13 Reasons Mandatory Boater Education for Paddlers is a Knuckle-Headed Idea


Currently 48 states have mandatory boater education laws. Maine is not one of them. Legislation now being crafted that would require boaters of all kinds to take a 4 – 8 hour course. Unlike the laws in other states, the proposed law for Maine would require boater education of paddlers too. I don’t know enough about motorized boating to know if mandatory boater education for power-boating is a good idea. But I do know paddling. And I know that for paddlers this is a bad idea. Here’s why:

1. At a time when we are concerned with the economy and tourism, a only-state-in-the-nation mandatory Boater Education requirement for paddlers would give out-of-state vacationers one more reason to go elsewhere or stay at home – and thus hurt Maine tourism and the Maine economy..

2. At a time when government is beginning to use taxes and other measures to nudge citizens to healthier lifestyles, this requirement would discourage Maine people from participating in a healthy recreational activity.

3. Show me a boater course relevant for kayakers and canoeists, ocean and fair-weather pond-paddlers, white water rafters and river paddlers. Seems to me you would need multiple curricula to cover this diversity of interests. Now are we talking multiple certifications for someone who wants to paddle in different environments? A single course will either be huge overkill for most paddlers, or falsely enabling for those who want to go beyond the realm of what the average recreational boater does.

4. Please tell me how the outfitter providing the two-hour tour will be able to deal with the requirement that each participant have passed a 4-8 hour course. One suggested solution is that outfitters providing tours could be exempt from this requirement, once they prove they meet certain safety protocols. Again, I challenge anyone to develop a single set of protocols meaningful for ponds and ocean, touring kayaks, sit–on-tops, river kayaks, and canoes. Existing regulations require canoe and kayak trip leaders to be Registered Maine Guides. That is sufficient.

5. So you have come to Maine on vacation and want to poke along the shoreline of a quiet shallow pond for two hours on a hot July day, just as you have done for the past dozen years. You sign a form stating you will wear your life jacket and refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages while on the water. Is a 4-8 hour boating course truly necessary for you to have a safe boating experience?

6. The irony is that these policies are being pushed by the US Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary. Even more telling, they are being pushed by the motorized boating industry and lobbyists hired by them. These policies are not being pushed by people who paddle or who understand paddling.

7. As stated in Richards Louv’s The Last Child Left in the Woods – our society’s increasing trend toward risk- avoidance and liability-avoidance may be making our society safer, but at what cost to the national levels of physical fitness – and to the state of our souls?

8. In the U.S. population as a whole, a person is more than 10 times more likely to die in a car accident than to die in a recreational boating accident in a given year. You are also more likely to get hit by a train.

Among the 70 million or so who participate in recreational boating each year, apx. 650 – 700 or .0010% (that’s one thousandth of 1 percent) die in a recreational boating accident. Not exactly an epidemic, if you ask me.

9. Most recreational boating deaths (90%) involve a person not wearing a life jacket. Mandatory life jackets for paddlers would be simpler, less costly, and more effective.

10. Ok, imagine I’ve taken my boating course and received my certificate. Where exactly do I put my certificate when I am paddling in nothing but a bathing suit and life jacket (not all have pockets) on a hot summer day?

11. Even more to the point, so I have taken my boating course and I am paddling around with my waterlogged certificate in the pocket of my bathing suit on a hot summer day. Does the Maine warden service (currently under fire with budget cuts) or any other law enforcement agency really have time to be patrolling lakes and ponds in search of paddlers without certification? Do they have a right to pull me over and ask, if I have not first violated any other law? And, if they do pull me over and ask, and I am not able to produce my now very wet and very waterlogged certificate, what happens next? How can they even establish my identity in order to fine me – or am I now required to carry positive identification in the form of a drivers license in the wet pocket of my bathing suit too?

12. Power boaters are apparently concerned that paddlers are getting away with something by not being regulated. I would argue that motorized boats need to be regulated differently simply because, being larger, faster, and gasoline-powered, they are significantly more likely to pose a threat to others or to the environment.

13. If a boater education law is passed, we then have a situation where I can swim across Lake Megunticook or even paddle an inner tube or inflatable cartoon character across it, but if I want to paddle a fully outfitted touring kayak across it I need to pass a course. For that matter, I guess I could just swim alongside my kayak across the lake – no one is telling me I need a boater education course to do that.

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