Watercraft Transfer

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People with disabilities love being on the water, just like their friends and families.

Development of Portable Watercraft Transfer Technology was undertaken in response to needs identified by adaptive recreation programs such as Wilderness Inquiry and Courage Center.

The transfer process into or out of a boat can be hazardous to both the person being transferred and those assisting. Transfers are occurring in an inherently unstable situation, often from one height to another.

A portable solution was identified as preferable, so people would be able to go boating where they want to, and not be limited to one dock, or one boat.

The Need

People with disabilities like to go boating and fishing with their families. It is difficult for people with mobility impairments to safely get into and out of boats. Existing lift technology is not portable, so people can only go to specific places or use specific boats.

At the time the project began, there were a number of permanently mounted lifts or transfer systems for boats, docks or poolside programs. For individuals or families who wanted to go to different lakes or rivers and did not have a larger boat that allowed a permanent attachment, there wasn’t anything available.

The transfer process into or out of a boat can be hazardous to both the person being transferred and those assisting. Transfers are occurring in an inherently unstable situation, often from one height to another.

In some cases, individuals will transfer independently, while others will need to be fully assisted.

A portable solution was identified as preferable, so people would be able to go boating where they want to, and not be limited to one dock, or one boat.

Proposed Solution

Portable, accessible and affordable watercraft transfer technology will be developed to allow individuals with mobility impairments to more safely and easily participate in boating and fishing.

Without transfer technology, it takes a minimum of two people to transfer someone into a boat, at considerable risk to both the person being transferred and the people lifting them.

Different options may be available, such as a simple spanning surface, a pivoting seat attached to the gunnel, or one with sitting supports and a mechanical assist to aid in crossing from one point to another. Accessories to attach to a dock or a boat would be developed, and it could be used as an entry and egress assistive device for swimming. Spin-off products could increase its utility to provide a lift device into a truck cab, onto a horse, or other applications.

The universal design may be used by any boater to transfer children or heavy objects such as gas tanks, motors or coolers onto boats. It will improve access to boating for aging boaters, boaters with lifting restrictions, and people with disabilities.The portability will provide boaters with disabilities, their families and programs increased choices and flexibility as to where they boat.

Technical Development

Different options may be available, from a simple spanning surface, to one with sitting supports which provides a mechanical assist in passing from one point to another. The latter Watercraft Transfer device will offer:

  • Rail system with seat trolley
  • Controlled passage from one end of the rail to the other
  • Controlled rate of ascent/descent
  • If controls are released, the person stays where they are
  • Seat platform with optional sitting supports
  • Angle-adjustable sitting support to accommodate angle of transfer device
  • Collapsible: fits in a trunk or on a roof rack or in a boat
  • Weighs under 50 pounds
  • 300 pound load capacity
  • Optional power assist, controlled from one end, or by the seated occupant
    Device must float when unloaded

Testing

Input into the design was solicited from boaters with disabilities, family members, and staff from accessible boating and canoeing programs. The technical design involves an iterative process of conceptual modelling, prototype construction, physical testing, and focus group feedback.

Computer modeling of various boats, water levels and transfer mechanism designs enable it to be virtually tested to ensure it will be able to be used in a wide range of circumstances.

A literal “test bed” was developed in order to simulate the instability of transferring into a floating boat. An air bed was placed atop a platform on casters which would move when someone tried to step into the boat. A height adjustable dock was built in order to test the effectiveness of prototypes in transferring from different levels.

Once proven to be safe on dry land, the prototypes will be tested on water.

Status

This is a very complicated problem, with many variables. Although we have worked on this in with several smaller grants and have made significant progress, the solution is not yet to a point of commercialization.

We hope to return to the project at some point in the future.

Additional Information

Sponsors:

Watercraft Transfer R&D was made possible through 3 different sources:
USDA SBIR Phase 1, Goodwin (PI)
BlueSky Designs was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research Phase I grant to develop portable technology to aid in transferring individuals into small watercraft such as canoes, motor boats, and sail boats.

Department of Education/National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, SBIR Phase 1, Goodwin (PI)
BlueSky Designs was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research Phase I grant to develop portable technology to aid in transferring individuals into small watercraft such as canoes, motor boats, and sail boats.

Paralyzed Veterans of America, Goodwin (PI)
BlueSky Designs was awarded a Pilot R&D grant from the PVA to conduct research into the feasibility of portable transfer technology to aid individuals with mobility impairments in safely boarding small boats.

Related Student Projects

University of Minnesota Mechanical Engineering Capstone Project

Goodwin supervised a team of Mechanical Engineering Students in their Capstone Project. She brought the project to the program and had a team of five students work on an initial concept prior to seeking SBIR funding.

Science Museum/Lemelson-MIT grant award for students

Goodwin assisted the Project Leader in defining a project which the Science Museum submitted to the Lemelson program. She was a community advisor to the high school students conducting the research, and provided Science Museum staff assistance throughout the project.