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Northeast Disabled Athletic Association

Adaptive Kayaking

NDAA Mission

The Northeast Disabled Athletic Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity working to enhance opportunities and provide support for individuals with physical disabilities who wish to participate in recreational and competitive athletics.

2022 season highlights

Adaptive Kayaking

Offered from June to October at various locations in Northern Vermont and New York

Here at NDAA Adaptive Kayaking Program, we support, encourage and provide opportunities for people with physical disabilities to pursue adaptive kayaking. We have a goal of

empowering participants to independently move under their own power.

Each interested participant is pre-screened by completing a medical screening/registration form. Once complete, a scheduled assessment and "on land" transfer training is performed at a mutually convenient location. This allows the participant to see and feel the equipment in a safe and stable environment prior to going out on the water. Modifications will be made and tailored to each participant's needs. 

Adaptive kayaking allows participants the opportunity to leave chairs and canes on the shore and explore the beautiful Vermont shorelines. Our kayaks have been adapted with supportive seats, outriggers for added stability, and specialty paddles to remove upper body strain and allow for easier paddling, even one armed paddling.

This program is open to all individuals who have mobility challenges. Volunteers are an important

part of the program. They include community members, UVM Physical Therapy students, family,

friends and caregivers. Group volunteer training sessions occur at the beginning of the season,

and also individually as the season progresses. Volunteers help out on land, assisting with life

jackets, moving equipment, and helping with transfers. On water, volunteers are also necessary as

each kayaker is accompanied by one or two support kayaks to ensure safety. There will be a

volunteer on land at all times with “eyes on water”.


Who We Are

Our adaptive kayaking program launched in 2016. It is managed by Cathy Webster, whose stewardship has turned it into one of our most popular and fastest growing programs.


While Kayaking...

  • A volunteer will stay within 20 feet of the participant, and continually have verbal communication and check ins while on the water.

  • Volunteers will be equipped with a safety whistle and tow rope.

  • Kayakers are encouraged to pace themselves and take frequent “rest breaks” as needed.

  • It is important to be hydrated.

  • Volunteers will help participants to judge their limitations and know when to turn back to avoid fatigue.

Image by YUCAR FotoGrafik

Eligibility Criteria-all participants and "on water" volunteers must be able to do the following:

  • Breathe independently

  • Independently hold head up without head/neck support

  • Able to wear a properly fitting life jacket

  • Manage personal care – can be with assistance of companion

  • Maintain body position with support

  • Manage personal mobility & get in/out of kayak with a reasonable amount of assistance

  • Be able to communicate – receive and express – can be with companion assistance

  • Independently maintains a sealed airway while under water*

  • Roll over from face down to face up in water independently*

  • Re-enter kayak following a capsize independently or with a reasonable amount of assistance**

* if unable must stay 15 feet from shore and have volunteer with you

** not necessary as we control environment for outings, if you plan to independently

kayak, you should know how, and Cathy can teach this.

Kayak Adaptive Equipment

Kayak Adaptations

When the kayaks are adapted, the original seat is removed and an adapted one is installed and attached by a hinge. This adapted seat fits into the kayak and can be adjusted in a variety of ways. Each point of support can be tilted, adjusted, or removed for a customized fit. Lateral supports are also available, if needed, for extra support and stability at the hips and trunk. (


Extra Seat Cushioning

Low profile cushions are used on the seat base for additional stability and cushioning. This cushion is made of foam beads that are covered in breathable fabric for optimal comfort and skin protection. (Jackson Sweet Cheeks)


Stabilizing Outriggers

Mounting stabilizing outriggers to either side of the kayak helps keep the kayaks steady and balanced. (,

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Versa Paddle by Angle Oar

For kayakers with limited strength or endurance, the versatile kayak paddle, ‘Versa,’ for short, opens up new kayaking possibilities. The secret lies in the way this paddle is mounted to the kayaks, which supports the weight of the paddle. With just a gentle motion, kayakers can easily glide through the water. Kayakers are amazed at the distances they can kayak with this adapted paddle. By offering an optional bend in the middle of the paddle, the Versa allows kayakers to glide through the water with ease and grace. When the paddles are angled down toward the water kayaks can be guided with just slight hand and arm motions. Kayaking with the use of one arm is also possible. (


Hand Adaptations

For kayakers who have hand control and can grip the paddle on their own, but need a bit more support, hand adaptations are available. The adaptation pictured here, for example, takes the lifting pressure off of the fingers and places it on the arms. (


Wrist Adaptations

Adding a wristband on a disc to the paddle gives added support. With the disk on this wristband, kayakers who are not able to grasp the paddle can now do so with power and control.  (


Chariot- Transfer Wheels

The chariot with transfer wheels makes transfers on flat surfaces, such as parking lots, smooth and easy. It also will raise the kayak up off the ground, making transfers easier. (


Hoyer Lift

The Hoyer lift is used to assist in transferring kayakers from wheelchairs into the adapted kayaks. The wide base of the Hoyer lift fits around the “chariot” wheels and lowers the kayaker into the kayak. Height, weight, and each individual's ability impact which transfer technique might be best. Some people step in, others scoot from a seated position onto the back of the kayak and lower themselves into the seat, while others use a Hoyer lift.



Risk is a characteristic of any physical activity. Some risk is desired to create a level of adventure and challenge for participants and volunteers. Kayaking for people of all abilities is a safe activity if properly managed. 

The NDAA has identified areas of need for people with disabilities to engage in physical activity. Kayaking is challenging for people of all abilities and establishes a newfound sense of freedom; especially in those with disabilities. The Adaptive Kayaking program provides opportunities for those with disabilities that are far and few between. Kayaking can also improve both physical and emotional health. 

All participants must wear U.S Coast Guard approved PFDs. All Volunteers in addition to PFDs will carry a whistle and a tow rope. 

Emergency Preparedness 

Safety procedures are in the procedure book which will be provided at each venue. 

If you're a kayaker with an active Seizure Disorder, you will have to wear protective headgear. A caregiver must be present with you at all times. Emergency services will be called to assess if you become unconscious or have a seizure. 

Participants with diabetes need to have family or caregiver present at all times. A plan of care, should be made ahead of time, for managing any incident that might occur. 

In the event that someone does get injured, or an accident occurs, the Program Manager needs to be notified and an incident form needs to be completed, which will be provided.


The program is managed by a licensed physical therapist who has completed the American Canoe Association Kayak level 2 instructor and adaptive paddling training. Cathy is also CPR certified and an active member of ACA and SEIC.

Volunteers will complete a volunteer training session prior to the season to become familiar with equipment and working with people with disabilities.

Contact Information

Cathy Webster- Program Manager


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