Prosthetic leg at the ocean: How amputee travelers can enjoy the beach

ATK amputees can wear a computerized prosthetic leg at the ocean

Accessible travel with a toddler? Yes. This amputee mom can visit the ocean with her kids, even while wearing her prosthetic leg.
Accessible travel with a toddler? Yes. This amputee mom can visit the ocean with her kids, even while wearing her prosthetic leg.

Jodie has been an above-the-knee, or ATK, amputee since she was 13.  For most of her post-amputation life, she figured that going to the ocean meant leaving her prosthetic leg at home.

After all, Jodie’s prosthesis has computerized components that help her walk. The microprocessor in the prosthetic knee adjusts how her prosthesis moves and how it supports her, a big help when it comes to navigating uneven terrain like sand. It’s also not exactly the sort of thing you want to get wet.

“It’s taken a few years of experimenting and finding what was offered,” she says. “I spent way too long thinking nothing would work.”

Over the past year, Jodie’s learned more about her prosthetic. And she’s realized that yes, she can wear her leg to the beach… even down into the water’s edge. Here’s how she makes that happen:

How to safely enjoy the beach while wearing a computerized prosthetic leg

For starters, Jodie’s leg—an Ottobock Genium ATK leg prosthesis—is designed to have some measure of water resistance and weather resistance. If she’s going to do something like kayaking, snorkeling, or swimming, she’s not going to wear her leg. For, say, taking the kids to the coast, she’ll wear her leg—and rely on Anthony to jump into the water after the kids if need be!

Microprocessor prosthetic legs are designed to have water/weather protection

For walking along the beach, Jodie not only can wear her leg, she can dip her toes in the water. In the event of some light splashes, the microprocessor inside her leg has some protection.

Devices such as prosthetics—or, for that matter, your smartphone—have a weather/water resistance rating called the IP rating (here are Ottobock’s current IP ratings) . The Ottobock Genium has an IP 67 rating—the same as many smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone X.

While the Genium isn’t designed to resist corrosive saltwater, it’s not going to pull a Wicked Witch of the West and melt with the merest water contact either.

Find a spot where an amputee can easily access the beach

Uneven terrain can be tricky when wearing a prosthetic leg to the beach, but views like Oregon's Heceta Head make it all worthwhile.
Uneven terrain can be tricky when wearing a prosthetic leg to the beach, but views like Oregon’s Heceta Head make it all worthwhile.

A big stretch of Oregon’s Coast is covered in tall, wide dunes. (Seriously: These are the same sand dunes that inspired author Frank Herbert to write his classic sci-fi novel Dune.)

While the dunes are beautiful, they are very, very hard for Jodie to get over. She can do it, sure, but it takes a lot of energy.

Instead of doing all that work to get over the dunes, we prefer to find stretches of beach that have much easier access to the water. That way, Jodie can use her time and energy enjoying our coast adventures, instead of just getting to the water in the first place.

Here are 6 things we look for in accessible, amputee-friendly beach access

  1. No sand dunes
  2. A parking lot close the beach’s far edge
  3. Minimal rocks or driftwood to cross
  4. Ready-made paths for easier walking
  5. Packed sand (makes a firmer walking surface)
  6. Staircases can be okay, but we look for shorter stairs where possible

We also look out for each other. If Jodie needs a hand, Anthony or one of the kids can be there for a wrist or shoulder for Jodie to use for extra stability.

A good walking stick helps you navigate sand

A good walking stick is a simple way to enhance accessible travel for amputees and other travelers who have disabilities.
A good walking stick is a simple way to enhance accessible travel for amputees and other travelers who have disabilities.

No matter your feet situation, sand is hard to walk on. Especially the loose, fluffy sand that lies between the parking lot and the water.

With any prosthesis, it can be challenging to traverse sand. But it gets a lot easier when you also bring a hiking stick or a couple of trekking poles.

Walking sticks give you additional support. That way, on any given step, you have more points of contact with the ground, helping you stay balanced, use your energy more efficiently, and get across the sand so you can get to the fun times.

Jodie currently uses one walking stick, but two can also be a good choice (and she’s looking at adding a second one).

Wear good rain boots

Jodie's Nomad Footwear rain boots have given her peace of mind when wearing her prosthetic leg to walk along the beach.
Jodie’s Nomad Footwear rain boots have given her peace of mind when wearing her prosthetic leg to walk along the beach.

Rain boots both give Jodie extra peace of mind for her prosthetic foot, and help her have more traction when walking. She can stand at the edge of the sea and watch the waves roll over her feet—and not have to worry about her prosthesis.

If you’ve seen our family travel videos, you may have seen Jodie in her rain boots. Have you wondered what those cute, flowery, waterproof boots are? She rocks a pair of rain boots from Nomad Footwear.

Get double protection and shoeless options with waterproof socks

That’s right. Waterproof socks.

The first time Jodie wore her socks to the coast, she was nervous. Would the socks hold up… or would her prosthetic foot get wet? Maybe even ruined?

Fortunately, the socks did great. Often when we go to the coast, Jodie doubles up: She wears waterproof socks under her waterproof boots. That way she’s got options. If Jodie wants to walk around in her boots, she can. But if she wants to dip her flesh-and-blood toes in the water, she can take off her boots and let the surf run over the waterproof sock on her prosthetic foot.

The right gear helps amputee travelers wear their prosthetic leg at the ocean and enjoy a walk on the beach too

Accessible travel is travel together: Everyone should get to enjoy the beach, no matter how they get there!
Accessible travel is travel together: Everyone should get to enjoy the beach, no matter how they get there!

Amputees can enjoy the ocean when they travel to the beach too, even while wearing their prosthetic leg. Like Jodie says, “It feels great enjoying the beach more fully!”

Computerized prosthetics might not be waterproof, but amputee travelers can still enjoy dipping toes in the water. Understand what your prosthetic is designed for, get the right gear, and get on out there: There’s a walk on the beach just waiting for you and your prosthetic leg.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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