It occurs to me after no less than 8 paddlers and pedal’ers that I have some degree of connection with were lost in 2013, that a good many kayakers and paddle boarders might benefit from some additional preemptive training.
Oh dear, here come the heckles. Would I really suggest even more bureaucracy? Well I warned you not to read on. But if you would, bear with me and have an open mind.
I would like to put the topic out there as a matter of a legitimate need to save a few lives. Many states—mine being Florida, require boaters of a certain age to complete a safe boating course before you are able to operate a powerboat in public waters. This was founded by data collected through accident reports and violations where boaters were just not well educated on safe boating concepts. I cannot attest to any decrease in accidents or deaths or even if boating in Florida is ‘safer’ since the inception of the mandatory licensing. What I can honestly say that each person that I have known to take the safe boating test, has come away learning things they did not previously know. A wise man once said, carry as much knowledge as you can, for it weighs nothing.
While this sort of boaters licensing is not regulated by the feds by way of the USCG, I’m sure each state has a similar provision. The cost is cheap, and it’s a lifetime license.
If it’s a good idea for a boater to ensure he knows the ‘rules of the road’, why not a kayaker learning the particulars of this sport as well. Many shops, clubs and Samaritan groups do have seminars and classes for the new kayaker and this is an excellent place to begin.
Before I lose the attention of those who by now are saying ‘I know what I’m doing, I don’t need a stupid class’. Are you sure you know everything? I sure don’t. I’d love to learn more. It weighs nothing.
I’m not going to try to solve all the logistics of who, what, how much or who’s in charge. I’m just bringing up the topic for ponder. Call me crazy, I’d love to see a movement on this sort of thing sooner, rather than after someone else looses a life and the state gets sued because there was no sign at the ramp that there was rip current and the politicians get involved and so on and so forth.
My one opinion in this regard, though, is for such a thing to be regulated state by state. No need to get the Coasties involved at this level.
Where I do feel more strongly, is in the arena of kayak guides. Many readers from around the country may not have as many kayak tours or fishing guide services in their area, but I can assure you here in Florida, there is a kayak tour sign nailed to nearly every palm tree. And here’s the thing that bothers me—there are virtually no regulations on the tours, guides or charter services. Allow me to elaborate my concern. While you and I may be perfectly capable kayakers with whatever experience we have, the typical customer of this service most assuredly is not. Most or many are tourists looking for a relaxing day watching wildlife or toodling along soaking up the sun. Their experience with the kayak is most likely zero to nearly none. Even more concerning still is these gentile folk may have minimal experience with the water—and well enough, with the water on which their guide is taking them. The enormity of this issue is the guide themselves has no requirement to have any sort of training. In fact, in Florida all one needs to become a kayak guide of any type, is your local business tax receipt. I won’t go into the other tax and business registrations that one should have in order to operate a business because it’s not relevant for this conversation. If stopped at the ramp by any local authority, the only thing one is ‘required’ to have is, as it’s usually called, the business license.
Don’t get your dander up thinking I want to constipate entrepreneurship by adding more regulation or that I have some sour grapes over every John Doe becoming a guide. Oh, contrare. What concerns me most is the quality of service and absolutely the quality of rescue service should the need ever arise, that these customers assume is in order by hiring a professional.
In order to carry passengers for hire on a powerboat, the USCG requires individuals to pass a certification test. This test obviously is directed toward powerboats and the safe handling thereof. While a kayak guide—either a sightseeing guide or fishing guide, may not require the intensity in some areas this testing encompasses, there are areas that certainly would benefit the customer and general public by their guide having completed such a test. A kayak guide typically would not need advanced chart plotting or docking knowledge. But as a boat guide might need those things strongly, there are a good many items specific to having novice kayakers on unfamiliar waters and not knowing each of these person’s capabilities should an accident occur, that a kayak guide should have advanced knowledge of.
Again, before I lose you to the negative questions of who’s going to regulate it, why do you want someone to pay more and so on, please understand I don’t have the answers. I do have some suggestions, though. A kayak is defined in the USCFR as “other paddle craft” and therefore is already under the USCG jurisdiction. Just as the USCG regulates ‘boats’ for hire, I believe the responsibility lies on them. In some cases I understand there are states with kayak regulations as well, but the ultimate authority on the US waterways is still the Coast Guard.
Ok, so I’m suggesting a kayak guide get a USCG license. Who’s going to teach it? Just as is done now, the USCG could come up with the ‘test’, with input from existing guides, captains and industry leaders. I would suggest mandatory class and lab time, including some sort of water rescue, first aid and CPR along with some basic rules of the road and navigation proficiencies.
Sound like a lot of time and money to you? It shouldn’t matter if it only cost’s a dollar, is in proportion to a boat captain’s certificate or if it’s covered under Obamacare. Listen, I’m thinking about the customer and their safety.
If your aunt Marge and uncle Don and your (sorry), overweight cousin Jim go out on a kayak tour for the day and they spook a pod of manatees (manatees are the most dangerous animals on the flats, in my opinion), and everyone winds up overturned and in the drink freaking out about the millions of sharks and man-eating sting rays and alligators and cotton mouths and bears and flesh eating bacteria, and ol’ Marge looses her shoe and cuts her foot on some oysters, Jim turtles his boat and cant flip it over because he’s exhausted from the buffet last night—wouldn’t you like to know the guide has some degree of training to get Jim back in his kayak, slow the bleeding on aunt Marge’s big toe and try to keep uncle Don from laughing himself into a coronary, before the whole mess becomes a tragic story in the news paper. Smirk if you want, but it happens several times each year. If there is something we could do to better ourselves, I want to line right up.
Tons of details would need to be worked out, and it would take a major movement within our own industry, but I dare to proclaim, it’d be worth it to increase safe kayaking for local legends and tourists alike.