Michigan DNR Seeks Input to Boating Access

Have you ever boarded a boat from the dock?  One leg is stretched out springing forward to the boat as the back leg pushes off from the pier.  Holding your breath, it’s a giant leap of faith over the water and you are just hoping to land safely in the vessel.  How do you make that gap over the water accessible for someone using an assistive device like a walker, wheelchair, cane, crutches or prosthetic?  For this is the gap….o-v-e-r-t-h-e-w-a-t-e-r….that is not addressed by the accessibility standards.  The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design make the dock accessible to the water’s edge and the proposed accessibility standards for passenger vessels make the boat accessible if it is an excursion boat, ferry, cruise ship, or other large passenger vessel.  But, how do you create access for boaters with disabilities from the dock or boarding platform on to the passenger vessel?  Since boating is a major recreation pass time in the state, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is trying to solve exactly this problem and they want your input.

Do you have a solution?  The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the National Center on Accessibility are working together to collect information on viable options, challenges and successful projects for people with disabilities to board water vessels. We want to hear from you, the NCA network of practitioners making accessibility happen in the field, on the trail and in the water.  If you have a project that addresses access for people with disabilities from the gangway or boarding platform to a passenger vessel and have information to share, please send an e-mail to Jennifer Skulski, jskulski@indiana.edu, and Dan Lord, LordD1@michigan.gov, by January 30, 2013. 

In your e-mail, try to provide information on the following:

  1. Where is the installation?  How long has it been in use?
  2. What is the water/tidal fluctuation?
  3. Is the device/design/solution motorized? 
  4. Is the device/design/solution independently operable/usable by the person with a disability?  Or must staff operate it?
  5. Does the device/design/solution enable the person to board the boat using their assistive device (wheelchair, cane, walker, crutches, etc)?
  6. What was the cost?
  7. What maintenance issues have come up?

The following document was prepared by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

November 16, 2012

Barrier Free Transfer from Dock to Vessel
Port Austin State Harbor

Product Research for ADA Improvements to Port Austin State Harbor


A Port Austin area resident contacted Chief Olson regarding a 14 year old resident who likes to fish.  The 14 year old resident is a wheelchair user and the advocate wanted to know if DNR-Parks & Recreation Division could install a lift to enable the 14 year old to be lifted into and out of a boat.

Research and staff discussion were held to review options and devices to enhance accessibility from the dock to a boat.  Following is a summary of research findings, to date.  Examples include equipment that has been piloted to transport an individual out of their wheelchair and into a boat, based on a mounted “arm type” device.  Also included is a hydraulic platform that raises and lowers the boat from the dock to the existing water level.  All of these devices will still require assistance in transporting an individual from their chair and into the device, and then again once they are in the boat from the device. 


Splash Pool Lift System by SR Smith

Splash Pool Lift System by SR Smith


  • Third party verified ADA compliant.
  • 400 lb lifting capacity.
  • Lift operated by control box and handset.
  • Designed for use up to 48 inches above the water level.
  • Approximate cost: $5,000 to $6,000
  • Installation: core drilled with no additional footings required.
  • Accessories available: arm rest, total cover, seat pad, spine board attachment, stability vest.
  • Powered by a 24-volt rechargeable battery.
  • 359 degree rotation.


  • Elevation change from the dock to the water level is approximately 7 feet.  This system is designed for use up to only 4 feet.
  • Individuals will need assistance in and out of the pool lift.
  • Storage of accessories.
  • Vandalism concerns.
  • Public safety concerns regarding lifting an individual over water at a high elevation – high risk for error because of unstable conditions.
  • Device is intended for residential use where water levels can be controlled.

MRPA Foundation – Manistee



  • Device has a lifting capacity of 300 to 1,000 lbs.
  • Device uses a harness to transport individuals.
  • Device was paid for through the Access to Recreation Program by the MRPA Foundation.


  • Elevation change from the dock to water is also an issue.  Designed for use up to 48 inches below the deck.
  • Individuals will need assistance in and out of the boat.
  • Vandalism concerns.
  • Public safety concerns regarding lifting an individual over water at a high elevation – high risk for error because of unstable conditions.
  • Devices are intended for residential use where water level can be controlled.

No Profile Hydraulic Boat Lift

No Profile Boat Lift


  • Hydraulic lift raises and lowers from the dock elevation to below the water level.
  • Lift capacity ranges from 5,000 to 30,000 lbs.
  • Long range remote control.
  • Approximate cost $50,000 (materials only).


  • Individuals will need assistance in and out of the boat.
  • Would require ice suppression system based on climate in Port Austin.
  • Cost.
  • Boat edge wall is still a barrier to overcome.
  • Installation of a break wall to divert damaging ice flows from Bird Creek.
  • Due to current project schedule this application would have to be implemented into the next phase of the project.

The Mobilift VX by Adaptive Engineering

The Mobilift VX


  • A wheelchair lift that is manually powered by a hand crank.
  • A lifting capacity of 600 lbs.
  • Maximum lifting heights of 60, 72 or 108 inches.
  • Approximate cost $50,000 (materials only).
  • Portable – can be transported in the back of any size pick-up truck.
  • Locking cable included to prevent unauthorized use.
  • Manufactured from aluminum and stainless steel.


  • Individuals will need assistance in and out of the boat.
  • Does not address low water elevations where users need to be lowered into a boat.
  • Would need a bridge between the lift and the boat.
  • Does not address how users would get out of the boat.

Wheelchair Accessible Boat Boarding Ramp by Yacht Boarding Systems

Boat Boarding Ramp


  • Hinged transition plates on both ends of the ramp to allow for height differences from the vessel to the dock.
  • Skid pads on the underside of the ramp as to not damage the ramp or the dock.
  • Removable optional handrail system is available.
  • Optional variable extra length sections are available.
  • Approximate cost for 20 ft ramp is $7,000.


  • Individuals will need assistance in and out of the boat.
  • Safety concerns when elevation from dock to boat reaches 7 feet or more causing a steep, unsafe grade for users.
  • Varying water depth makes it difficult to determine length of ramp from year to year.

Criteria to Consider

Installation at staffed locations only.

Equipment options.

Waiver or a legal release needs to be in place to address liability concerns.

Installation at locations with minimal changes in elevation from dock to water level.

Devices should not be placed on floating piers due to movement.

Device placement on fixed piers may impact slip numbers.

Consider using a Challenge Grant to encourage a local group to finance and sponsor the device.

Consider whether the device can be operated by a local interest group.

Next Steps

If a device is determined, funding must be dedicated to the next phase of the project.

Receive Section Chief’s guidance for preferences.

Contact the advocate with a decision based on our findings.