Newport Beach Introduces New ‘Human Elevator’ to Improve Access for Disabled Boaters

Ann Marie Jones was trying to figure out how the elevator worked.

Jones was familiar with pool lifts, which allow swimmers with disabilities to move around in a chair or sling and be lowered into the water. But she was unaware of the craft attached to the base of the Newport Beach Marina Park walkway that city officials say was intended to help transport disabled boaters from land to sea.

The “human elevator” is the first of its kind in the Port of Newport and one of the few in Southern California. The lift uses a metal arm with an attached hybrid chair sling that can transfer its users from the dock to an adjacent vessel on a railing up to 18″ above the dock. It can be used for vessels such as a small sailboat, small motor boat or kayak.

It can also descend and retrieve users down to water level.

The elevator is removable and operated by the city’s port service. Residents or visitors interested in using the elevator will need to contact Port Services in advance, but it will be open to the public daily between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

City officials, accessibility advocates and boaters of all persuasions attended the lift demonstration on Thursday first with a city staff member and then with volunteer Bhumit Shah, who uses a Wheelchair.

Disabled boater Bhumit Shah is lifted onto a motor boat where he demonstrates a new body lift, a new device for safely transporting disabled boaters to and from boats at the Marina Park Ship Dock. The elevator is accessible to the public on request between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. daily.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

Mayor Kevin Muldoon said the installation of the new elevator is the result of nearly 10 months of work.

Muldoon said he and Christian Buhl, founder of California Inclusive Sailing, began discussing the possibility of installing an elevator in a public place more than a year ago. After talking with city staff about its feasibility, Muldoon took the point to his fellow city council members in the fall, who then voted unanimously to support it.

The elevator went through a few interpretations, including one with wheels, before staff and engineers decided to use a “stake” design to provide safety, in addition to preventing the elevator from rusting. Then comes the reflection on the integration of the use of the lift in a navigation program adapted for disabled boaters, the training of staff in its use and the installation of the lift on the bridge in April.

The elevator itself cost $3,000, but required special installation of about $5,000, bringing the total cost to about $8,000.

“Christian and I were talking because Christian is an avid sailor and a real proponent of boating access,” Muldoon said. “He said, ‘Kevin, we have a problem. Some of these yacht clubs have insurance issues. We are unable to put in an elevator which will assist people who have restrictions accessing their property due to insurance. What do you think we could do as a public place?

“I said, ‘Christian, I have the perfect place: our Marina Park.'”

Bhumit Shah, a disabled yachtsman, is hoisted onto a motorboat.

Bhumit Shah, a disabled boater, was lowered onto a motorboat as part of a demonstration of a new body lift installed at Marina Park. It is the first of its kind in Newport Beach and will increase accessibility for boaters with disabilities.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

Buhl said that while the immediate efforts took nearly a full year, he and the organization he personally leads have been working to install such a public transfer elevator for at least seven years. Before the ramp was installed, Buhl and the volunteers had to use a sling to help carry people from the dock to the boat.

Jones, herself a disabled boater, said the importance of the lift really comes down to safety.

“Normally what Christian and another gentleman do… two men will pick me up [my wheelchair] and put me in the boat. Now I’m short, but for someone who’s normal height like a guy, it gets really dangerous,” Jones said. “It’s dangerous for them because of their size and weight, but it’s also dangerous for the people lifting them. So, for security reasons, it’s much, much better. Totally much better.

Buhl described the day as “momentary” and said, “With the right team and the right tools at the right time, we can sail far.”

Bhumit Shah, a disabled boater, sits with Mayor Kevin Muldoon, left to right, after demonstrating an elevator.

Bhumit Shah, a disabled yachtsman, sits with Mayor Kevin Muldoon, left to right, as they return to the Marina Park dock after a short cruise through Newport Harbour.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

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