Boat Sled History

The technique of swift water rescue in ocean conditions using personal watercraft (PWCs) was originally developed and innovated here in Hawaii by Hawaiian Lifeguards in the late 80’s using jet skis with attached sleds made of foam. In 2009, a few of the original innovators of this rescue protocol were Brian Keaulana and Archie Kalepa, who, with the help of partner Todd Bradley, began to develop inflatable rescue sleds and rescue boards. These inflatable drop stitch sleds proved to be a better option than the previous foam construction sleds.  The success of inflatable PWC rescue sleds led Todd to the logical conclusion of equipping boats with similar but larger rescue sleds.  As an outrigger canoe paddler, Todd knew the inflatable boat sled was perfect for use behind an escort boat, keeping paddlers further away from props during crew changes.

The drop stitch inflatable boat sled is a US patented innovation built only by Waterman Unlimited here in Hawaii.

Todd says, “In the last six years, we have had four escort related injuries from boats and props, including one on Maui that was fatal. With the concern of escort paddler accidents, the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association (HCRA) has an escort boat race rule that says escort boats should be equipped with prop guards or a boat sleds.”

In addition to the extra safety of being further from the propeller, the boat sled also provides less drag than a prop guard and less fatigue for paddlers getting in and out of the water, especially in rough conditions.  Many canoe clubs already use Waterman Unlimited boat sleds for just those reasons.

All Waterman Unlimited boat sleds are custom built for each boat to ensure correct fit. All sleds are handmade out of military grade materials and take about 60-90 days to build. Cost of sleds can range from $3600-$4600 depending on the size.   

Waterman Unlimited boat sleds have been in production since 2010 and are used by Lifeguards, US Military, Fire departments, Forest Service, private boat owners, canoe clubs in California, Hawaii, and Australia, movie production companies, and more.

escort boat boat sled

Team LiveStrong and the Kukio escort boat with their custom boat sled