

    Nichols said he had long thought kayaking would be an activity that disabled people would enjoy and would be an ideal way for them to share in British Columbia's unique outdoor recreation opportunities.

    But in a kayak, disabled people typically have a balance problem that can easily lead them to tip over. Without control of the muscles in the lower abdomen, they are unable to wiggle through their hips sufficiently to stop the kayak from tipping.

    Even elite wheelchair athletes can have problems. Their arms, chests and shoulders are highly muscled and often quite bulky, especially in relation to their lower bodies. So in a kayak, their centre of gravity sits high above the water making them especially tip prone.

    Nichols had some ideas on how to solve the tipping problem and had been tinkering with devices for about 10 years. Then last spring he was introduced to Colin Bradley, a professor of mechanical engineering.

    Bradley just happened to have a class of about 50 fourth-year students with a project ahead of them. So Nichols' idea of coming up with devices that would allow disabled people to use ocean kayaks became the 12-week summer project of Bradley's engineering students.

    Bradley divided the students into five groups and a friendly competition was initiated. Students were put to work, investigating the problem and coming up with devices to solve the problems that kept people with disabilities out of kayaks.

    A number of different floatation devices to keep boats from tipping were developed. But also developed were the steering mechanisms to operate the tiller, usually operated by the feet on an able-bodied kayaker.

    Radio-controlled steering was the answer. On one design, there is the push-button tiller control that attaches to a paddle. But there is also a device that operated the tiller with a sip and puff control. Driving the tiller is a small, solar powered motor.

    The sip and puff control allows seriously disabled people to sit and steer from the front cockpit of a two-seater kayak by sucking or blowing on a tube. They might not be able to paddle, that function is filled by the rear paddler. But they can still be part of the boat, part of the team.

    Bradley is proud of the work his students completed. But their projects are really just proto-types, little more than experiments and still a long way from getting to people who might make use of them. He said universities are all too often good at ideas but poor at seeing them put into use.

    "I can think of any number of courses and instructors who have come up with similar things and their ideas have just sat on the shelf," said Bradley.}

    Great information. Anyone have a phone number for these guys?

    Fortitudine Vincimus
    (Through endurance we conquer)


      A friend of mine made some simular adjustments to his kayak a few years ago but not as hi-tech as he is a para. It only cost him a few bucks as he made it himself with materials from a local hardware store.

      You can reach him at


        Can any of our Canadian members provide a phone number for The "University of Victoria"??

        I'm getting ready to Kayak and I'm looking for some input / advice.


          Yeah, I want to too! [img]/forum/images/smilies/biggrin.gif[/img]Sounds cool hey! Heres the link to UVic.

          It's this dept. that did I believe.

          Heres a article about it too; It's better, its got all the contacts.

          [This message was edited by Monkeygirl on 03-28-03 at 03:19 AM.]


            I am a para' and hence have of use of my arms. Before my accident I was an outdoor activities instructor and since I have adapted my kayak so that I can still use it fairly effectively. Kayak control normally requires a lot of sitting balance and input from your hips, knees and abs. My adaption allows me to eskimo roll my kayak, despite being unable to use my hips, and I have succesfully tackled white-water rivers up to class four. This summer I will be part of an inclusive, disabled and able bodied team that is sea kayaking from Vancouver to Junneau in Alaska as part of an ongoing project that is developing equipment and techniques to allow disabled people access to the great outdoors.
            I can report back on this after the trip.


              Wow Adrian,
              Van to Junneau, that will be absolutely incredible, the most beautiful part of the world. I wish I were you, I couldn't possibly imagine doing it by kayak, never mind cruise ships. How can you do that? There's no way you could do the whole route could you?
              Ps; You're a para, but whats your level?


                Hi Monkeygirl - sorry not to reply sooner but I have been away kayaking for the weekend, training for the trip.
                I am T10 complete and the original plan was to do the whole trip but I am not being allowed to take that long off work so I will paddle from Vancouver to Ketchikan or Wrangell depending on how fast we make progress. There will be one other paraplegic (T4) on the trip who has been given the time off from her work for the whole trip and will paddle in the front of a double kayak. There will be seven able-bodied paddlers aswell. I will paddle for about two months and we expect the whole trip to Junnea to take nearly three months - I am very esxcited about the trip, it looks like a fantastic bit of coastline and even though everyone keeps telling me nightmare stories about grissly bears I can't wait.