Washington Legislature Paddlesports Education Program Shelved (updated)
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. Various ideas have included a boater education card, vessel registration, and mandatory requirements to wear a Personal Floatation Device.
The proposed legislation for a paddlesports education card or license has been shelved for the 2023 legislative session. In conversations with the Senate and House sponsors this morning, they reported that they will not be moving the bill out of committee for consideration this session. They are interested in continued discussion and enagement on improving paddlesports education. American Whitewater will send a formal letter to express our interest in participating in any discussions before future legislation is introduced.
Boater Education Card - A "License" to Paddle
With a new session underway, Senator Van De Wege and Senator Lovick came back with SB 5597 in the Senate and Representatives Donaghy, Ryu, and Ormsby introduced the companion HB 1781 in the House to establish a new boater education card and $10 fee for paddlesports. While the bill has been shelved, we encourage our members and supporters to follow the "Comment on this Bill" link to provide direct comment to your legislator. Senator Van DeWege (District 24) represents the north and west side of the Olympic Peninsula; Senator Lovick and Representative Donaghy (District 44) represent Snohomish and communities along Highway 9; Representative Ryu (District 32) represents Shoreline, Montlake Terrace, and Lynwood; and Representative Ormsby (District 3) represents Spokane. If you are one of their constituents your voice can be particularly impactful. The bill began the legislative process with a hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources, and Parks Committee and if your Senator is on this Committee, your voice will continue to be important. In the House, the bill has been referred to the Innovation, Community & Economic Development, & Veterans Committee.
How to Share Your Thoughts
We continue to encourage all our members to contact your legislator to share your thoughts. While the legislation has been shelved for now, continued public input will be a factor in whether we see this idea reemerge in a future legislative session.
To contact your legislator on the bill go to the web page for the bill: SB 5597. Near the top of the page you will see a link to “Comment on this Bill” that allows you to fill in your address and craft a message and your position on the bill that will be directed to your representative. You can also sign up to "Get Email Notifications" on the bill that will alert you on process steps as the bill moves through the legislative process.
We encourage you to take the same actions for HB 1781 as either bill could emerge again in the future and continued public engagement is important.
Many of our members signed up to testify against SB 559 at the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources, and Parks Committee public hearing for the bill held on February 6th, 2023 at 1:30pm (watch the 20 minute hearing on the bill). Of 14 individuals signed in to testify on the bill, including representatives from Washington State Parks, American Canoe Association, Hui Heihei Outrigger Canoe Club, Seattle Sake Paddling Club, Pacific Northwest Outrigger Canoe Racing Association, Boating Program Advisory Council, American Whitewater, and Recreational Boating Association of Washington, all but one highlighted concerns or outright opposition to the legislation. The only stakeholder supporting the bill at the hearing was Kalkomey Enterprises, a company that has relationships with state agencies across the country and provides fee-based training programs for motor boating safety, hunter safety, snowmobile safety, off highway vehicle safety, and drone operators. The company has a financial interest in a state requirement for training programs and an interest in expanding in to paddlesports; in fact they already have their course posted online. In addition to those testifying, 44 of 45 individuals signed in at the hearing in opposition to the bill including representatives from Northwest Marine Trade Association, Washington Retail Association, Governor Inslee's Policy Office, the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, and several individuals.
While there was extreme opposition to the bill in Committee, it was a priority of Chair Van De Wege who is the prime sponsor in the Senate. He moved the bill to executive session scheduled for February 16th at 1:30pm. This is the point in the process where the committee was expected to vote on whether to pass the bill out of committee. In the end, no action was taken on the bill. If your Senator is on the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources, and Parks Committee, your voice will continue to be particularly impactful.
Many of our members signed up to testify against HB 1781 at the Innovation, Community & Economic Development, & Veterans Committee public hearing on the bill that was held on February 14th, 2023 at 10:30am (60 minute hearing on the bill). Of 14 individuals signed in to testify on the bill, including representatives from American Whitewater, American Canoe Association, North Sound Sea Kayak Association, Washington State Boating Program Advisory Council, Recreational Boating Association of Washington, and Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, all highlighted concerns or outright opposition to the legislation. In addition to those testifying, 59 of 62 individuals signed in at the hearing in opposition to the bill including representatives from American Canoe Association, Paddle Trails Canoe Club, Governor Inslee's Policy Office, The Mountaineers, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, Northwest Marine Trade Association, Washington Recreation and Park Association, and several individuals. The only stakeholders signed in to support the bill at the hearing, who did not testify, were two representatives of Kalkomey Enterprises, a private company that would benefit from the legislation, and an individual. While there was extreme opposition to the bill in Committee, it was a priority of Chair Ryu who is a co-sponsor in the House. She moved the bill to executive session scheduled for February 15th at 8:00am and February 17th at 10:30am. This is the point in the process where the committee was expected to vote on whether to pass the bill out of committee. In the end, no action was taken on the bill. If your Representative is on the Innovation, Community & Economic Development, & Veterans Committee, your voice will continue to be particularly impactful.
What the Data Show
While some legislators stated that the reason for these legislative intiatives was because paddlesports fatalities have increased, this is not supported by the facts or a review of US Coast Guard Data. For the past decade the number of fatal incidents in paddlesports for Washington State has averaged 11, representing 51% of boating fatalities, and been remarkably consistent (some years are higher and some years are lower). At the same time, percentage of state residents participating in paddlesports has increased subtantially according to data from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office along with state population. With the number of incidents staying relatively constant and the number of participants increasing, the rate of accidents is declining. Despite the language in the findings section of the bill, there are not more paddlesports fatalities that for other types of vessels (although cherry picking data for any one year may show this), and the state has done an excellent job of advancing safety initiatives for both motor boating and paddlesports.
Background and Bill Details
If this all sounds familiar, paddlers may remember that last session the legislature ultimately shelved the idea of requiring paddlers to carry a boater education card following the overwhelming negative feedback on HB 1018 and SB 5176.
It would add new definitions to state law as follows:
"Human-powered vessel" includes, but is not limited to, canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards.
“Human-powered vessel" does not include surfboards. Vessels do not include inner tubes, air mattresses, sailboards, and small rafts or floatation devices or toys customarily used by swimmers.
"Paddle education card" means a card issued to a person who has successfully completed a human-powered vessel boating safety education test and has paid the registration fee for a serial number record to be maintained in the commission's database.
The legislation would establish a fee of $10 for the paddle education card to fund activities of Washington State Parks for the human-powered vessel safety education program. Surplus funds would be directed to grants to local marine law enforcement agencies.
The legislation would direct State Parks to approve and provide accreditation to human-powered vessel safety education courses for human-powered vessels operated by volunteers or commercial or nonprofit organizations. This means organizations and clubs could theoretically provide instruction that would satisfy the paddler education requirements although individuals would still need to pay a fee to Washington State for the card and instructional programs would need to be accredited by the state.
State Parks would be directed to coordinate with the department of licensing to offer a voluntary registration program for human-powered vessels.
The boater education card would expire and no longer be valid 20 years after the date of issuance.
Under the legislation no person shall operate or permit the operation of human-powered vessels or motor-driven boats and vessels unless the person is at least 12 years of age, has in his or her possession a boater education card or a paddle education card for human-powered vessels, or is accompanied by and is under the direct supervision of a person 16 years of age or older who is in possession of a boater education card or a paddle education card for human-powered vessels.
A provision for rentals is included and any person at least 12 years old renting, chartering, or leasing a human-powered vessel, motor-driven boat, or vessel who completes a commission-approved motor vessel safety operating and equipment checklist each time before operating the motor-driven boat or vessel who apparently be exempt from this requirement. It is unclear however how completing a motor vessel safety operating and equipment checklist would apply to paddle craft. This appears to be an oversight in drafting.
Any person who is not a resident of Washington state and who does not operate a motor-driven boat or vessel in waters of the state for more than 60 consecutive days would be exempt but it appears that this same stipulation does not apply to paddle craft. It is unclear if this is intentional or a drafting oversight.
Any individual 12 years of age, who is involved in practicing for, or engaging in, a permitted racing event would also be exempt from the requirements provided a valid document has been issued by the appropriate local, state, or federal government agency for the event. It's unclear what would qualify as a "valid document."
It does not appear that there are provisions in the legislation to allow for events to introduce new individuals to the sport like those hosted by Diversify Whitewater although Chair Van De Wege expressed openness to addressing this issue based on testimony at the hearing.