one man's ambition produced a cruiser for America's forgotten
By Richard Thiel — November 2001
Gary Melton's idea was simple: Design and build a boat that would address the needs of America's rapidly aging population. Many in this group have enjoyed a lifetime of boating and don't want to give it up just because they're getting older. However, living longer often means the onset of a variety of health problems that can make spending time aboard a conventional boat problematic. "This group will have a wide range of mobility limitations, ranging from those associated with arthritis to those demanding the use of walkers, electric scooters, and wheelchairs," observes Melton. "Additionally, other individuals will face challenges from maladies like impaired vision."
Melton speaks with some authority on this subject. A serious automobile accident in 1981 left him paralyzed from the waist down and dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. Shortly thereafter he began to design and build different types of equipment to enhance the quality of his life and the lives of others like him. Over the past 20 years Melton has been widely recognized for his work in adapting devices such as riding lawn mowers, ATVs, farm tractors, RVs, homes, and boats. He's built automobiles for everyday transportation and vehicles for public transportation, all designed for the handicapped. He even built and raced a four-wheel-drive motocross truck with hand controls and other features that enabled him to compete with able-bodied racers for five years. However, boating was always his passion, and he designed two other barrier-free boats prior to his latest project. In fact, in a 1997 study entitled Barrier-Free Access to Boats, Boating, and Fishing prepared for pending Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations, professor Douglas Coughenower of the University of Alaska Fairbanks credited Melton with building "one of the most handicapped-accessible vessels in the United States."
For this project Melton says, "I wanted to produce a hybrid, if you will, with the utility, comfort, and spaciousness of a houseboat and the length, lines, amenities, and ambiance of a modern motoryacht." Construction would take advantage of space-age technology and new lightweight materials, and the vessel would not only be affordable to purchase but fuel-miserly and have a floor plan accessible to all, including the mobility-impaired, without being blatantly obvious. It would be designed primarily for traveling the Intracoastal Waterway and shallow waters between New England and Miami with the ability to be home-ported at cities in between.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.