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Washington State Legislative Session Underway - Bills Affecting Paddlers

Posted: 01/28/2020
By: Thomas O'Keefe

We are tracking a few bills in the Washington State legislature that will directly impact the paddling community. These bills could move quickly and we encourage Washington State residents to review the bills and offer your thoughts. Click the link to Comment on this Bill to share your thoughts on these three bills.


Mandatory PFD wear for all boaters.

HB 2443 - 2019-20; Requiring the use of personal flotation devices on smaller vessels.

Sponsors: Ryu, Davis

Comment on this Bill: https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/2443

Hearing Video: Testimony on HB 2443 at 1:05:35-1:37:45 [testimony of American Whitewater 1:30:27-1:33:15 ]


Impact of Legislation: A person 13 years old or older [requirement is already in place for those 12 and under] operating or riding on a vessel under 19 feet in length on the waters of this state must wear a personal flotation device that meets or exceeds the United States Coast Guard approval standards of the appropriate size while the vessel is underway unless the person is: below deck or in the cabin of a boat with an enclosed cabin; on a United States Coast Guard inspected passenger-carrying vessel operating on the navigable waters of the United States; or on board a vessel at a time and place where no person would reasonably expect a danger of drowning to occur.


American Whitewater testified on this bill, and while we fully support the use of PFDs when whitewater paddling, we chose not to support or oppose this specific bill. Instead we used the opportunity to highlight the critical importance of support of the legislature for investment in education programs for Washington State Parks Boating Programs. We feel continued investment in education and partnerships with organizations like American Whitewater is critical. We questioned the meaning of the exception to wearing a PFD when "no person would reasonably expect a danger of drowning to occur." We also asked that if the bill moves forward it should include an exception for squirt boating, an option to use a leash in lieu of a PFD while paddleboarding, and an exception for racing. Representative Ryu accepted all these amendments.


Boater Education Card requirements for paddlers

HB 2444 - 2019-20; Concerning boater education cards.

Sponsor: Ryu

Comment on this Bill: https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/2444

Hearing Video: Testimony on HB 2444 at 1:37:45-1:54:19


Impact of Legislation: Establishes an expiration date for Boater Education Cards that is 10 years from the date of issuance and establishes requirements for renewal of Boater Education Cards; Modifies statutory language requiring boaters to possess Boater Education Cards to require valid Boater Education Cards; Removes statutory language related to the completed phase-in of the Boater Education Card requirement.


American Whitewater did not testify on this bill which is focused on a boater education for operation of motorized boats. Following the hearing and following the significant concerns raised by the motorized boating community, Representative Ryu suggested that the bill be changed to eliminate the focus on motorized boats and amended to require a Boater Education Card for human-powered craft (e.g. kayaks, canoes, and rowboats). American Whitewater was disappointed that this possibility was not raised in the hearing as this would have afforded an opportunity for open public discussion on this idea. In response to our concerns, and recognizing the need for additional dialogue Representative Ryu called a meeting on Tuesday January 28th in Olympia. Several members of American Whitewater joined the conversation. In response to concerns raised and given other priorities in the short legislative session, Representative Ryu announced she would cease efforts to require a boater education card for human-powered craft this session. She indicated she would like to continue the dialogue in anticipation of introducing legislation for an educational initiative next session focused on safety for human-powered craft. Stay tuned and if you have thoughts, we still encourage you to comment on the bill.


Vacating County Roads that Access Waterways

SB 5613 - 2019-20; Concerning the authority of counties to vacate a county road that abuts on a body of water if the county road is hazardous or creates a significant risk to public safety.

Sponsors: Rivers, Schoesler, Becker, Brown, Short, Warnick, Wilson, L., Fortunato

Comment on this Bill: https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/5613 


Impact of Legislation: Currently a county is unable to vacate a road that abuts a waterbody as these street ends provide critical public access to waterways in the state. This bill was brought by a landowner in Lewis County who owns property on the Lewis River where a county road abuts the river adjacent to the BNSF rail crossing over the river. Members of the public have used the road to access the railroad bridge which is a safety concern for the landowner who wishes to vacate the public right of way. An earlier version of this bill would have provided blanket authority for counties to vacate public right of ways and close public river access. We worked to modify the bill to make it specific to the situation on the Lewis River but remain concerned with modifying this important statute that is critical to access. The modified bill would have the following impact: a county may vacate a county road or part thereof which abuts on a body of salt or freshwater for the protection of public safety when the county road ends on private property and part of the private property provides access to a mainline railroad bridge creating a public safety hazard.


The bill passed the full Senate on January 24th.


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