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Apparently, the ridiculous "compass and whistle" bill that was shot down last year is still being pushed through the legislature after being combined with the mandatory PFD proposal. According to the following article, the has passed the House and is going to the Senate.


This is a classic case of a bad idea being tacked onto one that's difficult to oppose without looking bad. It's time to contact your state senators and voice your opposition to this bill, based on its discriminatory nature (it targets only kayakers), the ineffectiveness of the whistle and compass provision, and the fact that it's completely unenforceable. Here are links to previous discussions about this subject:






There are examples of letters in some of these posts, including one I wrote. Feel free to use it if you like.

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Have they managed to define what a kayak is, or is this the exact same version of the bill that was proposed last year? It makes so much sense for all those surf kayakers and white water paddlers to have a compass so they know how to find the beach and so that they can tell what way is down river!

This bill (if it's the same as last years) won't allow kayakers to wear type IV and type V pfds.

Write your letter now folks, let them know how we feel. I wrote a very strong letter opposing this bill last year which I'll have to dust off and update.

Any public hearings happening?

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Here is the text of the entire bill:



Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General

Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

SECTION 1. Chapter 90B of the General Laws as appearing in

the 2002 Official Edition is hereby amended by inserting after

section 5B the following section:—

Section 5C. Any person aboard a Kayak, so-called, shall wear

at all times a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of

Type I, II, or III. Kayaks shall also be equipped with a compass

and a whistle.

SECTION 2. Said Chapter 90B, as so appearing, is hereby

amended by inserting the following new section, after section


Section 13B. All commercial or professional kayak instructors

shall obtain and maintain the following:

(a) Basic First Aid training;

(B) CPR or a higher level of first responder qualification; and

© American Canoe Association certification or equivalent


All commercial or professional kayak instructors offering

training to passengers or operators for hire shall provide training

to each individual on the safety procedures appropriate to the

level of paddling difficulty. Instruction of novices shall include

actual wet exit training, so-called, or any other practice in

escaping from a kayak while submerged in a controlled water setting,

pool or otherwise, before said individuals are allowed to use

a kayak in open waters.

No form of release, oral or written, shall be valid or otherwise

effective so as to affect an instructor’s responsibility to comply

with this section. Any such release shall be null and void.


The wet exit requirement alone will dramatically curtail kayak rental business, as customers are sure to balk at it. Public demo days in the spring will likely go away as well, as requiring inappropriately dressed people to wet exit in 40-50 degree water in order to test paddle kayaks is not only not going to fly with the customers, it's arguably more dangerous than letting them paddle without demonstrating a wet exit, since they'll be prone to gasping.

This is simply another ill-conceived attempt to legislate personal responsibility; it's "feel good" legislation that reps can add to their resume. It won't improve safety and both individuals and businesses will suffer.

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I'm going to disagree. First of all the new law is supposed to save the lives of novices, not encumber experienced paddlers with meaningless regulation. I support both the pfd requirement and the wet exit instruction. I would even add employing a sprayskirt in coastal waters.

If in fact the law becomes non-enforceable for most of us, then we shouldn't be overly concerned if we leave our whistle or compass behind on occassion. As far as the civil liberty issue goes, this is similar to asking motorcyclists to wear helmets.

The kayak industry is extremely unregulated with the result that novices are given a false sense of security trying out a new sport where safety frequently becomes an afterthought.

When I started paddling about three years ago I investigated the books and articles on the subject and was astonished over the ratio of safety and rescue over the other more benign subjects. I even wondered if this wasn't overkill. Now starting my fourth season and with a couple of capsizes under my belt, a few fog closing in too close for comfort, the occassional real need for my compass, I can only wonder, "What was I thinking"? This is a sport of skill which requires patience, dedication, and risk assesment, all of which is usually in short supply when a novice is about to launch on a sunny calm day in a recreational boat without a pfd, sprayskirt or a clue.


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What about other small craft? If you were to do research on coastal casualties in the last five years you will find that those is sea kayaks pale in comparison to rowboats and probably canoes too. So why the legislation for kayaks? I believe it's because the highly publicized deaths involved young women instead of men who were fishing or drinking.

If this legislation were to target rowboats and canoes too, you can be sure it would have never passed. Too many people in those craft don't want to be wearing their PFD's all of the time, and many of them are in the chambers and voting.


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...regardless of their level of experience or expertise. It's actually more a mater of proper dress for the conditions than anything else. Even beyond that, how many people of any experience level are going to want to wet exit in oily, polluted harbor water? It's nice that the proposal includes swimming pools as a suitable place for wet exit demos, but how many outfitters have one?

I agree that the the wet exit requirement has some merit. What I'm not sure of is whether it's going to create a net safety/health benefit or not. It will certainly impact outfitters and reduce the number of kayakers on the water. I'm not in the business, so I'm not directly affected, but we need to consider these things in deciding whether to support or oppose the proposed legislation.

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I always wear a PFD and I believe that everyone should, but there are problems with this proposed regulation:

1- It targets ONLY kayakers. More canoeists die every year than kayakers, but there's no mention of them in the proposal. More boaters in other craft die every year than kayakers, but they get a free pass, too. More commercial fishermen die every year than kayakers, but no one seems to care about their lives. If the intent of the law is to save lives, it should be expanded to include other boater groups that routinely have higher numbers of fatalities than kayakers. This law is BLATANTLY DISCRIMINIATORY and should be rejected on that basis alone.

2 - It does not allow kayakers to use Type V PFDs, which are Coast Guard approved for use in all craft. This appears to be intentional, as it was brought up last year to the two reps who pushed these proposals and they could easily have included Type V PFDs if they were so inclined, but they didn't.

It's anyone's guess as to what their reasoning is, but it's probably just as flawed as the reasoning for the rest of the proposal. I strongly suspect that the main impetus behind these proposals is to placate misguided, grieving parents and spouses who are persistently demanding that "something be done", however worthless it is.

Unenforceable laws do nothing but breed contempt for the law. Remember the 55 mph speed limit? How effective was that?

I'm STRONGLY in favor of training and education of kayakers and ALL boaters, for that matter. If the state is serious about safetly, EDUCATION is the place to start. I think that it's pretty safe to say that most boating fatalities occur because the victims had little idea of the risks involved and were consequently unprepared for them. If people are aware of the risks, they can at least make an informed decision regarding those risks.

Saying that this is proposed regulation justified because kayaking is unregulated is missing the point. Cycling, hiking, rock/ice climbing and most other outdoor activities are unregulated, too. Does that mean that we should be passing ineffective, unenforceable regulations on all such activities? What would be the point?

Unfortunately, educating the public costs money on an ongoing basis, but passing, worthless "feel good" legislation doesn't. That makes it a pretty easy choice for legislators who are more interested in getting people off their backs than actually doing something to improve public safety. I realize that sounds extremely cynical, but I have yet to see anything to indicate that it's not the case. Both Straus and Gomes were contacted by many members of the kayaking community on these issues in the past. They could have easily engaged with us in a constructive dialog to craft meaningful legislation, but they chose not to. Instead, they ignored us and took the easy way out. The only way to get their attention is to apply enough pressure to get these proposals defeated in the Senate. If we just let them run over us, they will feel emboldened to do so again whenever it suits them. Although I'm not fond of "slippery slope" arguments, this is a situation where we put ourselves at risk of more Draconian measures in the future if we don't stand up for ourselves now.

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While mandatory wet exit instruction seems like a good idea from a safety standpoint,is it really a neccessity for all commercial trips?

It seems a bit like taking every new powerboat owner out and swamping their vessel to teach them about boater safety.

As far as I know there haven't been any accidental deaths from a capsize on a commercial outfitter trip(excluding heart attack,which,of course,wet exit practice can't help)

I would agree that there should be mandatory "on land" wet exit training,prior to going on the water,but I think most responsible outfitters are already doing this.

Seems that this legislative push was a result of the two deaths on the Cape,and those were not in a commercial setting. They were boats owned by individuals. To be effective,the legislation needs to be pointed toward the selling dealers,providing training and safety info. This could become a benefit to outfitters providing that training,and result in an actual increase in kayaking safety.

Water safety is taught,not legislated.

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Please urge the legislators to study kayak safety in two very different environments: Ocean, and Fresh Water.

Obvious differences include water temperature, wind and waves, storm severity and fog conditions.

Safety requirements should depend on the environment. For example Ocean paddling should include PFD, compass, etc., while for Freshwater paddling fewer requirements are needed during the warmer months.

A second consideration is whether paddling is supervised or unsupervised.

During supervised paddling such as races or lessons by certified instructors, the organizations in charge should be responsible for establishing safety requirements appropriate to the activity.

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The proposed legislation is one more example of the politicians pandering to the relatives of victims who died either from very bad luck(the man on the guided trip in Buzzards Bay--still don't know what happened to him--whether he drowned because he couldn't get the neoprene spray skirt off from the combing of a fiberglass boat or whether he actually died later of a heart attack--the newspapers said he was conscious and talking after the guide got him on top of the water--who knows??) or very bad judgement(the two women who went paddling in foggy rough weather with no compasses in recreational type kayaks with no flotation). I suspect that no legislation is going to help the paddler who exersizes incredibly stupid judgement. If the fact that what they are doing is really dumb doesn't stop them from doing it, neither will a statute passed requiring them to be smart. A case in point involves several paddlers I saw this spring at a lake where I go to "warm up" for ocean paddling later on in the year. I must have seen at least 6 or so people in recreational boats(no flotation, no fore and aft bulkheads), wearing no dry or wetsuits despite water temps of between 45 and 50, and dumbest of all no PFDs. A couple of them carried lifejackets under the deck bungees but the rest had none in the boat, despite the law that requires them to. There was a time I would have taken it on myself to politly warn them of the dangers but I stopped that because usually the reaction I got was either indifference or hostility. So I just smile and wave---Darwinism in action. I always wear a PFD and if appropriate protective clothing--even in midsummer for an ocean paddle. But passing a law to force others to be smart about the risks they take is a waste of time and taxpayers money. Regarding the requirment that all tour guides conduct on the water wet exit training---I have done a fair amount of guiding and always give the wet exit lecture and dry land practice---furthermore, we use fairly loose nylon type spray skirts on plastic boats--very easy just to push your way out of---I do agree it would be better to do the wet exit training, but if that was a requirement, most of the customers would simply decide to forego the kayak outing---they don't want to spend the day wet. The point is that legislative requirments can be so strict that most people will ignore them. The outfit I guide for offers a two hour beginner's paddling course which includes wet exit training, paddle strokes, dry land entry and exit, assisted rescues both as a rescuee and rescuer and paddle float rescues. If I sense that a client isn't safe or comfortable prior to going out on the ocean, I steer him towards the course first---it would be nice to have everybody do the course prior to venturing on the salt water but if we required it most of our customers would probably elect to go mountain biking.

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While I agree with most of your thoughts regarding trying to outlaw stupidity, it is really a bit more complicated than that. Flying a glider, or an airplane, bungee jumping, downhill skiing and rock climbing all are inherently dangerous without proper supervision and education. Even the stupidist among us might agree with that statement. However, kayaking and canoeing are assumed by the popular culture to be inherently safe.

Gasp reflex, hypothermia are as archane a subject matter as hyperhydration (runners drinking too much water and upsetting their electrolyte balance). The industry (boat manufacturers) is really a big part of the problem. Why do you think every year new recreational boats are offered with bigger cockpits, wider beams, and no flotation?

Safety dosen't sell! The ratio of unsafe Explorers sold vs. safe Volvos is my case in point. American's ended their love affair, if they ever had one, with active safety the year Nader's "Unsafe at any Speed" was published. American's want to be protected without any effort on their part, hence their trust in passive safety. There seems to be a rule that the larger and heavier the vehicle, the smaller and lighter the driver!

I don't think Jennifer and Adam want to pop out of their Explorer, or Hummer for a day on the lake and be told they will die if they don't take some active responsibility for their own longevity.

I think this new law, flawed as it is, and discriminatory, may have a good effect, similar to the new requirement that every household in Massachussetts sport a Carbon Monoxide detector on every floor. I don't have a faulty heating system or blocked vent but the State didn't ask me and so I need to comply. Conversely, how many of the uncurious are there out there that might be helped by being forced to protect themselves and their families?

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1- You can't protect people from themselves. It doesn't work, never has, never will. No matter what you do, people will always find a way to hurt themselves. The problem is that we don't require people to take responsibility for themselves and their actions, and we allow them to shift the blame elsewhere. The Aranoff and Jagoda girls died because THEY made a host of bad decisions, not because of someone else's actions or a lack of regulation. They were already breaking existing laws when they set out on the water. There is no reason to believe that they would have obeyed any regulations.

2- What makes anyone think that the general public - or even the majority of kayakers - will even hear of the new law, let alone obey it? There is no requirement to inform the public, nor are there any funds appropriated for advertising or education.

3- EDUCATION is the key! I can't emphasize this strongly enough and your post points this out, too. People need to be made to understand the risks inherent in paddling (or any other activity). A good educational program would do more to promote safety than any obscure, unenforced regulation. Something as simple and inexpensive as including a safety brochure similar to the ones the NSPN created with every kayak sold would be vastly better and more effective than this legislation. More PSAs on TV and radio regarding the dangers and safety requirements of boating - or perhaps some paddling-specific PSAs - would be far more effective as well.

The bottom line is that this legislation is a bad joke. I strongly believe that the people pushing it know that, but it's the easiest, cheapest way to get grieving relatives off their back. They're counting on the kayaking community not to fight it. Massachusetts kayakers need to prove them wrong! While discussing the issue here is useful, action is what's needed.


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i agree with brian (which is what? the first time? ever?)

legislating a compass but NOT a chart? besides which...there are a lot of people that HAVE no idea how either work...what the hell is the point? the whistle...whatever, but hardly a communications panacea...as for the pfd...well, i can't argue against that but a lot of racers would feel differently. a mandatory wet exit? there are reasons to NOT have someone do a wet exit at the beginning of the day, the least of which is financial.

in all, education/outreach is the way to accomplish the desired goal, not some ham handed, ill-conceived and poorly considered legislation. if the legislators really wanted to make an impact, there would be funding for local on-water educational programs.

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I suppose it's really a matter of philosophy---I always wear the life jacket, have smoke detectors in my house(and change the batteries often) buckle my seat belt etc. I just don't like being told I have to do those things by Big Brother----I'm also amazed at the inconsistancy of these types of laws. For instance here in Maine we have a mandatory seat belt law but no madatory helmet law for motorcyclists---go figure. If the legislature would mandate that all passengers and crew in small boats were to wear PFDs and practice capsize(wet exit) drills that would be one thing but my understanding is that the Mass bill only applies to "kayaks--so-called" what ever that may be. Any way enough on this---whether or not you support the bill obviously depends on what you see the role of government in our society to be. My view of it, is that it is at best a necessary evil and the less government, the better. Have a great day.

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Without taking sides on the merits of the proposed legislation or any legislation, I think there is a logic that connects regulation and education.

Practically speaking, the effective audience for the law are those in the industry such as vendors, outfitters and trainers, not the novice paddlers. In principle, regulation often (not always) prompts people to do something they are not opposed to but don't bother to do. Vendors selling kayaks, outfitters renting kayaks and guides or instructors putting their clients into boats are best positioned to educate--which as you point out is the key.

Simply put, regulation can give those in a position to educate a reason to do what they should be doing anyway. For both the educator and the naive public, a law can nudge them towards learning more about what they should know. It is a way of signaling that something is important or at least worth listening to. Some (perish the thought) will do it because it is a regulation. Some will ignore the law or even reject it as an unwarranted intrusion by government, but if it leads to even some education, it can help.

I know from my own experience trying to get people to change behavior that an external reason (in this case a state regulation) is often what starts the change process.


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Yes, there was a death from a failed wet exit and it was here in Massachusetts, in Buzzards Bay about five years ago.

The medical rulings were inconclusive as to the cause of death. The best analysis I've seen was Chuck Sutherland's article in Sea Kayaker magazine in 2004. Chuck is one of the most widely respected experts on kayak safety. See http://www.seakayakermag.com/2004/Dec04/Loss01.htm

He states that inhalation of sea water was the primary cause of death, not a heart attack. The conclusion was that while uncommon, panic and inhalation of water on the first ever wet exit is not rare. The author suggested that wet exits should be done in a supported environment (instructor physically holding onto the kayak and/or paddler) until the paddler is used to the experience. A dry run-through on the beach is not a substitute for experiencing the panic.

Many of us as instructors, trip leaders and friends have taken people on paddling who have not had previous wet exit experience. I have. The incident on Buzzards Bay and the Sea Kayaker analysis convinced me that the risk is real and that a dry practice is not sufficient.

The notion of requiring outfitters or vendors to dunk their clients before trips would require real changes in practices. But that essentially is what scuba diving outfitters require. Interestingly, diving is a self-regulated industry (I think), but still they require a lot of training and certification before vendors sell equipment, rent it or take you out on a dive.

Where do we go from here?


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...is self-regulated. They were more or less forced to do this by the fact that SCUBA has inherent dangers and risks, and procedures that must be understood fully in order to avoid them. An uneducated diver would likely become a dead diver in short order without proper training. Where you are diving only has a minor impact on the risks; the fact that you are under water and under pressure remain the same. It's important to note that the only reason that the SCUBA industry can regulate itself is that it can control access to one essential commodity, the pressurized air (or other gasses) that divers MUST have in order to dive. The equipment to do it yourself is simply way to expensive for most divers, so they must rely on dive shops and other businesses to supply them. It's possible to circumvent this restriction if you have the money to do so, but it's rather pointless to do so just to avoid training that you really need. It's also important to note that compressed gas access is the ONLY thing that's regulated in the SCUBA industry. You can buy all the gear without any training at all. If it weren't for divers' need for compressed gasses, it would be virtually impossible for the SCUBA industry to self-regulate.

Kayaking, on the other hand, is totally unregulated and is largely viewed as a non-technical activity requiring little or no training, although we may not see it that way. There is nothing inherent to kayaking that is analagous to compressed gasses for SCUBA, that lends itself to regulation. Once someone has a boat and a paddle - which they can make themselves - there is no way to stop them from going kayaking. In the case of kayaking, the genie is out of the bottle and there's no real hope of getting it back in. The best we can hope to do is to educate the public about the risks and requirements for safe kayaking.

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