Since 2003, CharterAbility has been making the lake life accessible to people with physical disabilities. At the helm is lifelong boater Stephen Cull, whose personal experience inspired him to create the non-profit organization. CharterAbility is ready to help even more people experience life on the water with the help of its two Harris pontoons—one with a 28-inch gate that came standard and another with even more accessibility modifications.
A life changed
Growing up near Lake Ontario, Stephen Cull’s early life was spent canoeing, angling, and boating. But early in 1991, Stephen’s life changed.
A tobogganing crash left Stephen with quadriplegia and using a wheelchair. Stephen met another avid boater who used a wheelchair: Paul Madsen. Paul owned a pontoon, the perfect type of boat for boaters in wheelchairs due to its deck space. He modified the boat with wider doors for better wheelchair accessibility.
After Stephen was out of the hospital, Paul invited him out for a cruise. That trip inspired Stephen to start a charter service for people with disabilities.
Getting more people on board
Since its inception, CharterAbility’s official mission statement has been: “To open the door to recreational boating for people who have been deprived of the opportunity by virtue of their physical limitations and personal circumstances.”
Thanks to fundraising and grants, CharterAbility opened a dock on Sixteen-Mile Creek in Oakville, Ontario and purchased Paul Madsen’s modified pontoon as their first charter boat.
The Harris fleet
After 11 years of leasing boats, CharterAbility worked with Gordon Bay Marine to create their current fleet comprised of two brand new Harris pontoons. The organization acquired the first—a Harris 20’ FloteBote—in 2017 and easily modified the bow gate to make it 35 inches wide to accommodate every client, no matter the size of their wheelchair.
In 2019, CharterAbility purchased a Harris Cruiser 210. The 28-inch gate and large deck area that come standard on the model and layout were perfect and didn’t require any modifications.
The Harris fleet allows CharterAbility to offer 12 one-hour trips every day during the boating season, and in 2019, that meant 750 trips.
Building for the future
CharterAbility will break ground in late 2021 on a dock renewal project that will enable them to help more people and provide their clients with even more amenities. Stephen’s injury was life-changing not only for himself but for the thousands of people with physical challenges who have experienced the joy of boating with CharterAbility.