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

Did I misinterpret:
If I take the course and pay $10 then go paddle in the ocean in a t-shirt and a missing rear cockpit lid, for miles, I'm ok.

But if I go out with a drysuit, responsible gear of every noticeable kind, charts on the deck, etc, but don't pay them their demand, I'm in trouble?


I'm glad I'm exempt being from Colorado when I'm in Washington. -That's right, No?
The world is not crazy enough.
Well, in the 1st scenario you would also have to have the cardboard card tucked in your front pocket plus a lifejacket secured in the closed front hatch [as it might float away from the rear opened one]. Also you'd have to make sure that you were the one that lost the rear lid or there's always the actual possibility that whoever else opened it could be charged with murder if you didn't make it.
I very much think that the metric has changed since many of us began kayaking. Used to be, 60's, 70's, 80's, that only the very adventurous folk took up what was considered by most extreme sports like climbing, backcountry skiing and yes ocean kayaking. They were relatively new sports and populated by people who were passionate about them. Equipment, such as kayaks were specialty items that had to be sought out. I remember when I began ocean kayaking, we often built our own boats and the manufacturers like The Bose Bros, Neckar, Scheicher, etc. were just getting started. A kayak on the water up the coast was rare enough that fishing boats and tugs would drop by to have a look and a chat.

There were no such things as cell phones or modern search and rescue groups such as Coast Guard Auxillary, etc. either. Back then, motos such as Cougarmeats "paddling out is optional; paddling back is not": or my own groups; "I'd rather die than be rescued": while somewhat tongue in cheek, spoke to the truth. We had those motos or mantras for a reason, recognition of both the risks and of personal responsibility to be safe and "take care of ourselves". We truly believed that you don't go out unless you can survive and get back on your own. Now, all these formerly "extreme sports" are considered recreational activities. The plethora of cheap rotomolded "kayaks" available means pretty much anyone can buy one and head out. Much too often without a clue about the risks, the weather, the necessary survival skills, or the necessary equipment,

To me, it appears that there are many more people out there doing things that have risk without thought or preparation. There is also the rampant social media trend of doing something "cool" and then posting about your adventures on-line for the primary purpose of seeking attention or recognition. Every week, and I mean literally every week, on the news, there are several reports of yet another rescue of unprepared hikers in the mountains north of Vancouver. The North Shore Rescue Managers routinely give an overview of what the rescued did wrong and plead for people to be prepared if they choose to go out. Helicopters flying into the North Shore Mountains to rescue ignorant recreational citizens, lots of money, tiome and resources spent on folk who have no clue. The same thing is happening here in the Interior, albeit less frequently.

Final word about the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands of Washington. Those waters are some of the most technical, potentially dangerous on the mid Coast in my opinion. Lots of channels and passes, strong currents, huge changes in underwater geography and often strong winds on top of that. Hale passage between Lummi Island and Gooseberry Point for instance can get very strong currents rising over shallow shelves, with opposing winds, it can get very rough in a hurry. Strong rips often form off the northwest side of the island near Lego Bay. It can look calm as a mill pond, but looks are deceiving and this is just one of hundreds of dangerous places in these Islands. So, while not a fan of more and more regulation, I think I can understand where the drive to regulate is coming from.

My two bits on the topic for what it may be worth.

Cheers, Rick
Alex wrote:

"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."

With respect to the quote from Alex above. British Common Law, aka Jurisprudence speaks to this issue at length in Canada as well as in the U. S. The British Common Law system applies to both Canadian and American law and in fact, it is not uncommon for judicial rulings in one country to be cited in the other with respect to arcane legal matters where there is no specific precedent in the jurisdiction where the matter is before the court.

The matter of stopping a boater, or kayaker and asking to see a required license or card is an administrative inspection and does not engage Criminal Law or the protections that require either a search warrant or in U.S. parlance "probable cause", also known as "reasonable grounds" in Canada.

In Canada, there is a section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 8 which states:

8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

In the U. S., the 4th amendment reads:

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Note that in both countries the constitutional protection precludes "unreasonable search and seizure". In both countries, the courts have ruled that the warrant and probable cause provisions of these protections always apply to searches for evidence pertinent to a Criminal offence. Thus any search for evidence of a crime requires a warrant in almost all cases in order to be reasonable.

There is in both countries however the concept of "reasonable expectation of privacy" that is a test used by the courts to determine if a search or seizure without warrant is unreasonable. Thus most inspections, or searches for a regulatory purpose are deemed reasonable in both countries. The reasons for this include: inspections are the principle method of ensuring compliance with administrative laws that govern regulated activities, including licensing, health and safety, trade, etc. A person may choose to participate in a regulated activity or not. If you choose to participate in the regulated activity, you are doing so with the understanding that there are regulatory requirements and that you are subject to inspection by designated officials as a result. You have a much lower reasonable expectation of privacy when engaged in regulated activities that you choose to participate in.

Therefore, in Washington State, a boater education card will be a regulatory requirement for any resident who wishes to paddle a canoe or kayak. On passage of the legislation, paddling will be a regulated activity and therefore paddlers will be subject to inspection as provided in the relevant statute. The statute will also set out which officials are empowered to conduct the inspections and enforce the regulation. In Canada, anyone who was empowered to enforce such a regulation would be "designated" to do so. Not certain how that works in the State of Washington.

There is however still a reasonableness requirement under the law, in that you would have to be paddling or at least loading or unloading a kayak at the shore for the inspector to have reasonable grounds to believe that you were engaged in the regulated activity, paddling a kayak. An official would not be allowed to walk into your yard because he saw a kayak and ask to see your boater education card because owning or storing a kayak in not the regulated activity.

As one further note, a federal Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) is required to operate any recreational power boat in Canada. Thus far at least it is not required for a human-powered watercraft. By the way it costs $45.00 to get a PCOC in Canada.

Cheers, Rick
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I have two problems with the concept put forward here: policing and where to stop.

Washington may not have as much shoreline as BC, but there is still a great deal of territory to cover. Who is going to run around and check all the kayaks? How much is that going to cost?

Having a bunch of uniforms enforcing regulations might result in fewer deaths, but it could also have an impact on our enjoyment of the outdoors.

What will likely happen is that the program will start off with energy, pulling people over to check their papers. With time policing will be cut back and the whole thing will just fizzle. Except for the license fee. That will continue to be collected.

Of course, if you are concerned about people getting into trouble, why stop at just kayakers? How about back country skiers and snowboarders. Looking at the avalanche report for southern BC, we have had four avalanche incidents in the last 2 1/2 weeks, resulting in two deaths. There's lots more if you look at the whole winter season.

A month ago, I was watching an interesting TV series on our local Knowledge Network, covering the work the North Shore Search And Rescue does in the mountains north of Vancouver. It was shocking to see how much time the SARs people put into their volunteer efforts. It was also shocking to see some of the rescue scenarios. Let's just say there were some people that should never have left pavement!

So, if we are going to license kayakers, do we also license skiers, snowboarders, hikers, mountain climbers and a whole bunch of other people who regularly get in trouble?

The fact is you can't control everyone and every situation. It's impossible. Some people will hurt themselves along the way. You just have to accept that society is going to have to help them; rescuers, helicopters, ambulances, doctors, nurses the whole enchilada.

If politicians are concerned about an increase in the number of people getting into trouble in the outdoors, they should be putting more money into educational programs. Step up the outdoors programs in our high schools. Start as young as possible!
The biggest problem I have with the “evolution” I see is the (Forest) services say they have a problem with bad behavior (“trash” of various types) on the trail or unsafe paddlers. And their solution is not education or enforcement, it’s to charge a fee. An unthoughtful person with money to pay a fee is still and unthoughtful person. Meanwhile, those of us on fixed income who have embraced the less expensive activities of walking in the woods, paddling on the water (all of which used to be adequately funded years ago) are now finding a new fee every time we turn around.
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On Saturday, the Coast Guard stopped me in my kayak on Puget Sound. They conducted a no-warrant, no-suspicion "safety check" to see whether I was wearing a lifejacket, which I was.

I was not happy to be detained on the water, not even briefly, and not even for my own safety. I'm afraid I got a little sarcastic with the crew who stopped me. (Coast Guard: "Hi, how's it going?" Me: "Fine, are you guys OK?")

The Coast Guard is not generally empowered to enforce Washington State law. See RCW 10.93.100. So, even if the kayaker safety card bill were adopted as state law, the Coast Guard could not have fined me or directed me ashore for failure to carry the card. However, a Washington State Patrol boat would have the power to fine me or direct me ashore if the kayaker safety card bill were to be adopted. The State Patrol has the same power as the Coast Guard to conduct no-warrant, no-suspicion boater safety checks, so the experience of being detained by the State Patrol would be much the same as my encounter with the Coast Guard. You do not have to be misbehaving for these agencies to stop you.

I was annoyed not only at the stop itself but also at the pretext for the stop: to check my lifejacket. My lifejacket was clearly visible without having to stop me. A pass-by and a friendly wave would have sufficed for this "safety check" in lieu of a stop.

Now, properly speaking, under 33 CFR § 175.21, the Coast Guard is allowed to check not only the existence of a lifejacket but also the lifejacket's condition, fit, and marking. To inspect all that, the Coast Guard could have not only stopped me but actually pulled me out of the boat if necessary. Even worse, they could have checked me for required sound signals (33 CFR § 83.33(b)) and visual distress signals (33 CFR § 175.110), none of which I was carrying. So, in that sense, I got off lightly. However, it is scant comfort to say that an unpleasant encounter could have been more unpleasant.

All of this intrusion onto my kayaking is constitutional because the courts have repeatedly ruled there is a diminished expectation of privacy aboard a boat as compared to a car or an office or a house. Well, I can tell none of the judges who wrote those opinions were kayakers, because I actually do expect to be left alone when I am out on the water. If I wanted the government's opinion of my kayaking, I would have signed up for one of their endless safety courses.

Alex, T’wer it me, if I had to take my life jacket off end hand it to them for inspection, you just know that somehow I might tip over - and now I’m not wearing my life jacket and someone may have to jump in to help me. Sorry Officer - just not used to taking my life jacket off WHILE I’M ON THE WATER.

I’m all for safety. I’m a belt and suspenders guy. But I’m sensitive to “theater” rather than effective action. For example, 3 oz liquid airline limit but nothing to stop two or more people from combining their 3 oz. after boarding the plane; not allowing a nail file past TSA but selling them in the gift shop on the other side, etc..

One thing I never see in the press - is when someone goes off the rails - how whatever bill has or will be passed would have prevented their misbehavior. It’s not that we should stop looking for solutions, it’s that we shouldn’t spend time and money on things that aren’t effective - taking those resources away and fostering a sense of complacency.
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Don't know what the code is for life jackets in Washington State. In Canada, it simply has to be on board, not worn. That can be on the deck, in the cockpit, even in a closed hatch compartment. In good weather, with warm water and hot temperatures, I often do not wear my PFD because it is uncomfortable and I overheat. In winter, on cold water and in rough conditions, immersion gear and the PFD are on. I expect that is some of that increasing uncommon "common sense" we all often hear about.

The authorities do have the power to stop you and ensure that you have one, that it is compliant with the standards, etc.. Unfortunately, those of us who are careful, thoughtful and self reliant are necessarily lumped in with those who are not. Perhaps it might be easier to hand over a PFD for an inspection if it is securely strapped to your deck? Just say'in!

An RCMP officer who I know just told me about a rescue on Okanagan Lake a month or so ago. This one did not make the news, because the man involved survived and the RCMP did not alert the media. A young man with little experience and no safety gear decided to take a kayak out on Okanagan Lake in questionable conditions. He had a beer or two to increase the mellowness of the experience and was wearing street clothes in the kayak. He got flipped in wind and waves. He couldn't get back in the boat. The only thing that saved him was that he had his cell phone on board and it worked. He was rescued and rushed to hospital with advanced hypothermia and has recovered. But, it took public resources to rescue him.

Cheers, Rick
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SalishSeaNior, I am absolutely not telling you how to live your life but for fun, you might try putting that PFD on while you are in the water. I hear it's a lot of fun. Temperature control is a challenge. Sometimes a choice between a drysuit and wetsuit top and bottom is made. In my case, I have an old (20 yrs or more) Kokatat splash jacket. On a hot day, carrying the boats to the water, I’m always ready to leave it in the car. But most times, once on the water, and even a little wind picks up, I’m glad I have it on. That’s for lake paddling. On ocean water, I always have either neoprene or a drysuit.
OK, I'll join the PFD bunny trail -- I remember putting on a lumpy kapok life vest thing as a kid. I even sold some of them working in a canoe shop. Cheap crap, but they met the coast guard standards. Thankfully they didn't stay that way.

PFD's have come a long way in the last 25 years. There are plenty of options available now, engineered to meet modern safety standards and be comfortable for a wide range of ages and body-types. I've always advised new paddlers to pick a PFD that they like and are comfortable in over one that had snazzy features. There's no point in buying a PFD (no matter how technically dazzling) if you're not going to wear it.

If I get on the water now without a PFD, I can feel immediately that there's something wrong. It's like getting on my bike without a helmet.

It is true "Judgement keeps you safe, not gear", but physics is unforgiving. PFDs ensure a margin that gives you time and energy to exercise your judgement.

General comments here and not directed specifically at @SalishSeaNior. You're a big boy Rick. You do you.
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PFD wearing: For me, it's never been too hot to wear a PFD paddling here (Vancouver Island). And the PFD probably helps if I am trying to do a roll.
For a much more skilled paddler (ex: Freya Hoffmeister) in a warmer locale (Baja, Columbia, Brazil) the parameters would be different.

Without my PFD where would I put all 'my stuff' ?? :) Snacks, Radio, Balaclava, Hydration backpack, whistle, PLB, etc....
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I was in no way suggesting or advocating that folk do not wear a PFD, or any other safety equipment such as a drysuit, or wetsuits. I was simply noting that the current law in British Columbia requires one to have one on board, not to wear it.

This thread began with a discussion of boating safety "laws" and that of course relates to and incorporates decision making and risk assessment. Having said that, I have been doing lengthy wilderness paddle trips and other risky outdoor sports for more than 50 years. When I started paddling, you used an old school down river river kayak with a skeg, or built your own. While we did have PFD's back then, I do not believe there was such a thing as a dry suit at the time. I bought my first wet suit more than a decade after I started kayaking and then wore it and a PFD, only in extreme conditions with long crossings because it was uncomfortable. So I "grew up" paddling in another era.

As I get older, I tolerate cold less than when I was young, and am not quite so confident in my skills as once I was, so I wear the PFD and now immersion gear, always in winter and also whenever I think conditions warrant it. I have practiced self rescue skills often and continue to do so. I have had to help others re-enter their boats, but have never "had to do so for real" myself to date. So, on a warm Okanagan lake, or on quiet water on a hot sunny day on the ocean, I still prefer to paddle in shorts and a tee shirt. If I am on a trip, the PFD is there and often on, if it is not too warm, as is the immersion gear if conditions change and warrant my wearing it.

I am confident in my ability to swim, hang on to my boat and get back into it if ever the need arises. Everything that the law requires is either on me, or in the boat though. A paddle float is "always" on the rear deck next to the rescue straps and the pump is tied into the boat. As far as I am concerned, the paddle float and the skills to use it, are every bit as important as the PFD.

I sometimes go out in rough water on a warm summers day in swim trunks and play at practicing self rescue re-entries. Last summer I taught an old friend's teenage son and daughter to roll a kayak under those same conditions, though they were both wearing PFDs once we progressed to deeper water. I do not feel that I am taking much if any risk in my considered choices. And if I am, I feel that the pleasure and freedom that the lack of encumbering "safety gear" gives me is worth the small risk.

John wrote: " Without my PFD where would I put all 'my stuff' ?? :) Snacks, Radio, Balaclava, Hydration backpack, whistle, PLB, etc.... "

I thought all that stuff was supposed to go in the day hatch of my boat? Only my whistle and a small compass are on my PFD. But that is me doing me as Alpha Echo suggests.


The Day Hatch, usually behind your right hip, is built for the young. Perhaps if I worked more on my ardha matsyendrasana I could reach it. :)

The one thing I remind myself about with safety gear is the assumption that I will be able-bodied when I need to use it. Able-bodied as in conscious; not knocked out by something hitting me on the head (like a loaded kayak) or working with a dislocated shoulder.
Able-bodied as in conscious; not knocked out by something hitting me on the head (like a loaded kayak) or working with a dislocated shoulder.
Off topic: Lately I've been thinking that I should wear my helmet more on 'regular' paddles. Getting bonked with a boat - mine or somebody else's would be bad. Also, I need to get accustomed to paddling/bracing/rolling with the helmet, though it doesn't feel very strange now that I finally have a 'hard hat' that fits properly.
Perhaps I should keep quiet about this, lest somebody decide to make it compulsory!! :)
I think about that (expensive) helmet too. It’s like I’m always wearing a hat anyway. Seems better to wear it than having all those dollars just sitting on the shelf. But I think of a helmet as something to wear when intensionally rock gardening or surfing. As those activities have never been part of my trips, the helmet sits forlorn, watching all the other gear get packed. I spend as much time, or more, on land at a destination and if it rains, I want a rain hat, not a hardshell polo helmet. Like AlphaEcho, it feels “off” not to wear a PFD. But - bringing this back around - at this time there is no regulation requirement for a helmet.
Off topic: Lately I've been thinking that I should wear my helmet more on 'regular' paddles.

But I think of a helmet as something to wear when intensionally rock gardening or surfing.

A few years ago I was doing a short local paddle with some friends. As we turned into a bay to land I cut through some rocks, with a very low swell running, nothing to really think about. Paddling out I looked back and saw my friends, minus one, looking into the rocks.

Long story short; the missing friend had followed me, got smacked by an unexpected swell and capsized. As he set up for a roll he smashed his head into a submerged rock. As he couldn't roll one handed while covering up, he swam. I went back in, towed him out, we got him to shore and I patched up the damage, which fortunately was only cosmetic. A visit to the ER confirmed this.


Since then I have bought a very comfortable helmet which I wear more frequently.

However, this very morning we did the same paddle, there was a very low swell running and none of us were wearing our helmets! Nothing was said, but we stayed well away from the rocks.

Deb Volturno, of the Tsunami Rangers, who now lives out here, wears her helmet on every paddle. Her argument is that she is more likely to need to get someone else out of trouble when she had no intention of doing anything 'interesting'. Despite her reputation and affiliation, she doesn't always play among the carnage. While I don't consider her skillset 'normal', she has done a lot to normalise helmet use among sea kayakers.
However, this very morning we did the same paddle, there was a very low swell running and none of us were wearing our helmets! Nothing was said, but we stayed well away from the rocks.
In the next long harbour round the peninsula from John I ran into a rock on the swell and had great difficulty getting off it. The swell was rolling in, almost a couple of cm high.

And no, no helmets... or two means of communication, or flares or.....
One of us might have had a whistle.
Yeah, I don’t think anyone plans to have an unforeseen accident. :) Though it’s not uncommon to put oneself in a situation where skills can be practiced.
I think clamping down of rentals would be a good place to strat. The cheap rental Kayaks should be sink proof and inspected on a minuim once a year.
Why not requrire the rental company give a sort 10 minute saftey talk. Include in the talk the condition on the lake that day.
A tailored saftey discussion when you buy a new Kayak. It could include the safety considerations for that particualr boat.
Just use the experts to comvay safety to the novis Kyaker with an offer of a more complete instruction avaliable for hire.

On guided kayak tips the gide often provides the basic saftey rules the group must follow.