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Misconceived kayak safety bill -- contact your House Rep ASAP


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Sorry for double-posting this, but I don't want it buried in that other long thread. By all means read that, and then do this...

Contact your House Rep asap. You can find them here by town ward etc, and then click through to their page with e-mail and phone number.


If you need to use the street lookup, your House Rep is "Rep in General Court" near the bottom of the results screen, and you can click through from there.

For reference in contacting them, the 2009 House numbering for the bill is...

docket # 339

sponsor: William M. Straus

title: An Act relative to kayak safety

refile # 2382

At this point, since it's passed the Senate, the House (General Court) is the place to go. Contact your rep ASAP and ask them to put a hold on it, at least long enough for the kayaking community to get involved. Keep it simple -- a bill that's badly misconceived and will not only NOT save lives, it may make things worse. I am as concerned about kayaking safety as anybody, but this bill is a very bad way to address that. Etc The sponsors have been trying for years without success, and are pushing it through this year will very little fanfare. Etc etc. Details to follow.


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Here's what I sent to my rep. Feel free to copy and use for your own. Much is taken from the previous work of David's that Liz posted.


Dear Representative (name);

I'm writing to ask you not to support the kayak "safety" bill sponsored by William M. Straus (docket #339, title "an act relative to kayak safety"; refile #2382). I'm an active sea kayaker who actively paddles 50-60 days a year in Massachusetts and other New England states. I and others I paddle with actively train ourselves and encourage others in the safety practices necessary to enjoy our sometimes boisterous coastal waters. That said, I believe the legislations put forward by Mr. Straus is misconceived, poorly written and may have the opposite effect on overall boating safety than intended by it's author. Some specific problems and potential consequences of the bill are listed below:

PFD Provision

• The PFD provision applies only to kayaks, despite common sense and overwhelming evidence that PFDs save lives equally in all paddlesports. To single out kayaking, therefore, sends a dangerously incorrect message to the canoeing community. This message is in direct opposition to the position of the ACA (American Canoe Association) who, like essentially all paddlesports organizations worldwide, recommends wearing PFDs in all paddlesports at all times on the water. This will bring the law into disrepute among paddlers and may actually decrease compliance. It is also a major step backwards from the existing PFD law, which treats canoes and kayaks the same.

• The PFD provision overrides the judgment of the Coast Guard regarding the types of PFDs that are acceptable and is incorrect about the details, so that a significant part of the kayaking community will see that it makes no sense. For example, type V PFDs are worn by the majority of whitewater kayakers, guides, and rescue personnel. NASBLA (the National Association of State Boating Administrators), which set standards for and approves boating courses for Massachusetts and all states, has a model PFD act which states “Personal flotation device" means a device that is approved by the United States Coast Guard under 46 CFR Part 160). In particular, the Coast Guard approves Type V PFDs for all boaters, yet the proposed Massachusetts law disallows them.

• The definition of “kayak’ in the proposed amendment to section 13B and referenced in the PFD provision does not make sense from a safety standpoint. That section defines a kayak as being covered except for a single or double opening in the center and propelled by a double bladed paddle. This definition fails to address sit-on-top kayaks which lack the covering but are like ‘covered’ kayaks in many other respects. On the other side, some canoes have decks or coverings with a central opening, and differ from kayaks primarily in being paddled with a single blade. The point here is that there is a broad range of human-powered water craft, and legislation singling out a single sub-type, the covered kayak, on the basis of features irrelevant to safety makes little sense

Compass Provision

• The compass provision makes no sense at all for kayakers on rivers and small ponds and lakes, where determining directions and finding the way to a destination is not a problem, even with low visibility. Flat water and white water kayaking on creeks and rivers are two of the most popular forms of kayaking, so the proposed law would impose on a large fraction of the kayaking community a useless and illogical provision.

• For a compass to enhance safety even on the ocean, the paddler needs training in how to use it. Yet the law provides for no such training. In fact, in the hands of an untrained novice, a compass could even prove dangerous in fog or darkness, giving a feeling of security while actually leading the paddler astray. For example, as most instructors who teach compass navigation can attest, a common mistake made by beginners with a compass is to head in exactly the opposite direction from where they wish to go!

Safety Equipment in General

• In general, which safety equipment, beyond the PFD, is most important and effective varies considerably with the type of boat, paddling venue, environmental conditions and other factors. Any conscientious attempt to account for this variation and legislate safety equipment at the detailed level proposed by this law would be hopelessly complex and unenforceable.

Wet Exit Training Provision

• The wet exit training provision, like other parts of the proposed law, contains a number of serious problems which, if passed, would subject the law to derision in the kayaking community. For example, the assumption that wet exit training is needed only in water five feet or deeper is simply incorrect; a capsized kayaker can be completely submerged in as little as two feet of water, and have difficulty in even less. For another, the real safety issue with escaping from a kayak is releasing the sprayskirt, not exiting from the cockpit. Requiring such training for kayaks without sprayskirts subjects students to an unnecessary capsize and significantly changes the nature of the experience for no good reason.

This bill has passed in the senate this year; apparently with out the opportunity for comments from the boating community afforded in past years. Please help to prevent the enactment of well intentioned but poorly thought out legislations.

Thank you for your service.

Sincerely yours;

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Hi, Phil:

Thanks for propagating my immortal prose. ;-)))

But maybe we should not all do that. It makes is sound a bit too coordinated, and also may be overwhelming. Here's what I said to my Rep, but it's better to put it in your own words, or at least make some variations.

Dear Rep Kaufman:

I live in Arlington in your district.

There's a bill on kayaking that's passed the Senate and is pending in the House (docket #339, title "an act relative to kayak safety"; refile #2382). I can explain in detail later (I have some good documents) but this bill is hugely misconceived and badly drafted. The sponsors have been trying to get it through for several years without success. In 2007 a large number of folks testified against it. Unfortunately, this year it seems to be sneaking through without much fanfare. But it's the same bill and has the same major flaws as before.

Is there something you can do to hold it up, at least long enough for us in the kayaking community to have some input?

Thanks. --David Lewis



Alternatively, can NSPN post the text again so we can just point to it rather than embed it in every e-mail.


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As for the PFD requirement, it kind of reads like the seatbelt argument (for automobiles - just a great image of a motorcycle with seat belts).

Glad you brought that up Bob (in the other thread).

If you write to a House Rep, I strongly suggest... no libertarian, anti-nanny state polemics or arguments, no matter how passionate you may be about that. It will not help, and may hurt. There is already a PFD law of sorts, and it ain't going to be repealed.

Also, I assume it goes without saying, keep the language measured and temperate. Use a few of the arguments in the paper, but not everybody necessarily state every one verabtim. Come up with your own arguments if you like, but bear in mind that politics is a chess game, and a good move anticipates future moves. The points in the paper have been thought through for that quality and bounced off many people.

The sponsors of this bill, however misguided, are successful politicians, and are committed and persistent. It's going to take a heap of effective arguing to turn this around.

Thanks. --David.

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