Controversial Kayak and Canoe Safety Bill Debated in Mass.

A new bill being debated in Massachusetts would require all kayakers and canoeists to wear a PFD. Photo by ##http://newenglandboating.com/author/tom## Tom Richardson##

A bill that would require all kayakers and canoeists to wear a PFD and create new regulations for kayak instructors is currently being debated in the Massachusetts legislature. The bill (House #2382/Senate #1410), according to many paddling groups and instructors, is vague and unnecessary, and may discourage people from taking up the sport.

One problem these groups point to is the definition of “kayak”, which the bill describes as “a lightweight boat that is covered, except for a single or double opening in the center thereof, and is propelled by a paddle.” According to this definition, sit-on-top kayaks, foot-propelled kayaks and some other types of paddle craft would not be subject to the new regulations. A similar problem applies to canoes, which the bill defines as “a narrow, light boat with its sides meeting in a point at each end and moved by one or more paddles.” Many types of rowing and paddle craft, such as certain rowing shells, would be included under this definition. Furthermore, there could be confusion caused by the definition of “paddle,” or lack thereof.

Another issue involves the use of competition rowing shells and kayaks, which under federal rules are exempt from the PFD requirement. If passed, the state bill would supersede the federal rules, and would require that PFDs be used in racing events.

Even more controversial is language requiring all kayak instructors to be certified by the American Red Cross or the American Canoe Association (ACA) or equivalent water training. According to Mark Jacobson, manager of Charles River Canoe and Kayak in Boston, the bill as currently written does not define what sort of experience level would be considered “equivalent.” He also points out that there is no available Red Cross training program in Massachusetts, and that the ACA was not even consulted when the bill was drawn up. Also, he questions why canoe or rowing-shell instruction were not included under the new requirements. While many kayak instructors already are certified (including all of the instructors at Charles River Canoe and Kayak), the new rules could create problems for smaller companies and summer camps that could be left scrambling to certify all of their instructors, especially if the bill passes midway through summer.

Who to contact:

If you wish to weigh in on the safety bill, contact your local state representative at this website.

Official Bill Language:

AN ACT RELATIVE TO KAYAK SAFETY

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

SECTION 1. Section 1 of Chapter 90B of the General laws, as appearing in the 2008 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting the following definitions:

  • “Canoe”: a narrow, light boat with its sides meeting in a point at each end and is moved by one or more paddles.
  • “Kayak”: a lightweight boat that is covered, except for a single or double opening in the center thereof, and is propelled by a paddle.

SECTION 2. Said Chapter 90B is hereby further amended by inserting after section 13A the following section:

SECTION 13b. Anyone who holds himself out as a kayak instructor for hire shall obtain and maintain:

  • (i) First aid training approved by the department of public health; (ii) Cardiopulmonary resuscitation training approved by the department of public health; and (iii) kayak instructor certification from the American Canoe Association, American Red Cross certification in small craft safety and basic water rescue, or equivalent water training.
  • The instructor shall train students on the safety procedures appropriate to the level of paddling difficulty. Wet exit training, which is defined as the practice of escaping from a kayak while capsized in a controlled water setting, shall be required of all beginners and novice level operators who use an attached “spray skirt” during any part of the kayak instructional session. A liability release that limits an instructor’s responsibility to comply with this section shall be void.

SECTION 3. Chapter 90B of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2008 official edition, is hereby amended by inserting after section 5B the following new section:

Section 5C. Every person aboard a canoe or kayak, as defined in this chapter, shall wear at all times a Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device of type I, II, III or V in good and serviceable condition.