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  • Meg McCall

Transferring a Kayaker Using a Hoyer Patient Lift

One of the most formidable aspects of adaptive paddling, at least for people who use wheelchairs or need assistance getting in and out of the kayak, is executing a safe and secure transfer.

kayak transfer using a hoyer lift

There are multiple ways to assist a paddler with an injury or disability into and out of a kayak, depending on the preferences and needs of the person. For paddlers with paralysis in their lower extremities but who have good upper body function, a transfer chair or bench may suffice.

For paddlers with quadriplegia who are comfortable with and confident in their paddling companions, a manual sling can be used. In this scenario, two or more individuals literally carry the paddler in the sling from one location and lower the person down into the cockpit.

For many adaptive kayak programs, however, a Hoyer lift is the preferred option. A Hoyer lift, more generically referred to as a patient lift, comes in many styles. There are electric- and battery-powered lifts, as well as hydraulic manual lifts which work by using a pump handle or crank to raise and lower the hoist mechanism. There are sit-to-stand lifts which are in a different category. Some lifts are suited for home use and others are more portable. Be sure that you're using the right kind of lift for the right environment and the individual's specific needs.

kayak disabled

We’ll frequently refer to a Hoyer lift in this article because that’s the brand being used in the videos we recorded. There are many other brands of portable patient lifts (e.g., Invacare, ProHeal, Lumex, Drive Medical) that function similarly.

Patient Lifts in Adaptive Paddling Programs

We wanted to document real-world examples of just how a Hoyer lift can be utilized by adaptive paddlers at the water’s edge, and our colleagues at the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association (NDAA) in Vermont came through for us. NDAA, under the leadership of adaptive program manager and physical therapist, Cathy Webster, has a very robust adaptive kayaking program.

Two of their padders, Brian Irish and Christine Ryan, are both longtime paddlers in the program. Brian and Christine generously agreed to let themselves be filmed during the transfer process, and volunteer Ron Wilhelmsen graciously did the videography. These videos are not intended to be how-to tutorials or to provide explicit transfer advice, but rather to provide a realistic view of what an efficient, safe transfer looks like in the context of universal kayaking.

Key Takeaways

Should every adapted paddle program run out and invest in a portable patient lift for their program? Of course not. While the paddler may be well acccustomed to using a lift, others assisting with the transfer process may not be. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you're considering using one.

Read lift the instructions completely, have a professional demonstrate and teach you how to use the lift, and practice using it in a safe environment before attempting to operate it at the kayak launch site.

Learn how to properly attach a sling before using it with a lift for the first time. Connections vary based on the lift, the type of sling being used and the medical provider or therapist’s recommendations. For instance, the leg straps may need to be crisscrossed before being attached to the hoist arms. Also be sure you have the proper style of sling for making a transfer. There are multiple slings available, each developed for different functions (e.g., for bed positioning, using the commode, sit-to-stand, with head support).

adapted kayak

Place the sling in the wheelchair or seat before the paddler sits down, if possible, to make securing the sling easier.

Be aware of places the sling or the paddler's body might get caught during the transfer and be prepared to make minor adjustments. Check to see that the paddler feels comfortable, safe and secure throughout the transfer process.

Make sure you're on a flat surface when using the lift.

Be attentive to the height of the paddler when in the lift to ensure their body will clear the top of the kayak (when getting in the kayak) and the seat of the wheelchair (when exiting the kayak).

It’s a good idea to have a towel or piece of foam handy at the side of the cockpit where the paddler is being lowered in, to protect from any sharp or protruding objects that might be in the way (e.g., mounting hardware).

Make sure all straps are tucked behind and beneath the paddler once they are in the kayak to reduce possible entanglements.

For some paddlers, the transfer process can make them feel vulnerable or that all eyes are on them. Be respectful and let the paddler and people who are assisting in the transfer do their thing and have others focus on readying other aspects of the outing.

Tying It All Together

Next to being on the water, transferring a paddler using any sort of transfer device (e.g., patient lift, bench) is one of the most crucial and challenging aspects of adaptive kayaking. It's a very personal experience for the paddler, who must put their faith in the safety of the equipment and the knowledge and experience of the people assisting. Patient lifts can be a tremendous asset to adapted kayak programs, but using them requires training and care. If you use one, do so wisely and under the guidance of an experienced professional.


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