seating system


seating system

the need

Canoeing enhances access to outdoors and wilderness environments by providing transportation to areas that cannot be reached by land, or are inaccessible for people with mobility limitations. This group may include older adults, families with young children, or people with disabilities. Thirteen million canoes are rented or used in outfitting or instructional programs each year. Canoe rental facilities and instructional programs currently rely on commercially available seats. However, the paddlers using these seats must use balance and leg strength to maintain an effective sitting position.

canoe seating

modular canoe seating system

modular canoe seating system

project goal

Access to water-based outdoor recreation, such as canoeing, is difficult for individuals who have impaired sitting balance. The goal of this project was to design a modular universal canoe seating system in order to provide adequate support for a variety of users. This seating system would improve pelvic stability, trunk support, and comfort for all paddlers. It was to be designed to be suitable for use with commercial canoes used by rental, outfitting, and instructional programs. The system would be adjustable and modular to accommodate a wide range of individuals. Furthermore, it would include a basic seating system with pelvis and low back support suitable for all users, and extended support(s) for users without independent sitting skills.

lateral trunk supports in lowered position
lateral trunk supports in raised position

concept prototype

A concept prototype for a modular canoe seating system has been designed. The concept system is modular to provide different amounts and locations of support. The concept system consists of:

1) basic seating module with adjustable pelvic supports
2) backrest extension with adjustable backrest upholstery
3) lateral trunk supports.

The proof of concept device was constructed of materials similar to those used in current lightweight wheelchair construction. The seat was then mounted on the fore and aft bench seats in two different canoes commonly used by canoe rental outfitters.


The prototype system was evaluated on land by three seating experts and three others to obtain subjective feedback on the comfort and support provided. In addition, the device was tested on a river by two experienced paddlers with spinal cord injuries. The evaluators reported perceived benefits of increased comfort, increased pelvic support, increased low back support, greater seat cushion comfort, better stability when leaning, and increased paddling efficiency. Areas identified as needing additional development included an adjustment for height of the back support, a method of leg stabilization, easy adjustment of lateral pelvic supports, and a slightly shorter seat depth.

The prototype is capable of providing improved pelvic and low back support, stability, and comfort for users with and without disabilities.

phase 1 work

The initial feedback from evaluators indicates that the prototype canoe seat is effective in providing improvements to pelvic and trunk stability and increasing comfort. More research is needed to incorporate suggested improvements and features. Areas that will require further development include the strength and durability of the materials used to fabricate the device and safety for the system user.

Several evaluators requested additional hardware to stabilize the lower extremities. Development of this hardware could significantly improve lower extremity and pelvic stability, but will also create additional problems for ingress and egress.

universal padding seat for Adaptive Gear for Canoe Accessories


This work is funded by the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health through Small Business Innovation Research Phase I Grant #1 R43 HD36944-01A1.