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The following article is in today's Gloucester Daily Times.


Town hopes to corral wayward kayakers

By Josh Odell

Staff writer

ROCKPORT -- An influx of kayakers, many of them novices, has led to an increase in distress calls to the harbormasters, a trend a town-appointed group hopes to bring to an end.

The Town Government and Bylaw Committee will bring a set of rules for kayak and other boat rental businesses before Town Meeting voters April 3.

The proposal, as written by High Street resident John Krenn, seeks to reduce the dependence of "commercial boat livery operators" on the town's harbormasters, especially when it comes to hauling in wayward boaters. The plan also would take steps to protect customers of commercial boat businesses and others they share the water with.

The rules would apply only to regular businesses, not privately owned boats that are occasionally hired out by their owners.

The only Rockport business that falls under the so-called livery description is the North Shore Kayak Outdoor Center on Tuna Wharf, though co-Harbormaster Rosemary Lesch said "there is no problem whatsoever" with that establishment.

Lesch said the business pays close attention to safety.

The proposed bylaw, Lesch said, is more designed to ensure that businesses that come to Rockport -- kayak groups that leave from Granite Pier, for example -- follow strict safety criteria.

"If we can avoid a disaster before it happens, then it's worth doing," she said.

Krenn's proposal would require a boat livery service operating on town waters to have a vessel on hand to help boaters in distress.

Other requirements include demonstrations of the rented or leased equipment, personnel certified in CPR and other first aid techniques, and a series of waterproofed documents to be placed aboard each vessel.

The documents should include written instructions for equipment operation, abbreviated rules regarding right-of-way and chart sections of the anticipated areas of operation.

Krenn said the intent is not to pick on any one group, but to create widespread safety regulations.

"This is a generic bylaw that would cover every type of floating vessel," he said, adding that the proposed rules are not asking too much.

"This is not onerous," he said. "For anybody heading out on the ocean, this is the least you could do for them," particularly those who do not understand the ways of the ocean and tend to create hazards to themselves and other boats when on their own.

Krenn said there have been problems with commercial boat operators before, such a small outboard boat rental facility at White Wharf years ago.

Hopefully, he said, the amendment will emphasize responsibility in the future.

"The thought of someone running a Jet-Ski livery out of Pigeon Cove Harbor is a little daunting," he said. "Given the experience we've had, I think it's time for this."

Peter Watson, chairman of the Town Government and Bylaw Committee, said the bylaw has been the subject of preliminary discussions in recent weeks, but that substantiative discussion will not take place until sometime next month.

A hearing on the proposal scheduled for last night was cancelled due to issues with public notification. A new meeting time will be announced in the coming days.

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Let's see...they have no problems with the ONLY exising local business that this legislation would affect and there are no other businesses operating "liveries" in the area, yet they feel so strongly that this legislation is still necessary?

This is a classic case of a government that feels that they need to do something (apparently for economic, rather than safety reasons), but which doesn't want to address the real issue (boater education) because it would cost money and require work, so they attmept to pass a piece of feel-good, junk legislation to make themselves look good. Since it only targets one small local business, they figure they can probably steamroller them if they can dupe the public into believing that the new law would actually improve safety. Typical.

Is "boat control" going to be the new mantra on the Massachusetts coast?

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I phoned John Krenn, the author of the proposed rules mentioned in the article, and we talked last night after a bit of phone tag. (BTW, he is a sailor, rower, on the "Granite Pier Committee" and a long-time member of the Cape Ann Rowing Club. For many years he was on the watch boat at Straightsmouth tracking Blackburn racer's numbers at the half-way point. So, he knows more than a bit about what goes on in Rockport waters.)

The concerns these proposed rules are trying to address include:

1) The large presence of kayaks in narrow, navigable waters, e.g., a large group of kayaks passing through Straightsmouth gap, all spread out, leaving no room for boats - especially under sail or with deep keels - to safely pass. (Some outfitters not based in Rockport trailer kayaks to Granite Pier and launch their groups from there. These proposed rules would apply to them, as well as outfits based in Rockport.)

2) Kayakers not knowing or following the "rules of the road," e.g., staying out of boat channels and recognizing that, as the smallest craft out there, kayaks should stay out of the way. Also, not knowing basic safety procedures or having and knowing how to use basic nav aids.

3) Totally outrageous behavior: Playing bumper boats, i.e., deliberately ramming moored boats and causing damage. (This has occurred with boats rented from outfitters. Unlikely that paddlers would do this with their own kayaks.)

4) Distress calls to the harbormaster as a result of being unprepared to handle situations without outside assistance. This is costly to the town and potentially ties up resources when they might be urgently needed elsewhere. (Note: The group that worked up these proposed rules is not yet proposing a local bylaw to charge groups for the cost of responding to such calls. I asked about data on this but none has been collected or analyzed. Doing so would require going through the Harbormaster's incident reports.)

John is sending me a copy of the proposed rules and I am sending him the two NSPN safety brochures. I will suggest to our newly-formed "Outreach Committee" that NSPN stay in touch on these issues. John also mentioned that kayak storage racks have been installled at White Pier and there are plans to install them at Granite Pier. They hope that this will cut down on the number of cars that need to be driven to thes put-in locations.

In reviewing my notes after my conversation with John, I was pleased to see that the NSPN Trip Leader training program covers each of the "problem" areas.

Liz N.

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