• We apologize for the somewhat convoluted sign-up process. Due to ever-more sophisticated attacks by chatbots, we had to increase our filtering in order to weed out AI while letting humans through. It's a nuisance, but a necessary one in order to keep the level of discourse on the forums authentic and useful. From the actual humans using WCP, thanks for your understanding!

Licenses for paddling Canoes, Kayaks, & SUPs proposed - WA state bill?

I can see where they're coming from. I have seen plenty of paddlers who due to ignorance of the importance of some aspect of their vessel or equipment were operating in a state of increased risk.

An example would be a paddler in a rented sea kayak with an open rear hatch, paddling in following waves. When I pointed this out, the paddler stated that he didn't need to put the cover on because there was nothing inside which could fall out. Presumably he wasn't made aware of the importance of buoyancy when he rented a kayak.
That should have been reiterated by the rental company, in my opinion.

That being said, I am not convinced that a licensing system would improve safety.
There are already safety equipment requirements in place, which are somewhat more ambiguous than I'd really like. Perhaps improving the specificity of these requirements as they apply to kayaks and SUPs would be a better way to improve safety (see the various discussions about what exactly "buoyant heaving line" is really supposed to be).
There are already fines in place to promote compliance with these regulations. I can't imagine a licensing or training system being significantly more effective without dramatically increasing the enforcement budget.
Having read the bill, I am still opposed, but not as opposed as I was when I first read the words "kayaking license." The proposal is not actually a license in the sense of, say, a driver's license. It's actually a boater safety education completion card. The differences are that a license must be renewed periodically and may be revoked for bad behavior (driving drunk, etc.), but the boater education card is a once-in-a-lifetime process. The card only costs $10, you can take the course online, there are organizations that offer the course for free, and there is no procedure for revoking the card, even if you do something unsafe.

$10 and a free online course is not an unbearable burden. It's unlikely anyone in this forum would benefit from a free online safety course, but you can imagine such a course saving the life of some maniac to whom it never occurred that 15 knots of wind is too much to be out in a kayak with no life jacket. Such scenarios are rare in Washington—far rarer than, for example, drunken morons falling off their powerboats at night while attempting to pee over the side—but we do lose a kayaker or two every couple of years, and this education certificate has the potential to ameliorate some of that loss.

All that said, I am still opposed. The imposition of bureaucracy, on-water inspections, and fines for non-compliance stifles the most important aspect of kayaking: the sense of personal freedom. It is the nature of freedom to be messy, even dangerous at times. I would prefer kayaking to stay that way. Get in a boat and go, even if the government doesn't think you're ready.

Alex, my first post on this was twice as long as yours - then I shortened it. I mentioned how the Forest Service thought charging a fee to hike a trail would stop people from leaving toilet paper along the way. It was quite a harangue. And though it involved hiking, it was the same mindset. I’d better stop here or I’ll go at it again. Simply put, I agree with you.
  • Like
Reactions: CPS
A law without consequence is merely a request.

How would they enforce this, and what bureaucracy would be required to administer it?

Your taxes at work folks...
I don't mind the spirit of this, but the execution is typically bureaucratic. They'd probably get more engagement, education and goodwill by offering the online training with an incentive -- something like, you get to waive/discount your next park entrance fee or water-access parking fee if you show proof of completion.

But, the real priority does seem to be revenue and release of liability...
  • Like
Reactions: CPS
The bill does have teeth. Ch. 79A.60 RCW (Regulation of Recreational Vessels) says that:

Failure to possess a boater education card required by this section is an infraction under chapter 7.84 RCW. The penalty shall be waived if the boater provides proof to the court within sixty days that he or she has received a boater education card.​

RCW 79A.60.640(5).

An "infraction" is a civil violation, not a crime. RCW 7.84.020. The boater education card requirement is an "unscheduled" infraction, meaning the Washington State Supreme Court has not yet selected the amount of the fine. See RCW 7.84.100 (Court to set amount of fine); IRLJ 6.2(d) (list of scheduled infractions, which doesn't include boater education). As an unscheduled infraction, the fine amount is set at $48, unless local courts set a different amount. IRLJ 6.2(b).

As for enforcement, every law enforcement officer in the state is empowered to stop any boater on the water to enforce the requirements of the recreational vessel regulation chapter, including the boater education card requirement. RCW 79A.60.100.

The recreational vessel regulation chapter is silent as to the degree of suspicion the officer must have prior to making a stop—an important consideration under the 4th Amendment and Washington Constitution Art. 1, § 7. Does the officer need a warrant? Probable cause? Reasonable suspicion? No suspicion at all? The chapter doesn't say, and Washington courts have never ruled on the issue of whether individualized suspicion is required to board a vessel under the recreational vessel regulations.

Other states have upheld upheld statutes that allow law enforcement to randomly board vessels without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Such laws have been upheld as reasonable because the legitimate state interest in promoting water safety, in addition to the diminished privacy expectations of a person on a vessel, justify searches without probable cause.

Here is an article in the Spokesman-Review in which the sheriff of Whitman County, Washington describes stopping recreational boats on the water without individualized suspicion. So regardless of whether the courts think no-suspicion boat stops are constitutional, the cops do. (And the examples from other states indicate the cops are probably correct.) The Spokesman-Review article is accompanied by a description and photograph showing a sheriff in Idaho stopping kayakers on the water, and quoting the Idaho sheriff as issuing citations for boater safety violations (though it is not clear how many of those boaters were kayakers).

So the long and the short of it is, this bill will empower police, at least in their own minds, to stop kayakers on the water and demand to see our boater education cards, even we are not doing anything wrong. If we don't have the card, it's a $48 fine. I won't mind the fine so much, but I will resent the intrusion of the stop and the interrogation. I vote "no."

Let’s see… now I have pay, and CARRY proof of, a yearly (even though in Bend the lakes are only available about 5 - 6 months out of the year) invasive species fee (the “proof” paper is not waterproof). Also, they never check out-of-state boats that come in for multi-sport competitions that can have up to 2000 entrants. And if I paddle in Washington I may have to CARRY a proof of education card - along with dealing with the logistics of getting such a card. Wonder if the sponsor considered people coming from out-of-state and how they will fit the class and getting the card into their plans.

I have a lot of room IN the boat, but not a lot of reading material accessible when I’m on the water.

Sounds like this is NOT a done deal yet - right? If it becomes real, please post a YOU NEED THIS IF YOU PADDLE IN WA topic on the details of getting what ever is needed.

There was a time when I just went hiking. There was a time when I just climbed a mountain. There was a time when I just went paddling. But I’d better stop there. …
Out-of-state residents are exempt from the requirement to carry a boater education card, unless they operate a boat that has a 15-HP engine or larger for at least 60 consecutive days in Washington waters. RCW 79A.60.640(3)(e).
The trouble with so many psychometrics is the complete lack of rigour to support the basic contention. In this case, what is the backup to support the hypothesis that a $10 + $35 card and online fee, as well as enforcement will deliver an overall public benefit. An equally logical assertion might be less use and more grief.
  • Like
Reactions: CPS
They have so little to do that they'd stop kayakers on the water?
How do they prove you are not "out of State".
"Yes, I have such a card, it is stowed so it won't get wet, in a sealed hatch."
How can they truly identify anyone on the water? Do your kayaks needed to have identity on the outside of the hull?
False identity, "Sorry he heard me wrongly, I gave my true identity."

It sounds like the term "a can or worms" should be applied.

We have "in our neck of the woods" a requirement that all craft have a 90 mm high lettering name on them... except for and then a long list of exemptions. Stupid rule making, rule writing, as there were only two classes, motor powered and over 6 metre sailing that needed the naming. The naming was trailer registration or VHF call sign. If you had neither of those, then what?

There were no fines or anything like that and the organisation, ECAN, couldn't answer my questions. So everyone has ignored it.
Rules and enforcement are not always as black-and-white as they may seem.
For example, in BC there are rules about what what materials you are allowed to have on your fishing fly. One prohibition is beads, yet many recognized patterns have beads on them. The reason this has not been changed is so that if someone is using a large hook with a very heavy bead to snag fish the CO's can easily remove them. Take away the rule and it becomes much harder. "Honest Guv, it is just my new salmon fly..."
A similar situation might be envisaged with kayaks...
Enforcement notices kayaker(s) paddling along, PFDs on, looking competent. Enforcement does nothing.
Enforcement notices people in floating lunch boxes, no PFDs, drunk or high, being stupid. Enforcement could have a simple tool to remove said idiots from the water.
Net result over time, fewer stories about "kayakers" drowning or getting rescued.
While those of us (myself included) with a more anarchistic point of view might say those people are entitled to do stupid things we do not live in a vacuum. It is quite likely that if there are enough of those incidents then restrictions may become tighter and things like life insurance may become difficult or expensive to get if you kayak, rather like the case for those of us that climb.
No simple solutions of course, just a few thoughts.
Enforcement notices kayaker(s) paddling along, PFDs on, looking competent. Enforcement does nothing.
That's a big assumption.
My few experiences (in a sailboat) with US Coast Guard Auxiliary (aka Navy Seal wannabes) were more 'throwing their weight around' rather than 'being helpful'.
Net result over time, fewer stories about "kayakers" drowning or getting rescued.
The situation in WA may be much different, but I don't see many stories in BC of kayakers drowning or needing rescue. In a different discussion, I mentioned the stats that showed of all the rescues in the Victoria Rescue Coordination Center region over a few years there were none that involved kayakers.
See post #16 in this discussion thread:

Also, my recollection from reading the 'Deep Trouble' (two volumes of incident analyses from SeaKayaker magainze, authored by Matt Broze and George Gronseth) accounts is that many of the incidents involved kayakers who would probably have passed a simple 'safety equipment' test.

Much as I'd enjoy seeing 'the long arm of the law' going after the SUP scofflaws, the price -nanny state intrusion into my kayaking- is too high for me.
  • Like
Reactions: CPS
Thinking about the vein of the above comments, about what practices and methods lead to improved compliance and safety .. would not a "community policing" model be more effective?
  • Like
Reactions: CPS
According to US Coast Guard statistics, recreational boating fatalities have been dropping over the last decennia or so. Except for paddle craft, those fatalities have been on the rise. I am not surprised some form of legislative answer is in the works...

One of my main issues with this proposal, is that I doubt its effectiveness. I have a "safe boating card" It does not teach you about hypothermia, cold shock, the importance of wearing a pfd and immersion wear or any of those things that actually safe kayakers lives...

Of-course, the amount of paddle craft fatalities get absolutely dwarfed by the deadliness of another popular pastime here, however any limitations on that one apparently warrants constitutional protection...
improved 'safety' numbers can be easily achieved by figuring out some way to reduce overall usage . . . wonder what that self-fulfilling prophecy could be?
improved 'safety' numbers can be easily achieved by figuring out some way to reduce overall usage . . . wonder what that self-fulfilling prophecy could be?
SSSSHHH! If Parks Canada with their 'protect parks from human use' and Coast Guard/SAR ("We are understaffed and underfunded; please don't distract us from rescuing all those hikers and skiers") get together we will really be in trouble.
  • Like
Reactions: CPS
These are perennial issues in the human condition and politics you know.

Laws are only as useful as they are consented to by the governed. A successful law is complied with more than it is enforced, to the benefit of everyone.

As it is, we are living in a time where we celebrate the fact that "anyone can become a politician" but have forgotten what the meaning of public service is.

What are parks for if not for the use of the public? Land for animals and not humans is a conservancy, is it not? So where is the public service in closing National Parks? Where is the public service in laws which add to the burden of law enforcement and do not actually promote safe public recreation?