see more
  • Share
By: Terry Galvin

Greater Miami & Miami Beach is known for boating and watersports. Thanks to two nonprofit organizations that offer adaptive boating experiences, people with mobility challenges and other disabilities can enjoy getting out on the beautiful blue waters of Biscayne Bay with their families.

Shake-A-Leg Miami

Shake-A-Leg Miami, located on Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove, offers day trips on the water that empower people with disabilities to learn about sailing, using specially designed watercraft.

Shake-A-Leg has helped people with physical challenges experience boating for more than 30 years. Its small fleet of watercraft is designed specifically to be used by mobility-impaired people. The fleet is focused on sailboats – but it also includes kayaks, standup paddleboards and a 30-foot, twin-hulled power boat.

A day at Shake-A-Leg starts at its shore facility, including docks that were designed and built from the water up to be universally accessible. Shake-A-Leg Miami, founded by Harry Horgan and named for an old term meaning to get moving, ensures safety with trained staff and volunteers, as well as safety boats.

“We believe that the sea has healing qualities and that a community of caring people can provide programs and services that help people get on the water and improve their health and quality of life,” says Horgan, who started the first Shake-A-Leg in Rhode Island.

A One-of-a-Kind, Barrier-Free Sailing Yacht

Impossible Dream, a one-of-a-kind sailing yacht, is the queen of the Shake-A-Leg fleet in Miami. The vessel was designed and built with accessible features to make it possible for a person in a wheelchair to sail it.

Impossible Dream is a 27-foot-wide catamaran, which keeps the boat much more stable and comfortable than a monohull. The design of the deck allows wheelchairs to safely reach every part of the boat.

Impossible Dream also has specially designed elevators that allow people in wheelchairs to go down into the four cabins in the hulls where bathrooms are located. It can accommodate as many as 15 people in wheelchairs.

“I was able to go inside or enjoy the outer deck as we sailed on the beautiful waters of Miami,” Cory Lee, a self-described travel addict and wheelchair user, wrote in his blog about an excursion aboard the boat. “We sailed for a couple hours and it was such a special experience. There’s just nothing better than being out on the water.”

History of the Impossible Dream

Impossible Dream was launched in 2002 by its original owner, a paraplegic named Mike Browne. In 2010, the catamaran carried quadriplegic Geoff Holt 3,000 miles from England to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Holt, accompanied by his personal-care assistant, was the first quadriplegic to sail unaided across the Atlantic.

Impossible Dream was acquired by a longtime volunteer for Shake-A-Leg, businesswoman Deborah Mellen, a paraplegic who co-founded the nonprofit Impossible Dream Inc. with Horgan.

It’s a special vessel with a special mission, Horgan says. “The Impossible Dream demonstrates how design, technology and commitment can make boats and life more accessible.”

Sailing Schedule for the Impossible Dream in Miami

Impossible Dream spends winter and spring (usually November through May) at Shake-A-Leg’s docks in Coconut Grove, and the rest of the year spreading the word about barrier-free sailing up and down the East Coast of the U.S. It stops in more than 20 ports, partnering with rehab hospitals and disability groups large and small, offering day sails in each location.

In Coconut Grove, Impossible Dream offers two- to three-hour day sails several times a month. It also offers sunset sails. Its generous sponsors allow the boat to provide these trips without cost to its passengers in Miami.

The best way to arrange a sail on Impossible Dream is to send its crew a message. The crew appreciates being told a bit about each person’s challenges.

More Boating Options in the Shake-A-Leg Fleet

Shake-A-Leg’s sailboat fleet also includes eight 20-foot Freedom Independence sailboats. Each sailboat has two special pivoting, counter-weighted seats that move side-to-side to help balance the boat, as well as 900 pounds of weight low in the boat to enhance stability.

The organization’s sailboats also include Sonars, 23-foot keelboats that were used in the Paralympics when sailing was included in the Summer Games from 2000 to 2016.

Shake-A-Leg’s 30-foot twin-hulled Pearson pontoon boat is wheelchair accessible and can take up to 30 people on excursions.

Shake-A-Leg also has three Creating Abilities adaptive kayaks that offer cleverly designed features to help people enjoy paddling, whatever their abilities.

Sign up to go boating with Shake-A-Leg.

Team Paradise

Team Paradise, also in Coconut Grove, was started in 2005 by Olympic sailing gold medalist Magnus Liljedahl, with a focus on training athletes to sail in the Paralympics.

Founder and executive director Liljedahl sailed with his family from his native Sweden to the U.S. as a teenager in 1971. “I tried for 28 years to go to the Olympics and felt I had gotten so much help that when I won a gold medal, I looked for a way to give back,” he says. He decided to use his sailing knowledge to train sailors who need specialized coaching because of physical challenges.

Liljedahl broadened the scope of the organization after sailing was dropped from the Paralympics in 2016. Team Paradise became a completely inclusive community sailing center with the equipment and knowledge necessary to accommodate sailors with disabilities.

Team Paradise shares docks and facilities, which are fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, with the U.S. Sailing Center in David Kennedy Park on Biscayne Bay.

The Team Paradise Fleet of Adaptive Boats

Team Paradise has a fleet of boats equipped with adaptive devices that allow people to board and sail the boats. It uses the 23-foot Sonar keelboats also used by Shake-A-Leg, and also offers 16-foot RS Venture and 12-foot RS Feva dinghies.

Adaptive equipment, some of which was developed by Liljedahl, includes a seat that rotates from side to side, allowing a sailor with disabilities to help balance the boat while trimming sails; steering equipment operated by foot pedals; and equipment that allows someone to steer a sailboat as if driving a bus, which is a huge advantage compared with the standard method of steering with a long, lever-like tiller.

Team Paradise focuses on teaching sailing, including to complete beginners. It offers online instruction that can be studied before beginning in-person training on the water. People visiting the Miami area for a few weeks or months can buy a package of six three-hour classes. Liljedahl recommends those classes be taken over a minimum of 10 days.

The organization also offers three-hour excursions for up to four people on a Sonar. These include a skipper to sail the boat. Team Paradise also offers weekly free sails to veterans, whether they have disabilities or not.

More Boating Options For Travelers With Disabilities

If you decide to look for other adaptive boating and watersports experiences in Miami, be prepared to ask questions to make sure the excursion is right for you. It’s best not to rely on web searches that say boats are accessible. While that may technically be true – that is, the crews might be able to get people in wheelchairs aboard – not all boats offer bathrooms that are suitable. That said, travelers in wheelchairs who are adventure-bound and willing to deal with some amount of inconvenience may find a sightseeing or fishing tour they will enjoy.

Things To Do Nearby

Choose a category

{{ctrl.swiper.activeIndex + 1}} / {{ctrl.totalItems}}