Florida Professional Paddlesports Association

Mandatory Boater Ed for Paddlers

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Rumblings of Mandatory Paddler Education are being heard. Issue came up before the BAC before and was tabled. Now it's being hinted at by the NMBTAG (advisory group assembled by FWCC after the FWCC "2009 Listening Sessions".

September 2010

Below is a response to the approval of Mandatory Paddler Education voted on by the BAC Non-motorized Vessel Subcommittee in 2006. Same concerns exist today in 2010.

The issue has re-surfaced in 2013-2014


Potential Problems and Considerations of Mandatory

Boater Education for Paddlesport Participants and the Resulting Effects on Paddlesport Outfitters    

Becky Bragg/Canoe Outpost-Peace River, Inc.

A push for mandatory boater education for all participants in non-motorized vessels and in particular paddlesports has come to the forefront of items of interest by FWCC and the Boating Advisory Council (BAC). Proponents of boater education testing are demanding that paddlers must possess a boater safety card before going paddling. Discussions have been about how the mandatory tests would be similar to the boater education available on the Internet and/or available from Power Squadrons. Discussions have also centered on how the test could be shorter and similar to the tests required by PWC renters. Evidently PWC renters and canoe/ kayak renters are all of the same dangerous ilk. Outfitters would be required to check each potential paddler for a boater safety card and/or be prepared to administer a test for the potential paddler like the PWC liveries do now. Yet, all motorboaters are not required to have a boating safety card.

Paddlesports are for everyone and anyone including the physically handicapped, the young, the old, and the visitor, resident and foreign. These folks are not speeding through manatee zones and seagrass zones; they are not running over manatees and others. Paddlers for the most part are nature loving, quiet, and protective of the waterways that they float across. Paddlers for the most part are not a danger to others or to themselves. Paddling is not the dangerous sport that some are trying to depict it as.

The following reasons should be considered before requiring mandatory boater education for all paddlers. Note, as this time, not all motorboaters are required to have a boater safety card.

  • Mandatory Boaters Education for paddlers has the potential to be discriminating to the young, old, mentally challenged, hearing challenged, visually challenged, and the language challenged.
  • Children, Foreign visitors, and the physically challenged all paddle so therefore the following will be necessary:
  • Literature and tests will need to be very simple for children and mentally impaired.
  • Literature and tests will need to be in foreign languages for foreign visitors. Languages need to include Spanish, Creole, Dutch, Portuguese, German, French, Creole, Chinese, Indian, Japanese etc.
  • Literature and tests will need to be in large text and/or Braille for the seeing impaired.
  • Literature and tests will need to be administered by sign language skilled staff for the hearing impaired.
  • People of multiple cultures, languages, ages, and physical abilities paddle canoes and kayaks. The diversity of the type of people that paddle is due to the ease of paddling. Almost anyone can do it and therefore develop a love of water and the outdoors.  The question arises why mandatory boater education for paddlers is so important and thrust into the forefront.
  • Mandatory Boaters Education for paddlers has the potential to be damaging to the out of state and in-state tourism market.
  • In-state and out-of-state visitors will need to be educated to the requirement that boater education is required. The 1995 law that requires lifejackets for each person in a canoe or kayak and not seat cushions is still not widely public recognized and/or ignored. The potential for the same response is certain.
  • For all visitors, in-state and out-of-state, the requirement for a boater safety education card (BSEC) will change vacation plans. Now everyone will have to have a photo ID, take a test, before heading out for vacation. One more thing to “forget” or be perceived as not worth the hassle. Vacation plans will change. Outfitters will lose business because of the above hassle.
  • Spontaneous paddle trips by all visitors will be hampered again, by the above.
  • Outfitter operations will be hindered by the requirement to view each BSEC for each “potential” paddler. Larger outfitters handle hundreds of people a day on the weekends. To require each person to show a card and/or take a test, will put operations at a standstill. An example of “potential” paddlers:  once folks are on the river, they switch around as to who is paddling. Not uncommon to see Dad in the stern, Mom in the middle, little Suzie in the middle with a paddle, and little Tommy paddling in the bow. They probably started out with mom and dad paddling and switched about half way down. The same holds true of youth groups who usually go 3-4 to a canoe. Those that start out paddling do not always come back paddling or even in the same canoe. The enforcement of this card carrying action will be a nightmare.
  • Tests will need to be so generic or multiple versions to cover the different types of water conditions and non-motorized vessels available in Florida. Ocean going kayaks have the same “rules” plus some that are different for inland river paddling.
  • The paperwork resulting from the proof of boater education and/or the test results will result in a paperwork nightmare for outfitters of all sizes but in particular the larger ones. Extra staff will be required to handle paperwork, administration of paperwork, and boater education card and i.d. checking.
  • Mandatory Boaters Education for paddlers has the potential to be damaging to youth group tourism market.
  • Underprivileged children will be discriminated against. Will be required to own a computer or take a class before going on a field trip. What if child forgets their “card” and will hold up the entire field trip to take test and even worst, be left behind?  Outfitters will be required to check card for hundreds of people at a time.
  • Photo IDs are required for testing. Children will be required to have photo IDs? Smacks of Big Brother. Parents will revolt. They will not want to take off work to go to the local DMV to get a photo ID so their child can go on a field trip. The suggestion that outfitters make picture IDs for the paddlers at the last BAC meeting is ludicrous.  Generations of potential paddlers, who turn into motorboaters, will miss out on learning a love of the water.
  • Examples of youth groups that will be impacted: Church groups, YMCA Indian Guides, YMCA Indian Princesses, AWANA, Royal Rangers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Baseball teams, Soccer teams, Martial Arts Academies, Middle School students, High School students, Junior College students, High School students, Home schooled children, private school children, Civic clubs, Service clubs, you name it, they are like to paddle.

Possible Solutions to consider:

Voluntary Boater Education with a focus on paddling. Outfitters will be glad to help spread the word but will need help.

Outfitter offers discounts for proof of completion of Boater Education from paddlers.

Materials need to be available to post and hand out at outfitters.

Materials need to be available to send to youth groups

Support and help FWC spread the Boater Education concept to youth groups.

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