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Thanks for the help on the legislation


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Here's the current text that we're working on for the August issue of Sea Kayaker:


Status of Massachusetts Safety Law

In the wake of the Jagoda-Aronoff kayak accident, Tom Leach—harbormaster of the town of Harwich and one of those who searched for the missing kayakers—worked with State Representative Shirley Gomes to sponsor a bill that would require kayakers in Massachusetts to wear PFDs throughout the year, and to carry compasses and whistles. (Currently, all occupants of small craft are required to wear PFDs between September 15 and May 15.) Gomes brought the proposal before the Massachusetts State House in 2005. After some debate, the legislation stalled.

Another kayak-related fatality occurred in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, in May 2001. Robert Beauvais, 51, capsized while receiving basic instruction and couldn’t free himself from the spray skirt. The instructor got Robert to the surface within about 15 seconds, conscious, but breathing with difficulty. He had inhaled enough sea water to compromise his breathing, leading to his death. (See “The Tragic Death of a Novice,” by Charles Sutherland, , Dec. ’04.) In the spring of 2006, partly in response to this incident, Massachusetts State Representative Bill Strauss drafted a bill that would require kayak instructors to first provide instruction in wet exits before taking students out on the water.

In the summer of 2006, the two bills (the Gomes and the Strauss bills) were combined into H-4551, which would mandate PFDs, whistles and compasses, and wet-exit instruction for kayakers. A version of this bill is currently under consideration by the Massachusetts Legislature.

Many of those in the Massachusetts sea-kayaking community oppose the bill because they feel it conveys a message that kayaking is riskier than canoeing, which is not subject to the same legislation. Statistics indicate that more paddlers die in canoes and other small craft than kayaks, and kayakers are also more likely to wear PFDs than canoeists. Although the wet-exit requirement is problematic, a more serious issue is that professional education reaches only a tiny fraction of paddlers. As for the compass requirement, having one won’t necessarily help the substantial percentage of paddlers who don’t know how to use it.

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