Amputee Kayaking

amputee-kayakingI am responding to an email from Beverly. I had only a phone number based in New Zealand and an incomplete email address. So I am using my blog to help her. I hope this post will also gather others that may also have information that can answer her question.

“I have a new paddler who is a below the knee amputee. She does not have a prosthesis for kayaking, and we are wondering how to set up the rudder so that she can use it efficiently. Are you able to give us some advice?”

The trick in helping a below the knee amputee is determined by the residual limb. If the limb is long and is not sensitive at the base then a long piece of closed cell foam or mini cell foam can be bolted on to the slide bar or foot peg. It would work like a stilt with a cup indent to cradle the limb. And the paddler may also need a small half sphere of the same foam glued on the inside of the hull just under their knee to give some added support in using the rudder.

If the remaining part of the limb below the knee is sensitive or too short then soft plastic lined with foam is best. The athlete would make a cone large enough to accommodate the limb and long enough to be attached to the slider of the rudder cable. I use duck tape to hold the cone together. Bolts within the cone can irritate or cause blisters on the limb. An inflatable bladder like the Jackson Happy Seat is also a soft and safe way to add support under the remaining part of the leg.

At all times the paddler should be aware of abrasions to the limb. I recommend keeping a spare liner in a dry bag. And also practice a wet exit around friends. Neither of the ideas mentioned should interfere with the paddler’s ability of exiting their boat in the event of untimely capsizes.

My advice comes from working with Team River Runner, the Extremity Games, and other friends in the paddling community. Every amputee’s needs are different; however, I still have not met one person that could not be outfitted comfortable to enjoy a day of kayaking. Presently in Tampa Bay Florida I am working with the Tampa US Veterans Hospital.

Moreover, I also have not met a paralyzed person who could not enjoy kayaking. And that will be covered in a future post.

Update:I did get in touch with Beverly through her Facebook Page.  Technology can be a great tool to help  people enjoy kayaking.


  1. A late reply, but a rudder isn’t needed. If she learns to “rail” the kayak – All based in the hips, railing is a very efficient method of turning everything from a sit on top to a sea kayak.

    Kia Kaha!

  2. “Kayakfisher” please re-read the post as the question was about how to let an amputee without a prosthesis use a rudder in a kayak! I believe the correct term you are looking for “Kayakfisher” is “J” leaning the kayak, not “rail”- unfortunately the original question came from an inexperienced paddler that was an amputee, and probably did not know what a “J” lean was. In that case as instructors we don’t want to confuse the person- therefore Jeffs’ response was correct. “Rail” must be a term used from the area your from. Also there are some kayaks that MUST have a rudder( due to overall design )to be able to control in high winds and strong currents. Remember a rudder should not be used to turn the kayak, but only to keep it going straight, much like the keel on a sailboat. TRUST ME, I have paddled many kayaks over the years, and own one now that MUST BE “J” leaned as well as using the RUDDER when things get really exciting!!!! -Sea Turtle Sean (BK Amputee & Kayak guide and instructor)

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