Making Boat Accessible for Parkinson's Disease/Physical Disability/Handicap Accessible

Universal/accessible design of the home from an occupational therapy and a construction perspective. This blog is part of a quest for cool, convenient, functional design that makes life safer, easier, and as maintenance-free as possible. It's about the lifestyle.

My mom loves to fish and has Parkinson’s Disease, which is beginning to make getting on and off the boat treacherous. I feel that physical impairments should not limit anyone from doing what they love, so it is vital that we figure out a way to make getting on/off the boat safe and easy for my mother. I would appreciate any/all input on this project.

Does anyone know of any equipment or devices to assist with getting onto a boat?

Information about the boat:

* 21.5’ Sea Boss
* Stored on a boatlift.
* Boat is on a canal in Florida, the access point will need to be effective when
the boat is on the boatlift and the lift is adjusted for high tide.
* The boat is 14” above the dock when boatlift is set for high tide.
* There are 24” between dock and boat.
* The gunnel of the boat is 6” wide.
* Mom can ambulate independently on boat.
* Boat is used for fishing and to go to restaurants on islands or other canals.

Click twice on drawing to enlarge.

Goals for accessibility:

* Safe and easy access.
* Access point will work as balance and mobility skills deteriorate.
* Cost effective.

Accessibility Bonuses:

* Boat would be accessible at multiple locations to provide the highest level of freedom and independence.

* Basket or platform to put things in during transfers from the boat to the dock.
* Fishing pole holder.

The ideas so far are as follow:

Plan A: A stairs/platform with handrails from dock to boat that is attached to the boatlift and would go up and down with boat. This would have to work during high tide.

Click twice on drawing to enlarge.

Stairs/platform with handrails requirements:

* Cover a 15” rise.
* 24” between boat and dock.
* 3 steps each with a 5” rise.

Plan for Stairs and Platform:

* 2 stairs 18" wide. The stairs would end 5" under the gunnel of the boat and there would

be a 5” rise from the top step to the gunnel of the boat. The gunnel of the boat would

then be a step.

* 5" rise per stair.

* Handrails both sides of stairs.

* Will have handrail inside boat.

* Step and handrail installed inside boat to make stepping into boat safe.


* Simple and easy to fabricate.
* Quick solution.
* Not too expensive.


* Need to duck head to avoid hitting head on boatlift bar (see photo.)
* Only works for home dock.
* Solution obsolete as mobility skills deteriorate.

Plan B: A track system at the front of the boat from the dock to the center of the boat. Mom would sit in a bosum chair and the chair move vertically and horizontally with a motor. The movement of the chair would need to be able to be controlled from the dock,
the boat and the chair.

Click twice on drawing to enlarge.

Plan B Requirements:

* Chair on track moves vertically and horizontally.
* Chair on track can be controlled from dock, chair and boat.
* Need emergency manual back-up release.
* Chair would need to be stable both at dock and on boat.
* Chair would need to rise above boat high enough to clear passenger’s feet.
* Chair would need to be easy to sit in and be safe.
* Basket for belongings.
* Fishing pole holder.


* Could be used no matter what mobility level.
* Easy to use independently.
* No stepping over water.


* Only used at home dock.
* Expensive.

Plan C: Chair with a footrest attached to the side of the boat that raises and lowers. The passenger would step onto the footrest, sit down on the chair and the chair would rise until the footrest is above the gunnel of the boat. When the chair reaches the topmost point the chair seat, footrests, and armrests would then swivel and face into the boat. When the chair is facing into the boat the chair would then be lowered until the footrests are on the floor and the passenger would step off.

Click twice on drawing to enlarge.

Plan C: Requirements:

* The chair that attaches to the side of the boat will need to rise-up high enough to allow the footrest to clear the gunnel of the boat.
* The footrest should have 2 pieces that unfold extending up to 24’ to reduce the need to step out over the water.
* The footrest will need to be able to bear a person’s full body weight.
* The chair will need armrests that telescope out to 24” past the end of the seat to provide ‘handrails’ when stepping onto the footrest.
* The chair’s seat and footrest will need to swivel at the top.
* The chair, footrest and the rail it rides on will need to be out of the water when the boat is in motion.
* There should be an optional seat belt that is easy to engage/release.
* The boat should not be able to be in gear if the chair is at the top of its range or facing towards the outside of the boat.
* There should be a basket next to the chair to put things in as well as a fishing pole holder.
* The boat will need to be very stable.
* The footrest could possibly not swivel with the rest of the chair but it should raise and lower to allow the person riding in the chair to have a stable surface to step on that would reduce the need to step over the water.

Click twice on drawing to enlarge.


* Could be used at any dock allowing freedom to travel to friend’s houses on the water or go out to eat at seaside restaurants, as well as get gas and bait via the boat.
* A track system could attach to the chair on the inside of the boat so the person in the chair could ‘drive’ the chair to the boat controls.
* Very safe. No walking over water required. The tracking system could also extend to the dock and a person could transfer from a wheelchair directly into the boat chair safely.


* Doesn’t exist to my knowledge.
* May throw off the balance of the boat and would work with only very stable boats.
* May get in the way of the boatlift.

Other ideas:

* A davat crane system with a seat installed in the boat, similar to the systems utilized by fisherman to pull in nets. May require 2 people to operate.
* Oar unloading system adapted to move a person via a conveyor belt.
* Telescoping vertical supports that act similar to a retractable bowsprit that would have a tracking system.


hazmarty said...

Have you considered installing a pool lift device on the boat. Besides the usual pool side lifts, there are also lifts that can be used with an above ground swimming pool.

Take a look at this:

Go down to entry #20 (01/20/2007)

Anonymous said...

try "crewlift", a UK product for about 5K, attaches to a dock and is specifically designed to lift folks in and out of a boat...

Donna said...

These are both great suggestions but they may be out of your budget. You may want to consider putting her in a wheelchair and using a ramp to get her in the boat. I doubt that she goes out by herself. Just keep in mind that 'picking up her feet' is not easy.

hazmarty said...

I have continued to look at a solution to this for my wife. You might wnt to take a look at the YouTube video at this URL:

It is very similar to the pool lift approach that I suggested last summer, but here you can see someone has actually done it. The motorized hoist mechanism itself would probably cost about $1.5K to $2K, but a mechanical hoist might be about $1K. I have had preliminary discussions with a boatyard and they have estimated an additional $3K for structural and electrical mods to the boat

Anonymous said...

Υou get plentiful choіces to pick a ѕtairlіft according
to youг oωn buԁget and need.

One οf the beѕt options for ѕtairlifts iѕ AC powered stairlifts
that are mаde fοr hοme uѕe ԁue to the conveniencе and security of use.

Karen K Koch said...

Stairlifts? We install stairlifts for stairs that are basically chairs on a rail that go upstairs. What sort of stairlifts do you mean?

Anonymous said...

The growing demand of stairlifts encouraged Acorn to create an assortment of stairlifts having different usage and

To stop children or animals to mistakenly send the chair lift on its way,
and cause undue damage, a safety on / off switch
is built in many stairlifts.

Karen K Koch said...

Thanks I'll look into that, maybe that will be my next post.