A lengthy recent discussion at Paddling.net focused on whether the idea of requiring training and licensing of paddlers is a good idea. The argument in favor of licensing holds that the number of costly rescue operations is increasing — and that requiring paddlers to be trained and licensed would reduce the number of required rescues as well as providing a source of funds to pay for the rescues that do take place.
Those who operate powerboats over a certain length are required to have licenses, so requiring paddlers to be licensed could be seen as an expansion / extension of that law.
While I encourage kayakers to get training commensurate to the kind of paddling they will be doing, I believe that this kind of increased regulation of kayaking would would be wrongheaded, ineffective, and unenforceable.
For some, kayaking means lengthy unsupported solo night crossings between distant points of land. For others, kayaking means floating in a shallow pond on a sunny summer day, while never venturing more than 100 yards from camp. What single standardized mandatory basic safety course could possibly be helpful to each?
My point is that paddling is an incredibly varied activity — and that no standard basic training course could effectively prepare the wide range of paddlers for the types of paddling they will be doing. At its simplest, paddling is an elemental activity that is little more sporting or dangerous than taking a walk around the block. To subject those who take a daily walk around the block to a new set of safety developed to protect mountaineers would be ridiculous. To certify prospective mountaineers with a basic safety course oriented to walkers would be equally ridiculous and falsely enabling.
The fact is that paddlers die each year because they fail to wear their life jackets, venture out on cold water without proper clothing, don’t pay attention to weather conditions, or paddle in conditions above their abilities. It would be great if we could reduce the number of these deaths, but I’m not convinced that regulation is the way to get it done.