The most convenient way to go sea kayaking as an amputee is to take your prosthesis with you – after all, you’ll want to get out and walk around those beautiful places you’re going to paddle to. So you’ll need to adapt.
As an above-knee, wearing the prosthesis while paddling will inhibit your movement inside the kayak. In addition, rescues will be very difficult due to lack of limb control, could be dangerous due to the risk of entrapment and are likely to damage clothing, equipment and other people. It took years of experimentation to discover a truly effective, reliable method that would allow me to be fully independent in and out of the kayak. It is really obvious now – the prosthesis has to be with me wherever I go. Therefore it must fit in the kayak. It can only go into the cockpit (due to it’s size) and it needs to be instantly available when landing. So I once knew what had to be done I just had to figure out how.
If you’re a below-knee you could just wear the prosthesis all the time, as it’s unlikely to adversely affect your ability to do much at all, including rescues.
I have found that for me (and other amputees I have coached) the best solution is to take the prosthesis off and attach it inside the cockpit of the kayak, in a way that provides good support and connectivity for the paddler. When sat in the kayak, the residual limb (stump) sits loosely inside the socket. The socket becomes a thigh brace but is not attached to you. It will not prevent a “wet exit” if you have to. It’s quick and easy to release the prosthesis when landed.
How does it work? To attach the prosthesis to the kayak I use a pair of strong quick-release straps. One passes between the footrest track and the shell of the kayak. It then wraps tightly around the lower (or shin) part of the prosthesis. The other passes through an anchor loop laminated to the underside of the foredeck, just forward of where the knee would normally contact the deck. This strap is pulled as tight as possible around the back of the knee axis, locking the prosthesis in place. It takes seconds to secure. The prosthesis is then solidly fixed to the kayak. It’s just as quick to release.
To adapt plastic-shelled kayaks I use rivets to secure the anchor loop. Be sure to set the rivets into sealant or rubber to maintain leak-proof holes. Position the rivets so that they won’t cause discomfort or injury, especially if the kayak is used by more than one person.
If this system sounds simple, that’s because it is. However, it takes a little trial and error to get it exactly right for each individual. Every prosthesis is different and so is the person who wears it.
I offer a full setup and testing service. I will give you the time you need to ensure it’s totally right. Once set up, the system is quick and easy to use for the amputee and if someone else wants to use the kayak, there is nothing to get in the way. It’s applicable for composite and plastic kayaks alike.
If you don’t want to (or cannot) take your prosthesis into the kayak cockpit with you, an alternative is to temporarily or permanently adapt the kayak. This can take the form of a glassed-in socket, or perhaps custom foam blocks. Alternatively, carry modular crutches inside the cockpit or in a forward/rear compartment. At a pinch, you can carry them on deck. Depending on the length of your residual limb, you may be able to use a Ferrier Coupler and split your prosthesis into two sections. Put the individual sections into a forward and/or rear compartment. Always remember the effect that sea water has on mixed metals and verify the components of all walking aids on a regular basis.
I sometimes asked if I need to counter-balance the kayak to compensate for the lack of weight on one side. The answer is no – the differences are so low down in the kayak that it is not noticeable. Paddlers quickly learn to adapt to small weight distribution changes, like a change in how the kayak is packed. What is important is to have good connectivity so that kayak control (such as edging) is as natural as possible.
I provide assistance to anyone trying to overcome obstacles to enjoying the activity of sea kayaking. As an amputee myself, I am uniquely equipped to understand your needs. I guarantee that I have the necessary experience, enthusiasm and empathy to adapt your kayak for your needs.