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Paddlesports Safety on the Agenda for the 2022 Washington Legislative Session

Posted: 01/03/2022
By: Thomas O'Keefe

For the past several years the Washington State legislature has had an interest in improving paddlesports safety and reducing fatalities. It’s a good thing to have the legislature interested in boating safety and we are pleased that it has helped raise the profile of Washington State’s Boating Safety Program. The program has done a great job of acknowledging the needs of the paddlesports community. While the interest in boating safety is appreciated, the specific legislative proposals introduced over the past few years have had issues and not advanced out of committee. We are providing updates on where things stand as the legislative session gets underway and paddlesports safety is once again on the agenda.


Boater Education Card


All signs point to the legislature shelving the idea of requiring paddlers to carry a boater education card following the overwhelming negative feedback on HB 1018 and SB 5176. Given that we are in the second year of the 2021-2022 legislative session, these bills are still live but legislators we have spoken with have indicated they have no plans to move them. We still encourage our community to share thoughts on these bills which you can do by clicking on the "Comment on this Bill" link to the right on the pages for the bill linked above.


Mandatory Personal Floatation Device Wear


New for 2022, Representative Ryu has introduced HB 1707 that would mandate wearing a personal floatation device while engaged in paddlesports. Representative Ryu Chairs the Community and Economic Development Committee thatcovers parks and recreation. Her district, the 32nd Legislative District, includes Lynwood, Mountlake Terrace, and Shoreline. We encourage our members to read the legislation and offer your thoughts particularly if you happen to live in Representative Ryu’s District. You can do this by clicking on the "Comment on this Bill" link to the right on the page for the bill linked above.


The bill will also have a hearing on Friday January 14th at 8am and individuals will have the option to provide oral or written testimony to the Committee. We will update this post with the link when it is posted.


The intent of the legislation is as follows: "to reduce the number of drowning deaths by requiring all individuals to wear personal flotation devices when operating a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard on the waters of the state." The legislation would add a new requirement that "a person may not operate or occupy a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard on the waters of this state unless the person is wearing a personal flotation device approved by the United States coast guard while the kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard is underway." Exceptions would be made for squirt boaters, SUP yoga within 100 feet of shore, a person using a SUP leash, a person engaged in competition or under the direct supervision of a coach, or a member of a federally recognized tribe.


We appreciate that Representative Ryu provided American Whitewater with an opportunity for input which she thoughtfully considered as she developed legislation. American Whitewater supports wearing personal floatation devices (Section I.2 of the Safety Code of American Whitewater) and the data clearly show that lack of a personal floatation device is the leading contributing factor to paddlesports fatalities (US Coast Guard 2020 Boating Safety Statistics). While we fully support greater adoption and use of personal floatation devices, we have questions over whether regulation and enforcement is the right approach particularly given disproportionate enforcement that has occurred with other safety laws. To advance education, American Whitewater is actively promoting a series of safety films to promote basic whitewater safety that includes the importance of wearing a personal floatation device.


What the Data Show


Occasionally members of the state legislature will state that paddlesports fatalities in the state have increased. In fact, the number of paddlesports fatalities over the past decade has remained relatively constant at an average of 11 annual fatal incidents (ranging from 7 to 14 annual incidents) as the state population continues to increase and participation in paddlesports has doubled. Given a relatively constant number of incidents but an increasing number of participants, the fatality rate has declined to less than 1 in 100,000 participants. While we can do more, we should recognize progress that has been made in paddlesports safety. In reviewing individual incidents, it's clear that wearing a personal floatation device would make a difference in many cases. National Coast Guard data For the year 2020 show that 75 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned and 86 percent of these individuals were not wearing a life jacket.  

Thomas O'Keefe

3537 NE 87th St.

Seattle, WA 98115

Phone: 425-417-9012
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