Testimony opposing HB-1018 on boater education
Here is my written testimony opposing House bill HB-1018 (and matching Senate bill SB-5176) This bill is intended to extend powerboat permit laws to human powered boats. I also gave verbal testimony during the public hearing today by the House Committee on Community & Economic Development. You can watch the replay of the hearing here. The committee meeting opens with a presentation about the stats of the Washington State Park system. The hearing for the bill starts at 0:34:00 My testimony starts at 1:19:33. If you want to give them input, they will take written testimony here until 10:00am tomorrow (1/21/2021).
“I grew up in Florida. Florida is the mecca of water sports. I’ve been paddling since I was 10.
I was a Red Cross Certified Lifeguard Instructor and in Boy Scouts I taught paddling safety.
At The University of Florida I handled waterfront safety for our sailboard, sailboat and canoe rentals to students.
I’ve been an avid whitewater and sea kayaker for 30 years and I’m trained in swift water rescue.
Thank you for your efforts on this issue. Having personally served as a water safety professional, I appreciate your passion and efforts to make water sports safer. But trying to force power boating rules and regulations on recreational paddling won’t work. If it were at all viable, Florida would have done it long ago.
The organized paddling community already does a fantastic job of safety education. Whitewater boaters are obsessive about river safety. Whitewater paddlers are statistically far more likely to get killed driving to the river than paddling it. No amount of legislation could match — much less improve — what they already do. Similarly, sea kayakers are very focused on safety.
Every sport has different safety education requirements. Whitewater paddlers use helmets and rescue throw ropes; sea kayakers use paddle floats and lights and have to know how to self-rescue far from shore; paddle boarders and surfers use board leashes; surfers actually avoid wearing a PFD because it would keep them from diving to avoid a wave. One safety class cannot cover all sports and being educated in one sport cannot prepare someone for other sports. So one boater card cannot ensure they have studied the knowledge they need for every craft they may paddle. What is even worse is that it will give holders a false sense of security that they know everything they need to be safe in any circumstance and create a liability for the State of Washington.
This bill includes paddle boards, but excludes sail boards, and makes no mention at all of kiteboards or surfboards. Apart from the kite or removable sail, they’re all about the same thing. The only difference is how they move.
It is ironic that this bill EXCLUDES the 2 groups who are most at risk:
- Those who take air mattresses, inner tubes, and single-chamber toy rafts on dangerous waters. They don’t have PFDs because they consider themselves swimming.
- Those operating boats with a small engines (under 15 HP). They may be misled by the existing law into complacency assuming that because they don’t have a big motor, they are not at risk. This may create another legal liability for the state.
In fact, by excluding motors under 15 HP, if I toss a trolling motor inside my kayak, I wouldn’t need to buy a permit.
This legislation is the same as requiring permits to ride skateboards, bicycles, go backcountry skiing, rock climbing or horseback riding. Yet those activities can be every bit as dangerous as paddle sports. Backcountry skiers aren’t required to take an avalanche class and get a permit. Cyclists aren’t required to pass any test. Hikers and backpackers aren’t required to take any safety classes, yet rescues of hikers happen far more often than paddlers.
Finally, this is a regressive and inequitable tax. It creates another barrier to entry that discriminates against the poor who can’t afford luxury activities.
Testimony was given in opposition by representation in every affected stakeholder group: the national organizations on paddling safety (American Whitewater, American Canoe Association), a kayak manufacturer (Eddyline Kayaks), by a whitewater rafting outfitter, the Recreational Boating Association and private paddlers.
The only verbal testimony given in support of HB-1018 was by the 2 businesses that stand to gain by making a profit from it. That would be Tom Hayward, the Chief Financial Officer of NASBLA, based in Lexington, Kentucky who sustains his employment by providing services to states that implement legislation like this; and Amy Brackenbury from Kalkomey Entrprises https://www.kalkomey.com/ a business that sells the online courses that would be sold to the millions of people seeking a boater card. The deaths Ms Brackenbury cited in her testimony were given completely out of context. She offers no proof that a boater card would have prevented these deaths. Beware of emotional arguments used to sell products. She also made the claim that accidents and fatalities are spiking as people get outdoors more in response to COVID, yet testimony from Rob Sendak, Boating Programs Manager and Washington State Boating Laws Administrator housed under the Washington State Parks Department stated that accidents have actually declined. Kalkomey Enterprises has much to profit for decades to come if this bill were to pass.
This is an education problem, not a compliance problem. You are law makers, but not every problem is solved by making a law. “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Making ignorance illegal won’t change anything. If you feel you must do something, then analyze the primary causes of paddle sports accidents and address them specifically. Reach out to the paddling organizations that have many decades dealing in paddler safety. I have included the most relevant ones below:
Washington State Parks already partners with American Canoe Association for paddler education programs. You can find the links here:
American Whitewater even keeps a detailed database of all river related deaths along with a detailed analysis of the contributing factors along with valuable graphics that categorize the causes of these incidents. This is a must-view website: https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/view/
American Whitewater https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Safety/view/?
American Canoe Association https://www.americancanoe.org/page/Courses
North Sound Sea Kayak Association https://nsska.clubexpress.com/
Washington Recreational River Runners http://wrrr.org/category/rivers/river_safety/
The Mountaineers https://www.mountaineers.org/
National Center for Cold Water Safety http://www.coldwatersafety.org
Kayak Academy http://www.kayakacademy.com
Washington Kayak Club http://washingtonkayakclub.org/