Home Aging in Society Beach Wheelchairs – Borrow, Rent, or Buy?

Beach Wheelchairs – Borrow, Rent, or Buy?

by Derrick
beach wheelchair at state park
A beach wheelchair I photographed at Mount Blue State Park in Maine.

I have written before on the best beach chairs for the elderly (think sturdy with a high seat), but what if even those don’t work for mobility? Fortunately, there are beach wheelchairs available for purchase, rent, or free to use (in some cases).

Advancements in mobility aids, the availability of them, and the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Standards for Accessible Design have all helped expand accessibility for people with disabilities. However, nothing presents a challenge like natural environments, and among those, crossing beach sand presents a particular hurdle.

The ocean stirs something deep inside many. The air, the waves, the breeze. It’s powerful. Many people are drawn to the ocean, and as we age this can prove to be something of a dilemma. If you’re limited by physical disabilities, how can you enjoy the beach?

Can You Use a Wheelchair in Sand?

A standard wheelchair is very difficult to use in the sand, but there are specialized beach wheelchairs that can help. Why is a standard wheelchair no good in the sand?

What happens if you take your index finger and push it into the sand? Your finger will probably sink into the sand all the way up to your knuckles, right?

Now what will happen if you take outstretched palm and push it into the sand? How far will you be able to push? While you might make an indentation in the sand, you have zero chance of being able to push as far down as a single finger.

The increased surface area a hand presents compared to a fingertip makes it so that the same amount of force is spread over a much larger area. The result is that an outstretched palm will “float” atop sand while an index finger will sink into it.

disabled woman at beach in a standard wheelchair
The picture looks liberating, but imagine trying to push that wheelchair through the sand!

This is the same principle that makes using a wheelchair on a beach both undesirable and about as frustrating an experience as possible. A traditional wheelchair uses wheels roughly an inch wide. When both the weight of the wheelchair (usually around 20-something pounds) is combined with a 200-pound person, there is simply too much pressure being exerted over far too small of a surface area for the wheelchair to do anything other than sink into the sand.

Pushing the wheelchair will become a miserable process close to the surf – where the sand is densest – and impossible in the looser sand closer to the dunes.

wheelchair at edge of the beach
You can take a standard wheelchair to the edge of the sand, but what then?

While there are ways to help somebody with disabilities to enjoy the beach, a traditional wheelchair is not one of them.

But if there were a way to combine a larger surface area with the design of a wheelchair then we may have a solution at hand…

What is a Beach Wheelchair?

A beach wheelchair is a wheelchair with wide, smooth tired designed to easily roll across sand. The are arguably the best method out there for helping somebody who utilizes a wheelchair on a daily basis to get to enjoy the beach.

The typical chair design is involved, but it’s the wheels that make the difference: they’re huge. Whether a large inflatable inner-tube style wheel is used, or simply a larger rubber surface, the main factor here is that the wheels provide an exponential increase in the surface area in contact with the sand than does a regular wheelchair.

Snow wheelchair
This “snow” wheelchair could serve equally well on sand. Image Credit: mediadeo, Snow wheelchair, CC BY-SA 2.0

There are different designs of beach wheelchairs as well, and you can find one to fit your needs. Motorized designs, push-from-behind designs, and user-pushed designs. Just keep in mind that with a user-pushed design will require a significant level of upper body strength.

Borrowing a Beach Wheelchairs

While it would be impossible here to list every single beach within the US which offers beach wheelchairs for people to borrow, just know that there are plenty of beaches out there which do so. If you don’t have the several grand needed to buy your own beach wheelchair, renting one or going to beaches that have them will provide the opportunity to enjoy the ocean with your loved ones.

Beaches that are part of state or national parks are going to be the best places to find free beach wheelchairs to use. These areas often have ranger stations or convenience stores of some nature near the beach where one can find information, ask questions, pay entrance fees, and the like. It’s very plausible that beach wheelchairs would be available for rental here as well. Call in advance to make sure.

sand wheelchairs
Image Credit: GreenMeansGo, Wheelchairs for use in the sand, CC BY-SA 4.0

However, if you’re looking for tried-and-true locations that are virtually guaranteed to have beach wheelchairs available (and often for free), consider some of the following beaches within America:

  • Clearwater Beach, Michigan – The lifeguard station here has beach wheelchairs available to the public for free. Nearby Sand Helper has rentals as well should the lifeguard station be out.
  • Corpus Christi, Texas – Here you can get beach wheelchairs to rent for free at the nearby lifeguard stations.
  • Crescent Beach, Maine – Not only are beach wheelchairs accessible here, but there are also wheelchair-accessible trails nearby as well.
  • Edisto Island, South Carolina – The local fire department has beach wheelchairs for rent here.
  • Emerald Coast, Florida – Most public beaches actually have beach wheelchairs available throughout the Emerald Coast.
  • Ferry Beach State Park, Maine – There are even wheelchair accessible restrooms nearby here.
  • Fort Myers, Florida – The police department (not the emergency line) can get you access to a beach wheelchair here.
  • Galveston, Texas – Beach wheelchairs are available for free at any local Park Board. All one has to do is exchange a driver’s license as a form of collateral.
  • Gulf Shores, Alabama – There are plenty of local companies in this region which rent out beach wheelchairs.
  • Hanauma Bay, Hawaii – The local beach kiosk here will usually have beach wheelchairs available for the public.
  • Hilton Head, South Carolina – The fire department has what you need here.
  • Huntington Beach, California – Zack’s Rentals is known as the place to rent a beach wheelchair here.
  • Muskegon, Michigan – The state park beach here has beach wheelchairs available to the public for free. They also have a single beach wheelchair with tank treads available to rent if you’d like.
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – If you contact the local authorities in Myrtle Beach, they’ll arrange to both drop off and pick up a beach wheelchair at your door.
  • Orange Beach, Alabama – Local companies in the area will happily rent you out a beach wheelchair.
  • Outer Banks, North Carolina – Once more, we find that the local fire department has beach wheelchairs available.
  • Pensacola, Florida – The fire department in Pensacola can hook you up with a beach wheelchair.
  • San Diego, California – Lifeguard stations are the best place to begin your hunt for a beach wheelchair in San Diego.
  • Santa Monica, California – Here you can find a beach wheelchair for free to rent at the nearby Annennburg Community Beach House.
  • Sanibel Island, Florida – The local police department of the seashell capital of the world will hook you up with a beach wheelchair.
  • Seaside, Oregon – Give a call to the Sunset Empire Parks and Rec Department. They’ll get you squared away with a beach wheelchair.
  • South Walton County, Florida – You can get one here at the local fire department.
  • Tybee Island, Georgia – Either local lifeguard stations or city hall can hook you up with a beach wheelchair here.
  • Webb Lake Beach, Maine (Mount Blue State Park) – Beach wheelchairs are readily available at this state park beach.

Keep in mind these are just a few of the many beaches throughout the U.S. which have beach wheelchairs for rental. If you’re unsure if the beach in your area has these types of wheelchairs for rent, some of the best places to check include: the local tourist information center, the local fire department, city hall, the non-emergency line of the police department, or even calling 211.

Renting One

Private businesses which offer surfboard, bike, or umbrella rentals for the beach may serve as an excellent location to seek out beach wheelchair rentals as well. 

It’s not uncommon to spend somewhere in the ballpark of $70/day for beach wheelchair rentals. That will vary wildly based on location, and doesn’t factor into the potential cost of delivery as well, should the provider be shipping the wheelchair directly to your location.

If you’re having a hard time finding rental companies in the area which are willing to rent out beach wheelchairs, there are online alternatives as well. CloudOfGoods.com seems to offer beach wheelchair rentals that will ship to wherever they are needed.

Buying One

If all else fails, purchasing a beach wheelchair may be the only means to experience the beach. Buying a beach wheelchair will cost between $1000-$2000 depending on the model. This is a steep price, but for the family that visits the beach regularly or owns a beachside cottage, it would be worth the money.

This particular design uses 12” inflatable balloon tires to help your loved one get the chance to see the ocean once more. It requires somebody to push the rear of it – it cannot be self-propelled – but it does serve as a viable alternative.

Beach Wheelchair, 12" Balloon Tires for Soft Sand, Easily Disassembles - WC-1
  • ACCESSIBILITY: 12" Balloon Tires roll easily over soft sand or rough surfaces.
  • EASY ASSEMBLY: Unit Fully Assembled Weighs 48 lbs. and easily dissassembles to fit in a car trunk or SUV.

The cost is around a grand as of this writing, so this is a rather expensive purchase; but if your family finds itself at the beach regularly and are tired of having to hunt for a beach wheelchair this may be worth the money.

A higher end version of this chair is the Aqua Creek Beach Access Chair from Wright Stuff. They may look very similar but check the dimensions on each. For example, beyond the umbrella, the Aqua Creek comes with 19″ wheels. The bigger size will make wheeling the chair much easier than the prior model’s 12″ tires.

Other Beach Tips for People with Disabilities

There is more to going to the beach for someone with disabilities than just the beach wheelchair. Beaches are known for having extremes of temperatures, and somebody with a mobility issue is not going to have as easy of a time getting out of the blistering sun as somebody who is mobile.

Canopies

While there are some beaches out there which do not permit these, a beach canopy large enough to comfortably nestle a beach wheelchair beneath it would serve as a fantastic consideration for somebody with a disability.

SUN NINJA Pop Up Beach Tent Sun Shelter UPF50+ with Sand Shovel, Ground Pegs and Stability Poles, Outdoor Shade for Camping Trips, Fishing, Backyard Fun or Picnics (10x10 FT 4 Pole, Torquoise)
  • ALL-PURPOSE POP-UP BEACH TENT – Enjoy relaxing on the beach, kicking back fishing on the side of the lake, or enjoying some family time at the park with a sun shelter that you can set up almost anywhere. Perfect for friends, family and good times.
  • ADVANCED SUN PROTECTION – Crafted with advanced water-resistant fabric and offering UPF 50+ sun coverage our sun tents for beach and outdoor use block out harmful UV rays to reduce sun burn or glare making it ideal for kids or adults laying out.

These help to ensure that someone confined chair is in a comfortable location throughout the trip to the beach with minimal risk of the sun glaring into their eyes or their developing a painful sunburn.

Beach Umbrellas

BEACHBUB Beach Umbrella System - Beach Accessories for Families & Beach Goers, Includes 7 ½' (50+ UPF) Beach Umbrella, Oversized Bag, Base & Accessory Kit (Sun-Kissed Yellow)
  • MADE FOR ENJOYING THE BEACH: Do you recall a time when a strong gust of wind blew away your beach umbrella? With this beach umbrella system from beachBUB️, that will be a thing of the past. Designed to stay in place even with unexpected sudden gusts of wind along the coastline, we've made an umbrella system that's easy to set up and makes a day at the beach safer.
  • EASY TO USE: This All-In-One Beach Umbrella System, tested in winds up to 44mph, sits on the beach sand like a Patio Umbrella placed on the deck. No deep holes to dig or screws to twist. Lay the beachBUB tarp flat on the beach and make a small hole using the beachBUB️ Sand Gopher. Insert the bottom pole through the base, connect 2 sides to form a pouch, fill the base halfway with sand, attach the 3rd wing and finishing completely filling the base. Finally, fill the 3 sides with compact sand.

While canopies may not be permitted in some locales, it would be nigh impossible to find a beach which forbids the use of umbrellas. These serve as a means of keeping the sun off somebody, and while not as great of an option as a canopy, they’ll do the trick when it’s required of them.

Comfortable Beach Chairs

If your loved one is using a beach chair to aid in getting about the beach but is still able to walk, they may appreciate the opportunity to sit in a comfier chair once the family has reached their settling spot. Regular beach chairs are very low to the ground and can be incredibly difficult to get out of.

However, there are elder-friendly beach chairs available on the market. As mentioned, I’ve written an article on these. These chairs are built higher up, making it much easier for somebody with mobility issues to get up and out of the chair.

Final Thoughts

A disability should not prohibit someone from going to the beach. Often it just means some accommodations need to be made.

While finding a location which rents out beach wheelchairs may seem daunting at first, hopefully we have helped dispel some of the uncertainty that may come with the hunt.

Have you found some beach wheelchairs to be better than others? Let us know in the comments section!


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