Individuals with disabilities stay active on the water through products, boat designs and organizations.

Individuals with disabilities make up the nation’s largest minority group, which is also the only minority group that one can become a part of at any time in their life. In the last two years more than 20 million families in the U.S. have reported at least one family member with a disability, and nearly 40 percent of disabled individuals live in the South. When someone close to you is affected, that statistic becomes very personal and passion to spread awareness ignites. Thankfully, there are many companies, organizations and individuals in the marine industry that strive to enhance on-the-water accessibility for people with varying degrees of physical disability.

Twenty-seven-year-old Rob Murphy—an avid spearfisherman, diver, snowboarder, angler, and wakeboarder based in Palm Beach County, Florida—was spearfishing on a routine dive with five friends, just as he had done dozens of times before, when his life drastically changed. While surfacing, Rob was run over by a 36-foot sportfishing boat that negligently sped towards him despite his proper dive flags and warning yells. The propellers struck his oxygen tank—which saved his life—but his legs were severed just below the knees. Just two months after his accident, the diving and boating community celebrated Rob’s return to the water with custom prosthetic swim legs made by Matthew Bailey of Palm Beach Prosthetic Services, part of Florida O&P Services.

“Since Rob not only wanted to be out on the water on a boat but actively in the water, we had to make sure his dive prosthetics were completely saltwater-resistant, so we removed all the metal we could,” explains Bailey. Rob’s dive legs are exoskeletal, which means all the strength is in the outer shell. They are hollow with holes in the shell to allow water to flow through freely while swimming and ensure they aren’t buoyant. They also allow drainage once back in the boat. “His dive prosthetics are shaped just like regular legs, so they have the same hydrodynamics and allow him to swim normally,” Bailey says. “We ordered special dive ankles and beachcomber feet to allow Rob’s ankles to lock in a 70-degree swimming position or 90-degree walking position, so he can walk in the boat without changing his legs.” Bailey located a fly-fishing shirt company that had an “underwater camouflage” water pattern that he laminated onto the legs with clear resin per Rob’s design request.