Motorized/Non-Motorized User Conflicts

I’m working on paddle trail development and am looking for creative ways to manage user conflicts on paddle trails between motorized boats and paddlers. Only the smallest of motorized boats would be appropriate for this stretch of river due to frequent low water and obstacles. There are no restrictions on the river regarding motorized boats. The local paddling and conservation communities fear installation of a small boat ramp at an access site would result in more and larger motorized craft on this stretch of river. However, an existing boat ramp is already in use a few miles downstream. Installing a ramp instead of a step launch would make available significant federal funds for site development that would not otherwise be available. Please reach out if you have any experience with this issue, especially regarding installing a boat ramp while discouraging use by inappropriately sized and powered watercraft.

how about an accessible launch?
You might install a handicapped accessible launch. These are built for kayaks and canoes, and doubtful whether someone could use it for a motorboat.

Here’s a link to a prefab accessible launch manufacturer that also helps obtain grants:

Do NOT put in a boat ramp

– Last Updated: Sep-25-14 3:22 PM EST –

if you don't perceive that this stretch of river is appropriate for most motorized craft and you want to avoid conflicts with paddlers.

First, do not make assumptions about what type of motorized craft boaters would attempt to take on the river. In the Ozark National Scenic Riverways National Park power boaters take sizable jet boats onto the upper stretches of the Current and Jack's Fork Rivers. These streams often neck down to only narrow channels that have sufficient depth to float a canoe or kayak, or a jet boat. The jet boaters claim they cannot slow down without damaging their craft and apparently expect the paddlers to immediately get out of the way, which is not so easy to do especially if one is paddling a loaded canoe. The power boaters are now raising hell over a proposal by the National Park Service to restrict or prohibit the use of jet boats on stretches of the upper Jack's Fork and Current.

Here in Evansville, Indiana a concrete boat ramp was constructed at an access to Pigeon Creek on a stretch of the creek that much of the year does not even have sufficient water for canoeing without hanging up. This stretch only occasionally has sufficient water and is sufficiently clear of log jams and other obstacles, to allow navigation by a motorized boat for more than a hundred yards, or so.

Furthermore, although the City was no doubt happy to receive Federal money for its construction, they do not see fit to spend any money to clear it of mud and wood debris in the spring, even though one person with a front-loader could easily do so in 10 minutes. As a result, the boat ramp is not only not usable by power boaters, it is not safe for use by paddle craft owners. The mud and driftwood choked ramp becomes an inviting target for broken bottles, garbage, driftwood, and rotting fish heads and carcasses.

I have been involved in several
programs in which state government lumped paddled craft in with power boats when creating access points under the concept that paddled craft can just use these ramps as well, why create separate areas?

That does not work for paddlers, period. These are apples and oranges, totally different, and do not mix well, with the paddlers coming out with the short end of the stick.

No experience but have seen paddle
and tube ramps in Florida. They are all too narrow for a trailer and have pilings at the entrance like you see on bike trails at the intersections with roads.

Seem to work well. I have only seen them on slow moving rivers with risk of trash and sweepers piling up.


– Last Updated: Sep-25-14 4:37 PM EST –

We launch from carry in sites for about 80% of our paddling. the old saying holds true: "If you build it, they will come". The vast majority of paddlers can carry their boats a short distance. As a canoer, I get zero benefit from a boat launch. Steps down a hill are nice. A sandy launching site at the river's bank is nice too, but a true boat launch provides no benefit to me

Edit: I like Kayakmedics idea of a paddle only ramp with pylons a lot, but I bet that doesnt qualify for federal funds.

There is a good one in Dunnellon Fl
on East Pennsylvania Ave. Its got a sign proclaiming how it was funded.

Maybe someone local can pipe up here.

paddler only ramps
We have several “paddler-only” concrete ramps here in the Pittsburgh area. They are accessed by narrow trails or sidewalks from an angle that you could not negotiate with a truck or trailer. Don’t know what the funding arrangement was for them, but here in PA we kayak and canoe users have to pay for a $10 a year tag to use state-maintained boat ramps and even just unimproved access points overseen by the Fish and Game commission (they do patrol and slap fines on folks without stickers.) We were not happy when they enacted these fees some 30 years ago, but one benefit is that it does entitle us to use the facilities without getting flak from power boaters, and the state and local governments do build some accommodations for us specifically.

We do have lakes and waterways here that are restricted to electric motors only, no gasoline powered boats, or to maximum HP motors. And we have some “no wake” restrictions too.

Why not just put up a sign saying:

Jack L

In Alabama we have a lot of
rivers that have both motorized and paddle folks. The Tennessee and the lakes can get pretty crazy on weekends. But, the smaller rivers are no problem. Most of the motorized boats there are fishermen and our fishermen are respectful of all watercraft. Since I’ve moved to Kansas City, I’m learning that Alabama has a lot of good stuff.

D ramp

Always some yahoo’s gotta flout it
Bike paths clearly marked NONMOTORIZED USE ONLY still get jerks in/on motorized vehicles traveling them. Maybe not often, but still, they do it, unless there’s a big fat concrete post in the middle of the entrances blocking the fat things from entering. They can still squeeze scooters through, but at least the 4-wheeled vehicles won’t make it.

I love the idea of a narrow boat ramp just for human-powered vessels. Dream on…

check your state funding
If you combine a kayak dock launch with a fishing dock you may be able to tap state access to recreation funds.

Some clarification
All - thank you for the rapid and thorough responses. Let me provide some additional details. I am by no means tied to the ramp style design for paddlers, however, to receive a very significant amount of federal funding, a concrete ramp (minimum 10’ width) must be installed. Bollards would not be allowed as the funding is tied to marine fuels excise taxes, and the primary purpose of the program is to provide motor boat access to waterways (even though most everyone acknowledges that this stretch of river is too shallow for most any craft besides a canoe or kayak at low tide/low water). While I agree that this stretch of river would only be appropriate for, accommodate, and be desirable to the smallest of motorized boats for fishing, accessing these funds would help my County to jumpstart construction of a sizable riverfront park that would be a hub for this waterway’s users. This hub would include canoe/kayak/SUP rentals, instruction, guided trips, environmental education, restroom facilities, picnic facilities, maybe camping, etc.

Whether or not we utilize these funds, there is a power boat ramp approximately 2-3 miles downstream where the river can better accommodate larger boats. A coalition is in the process of developing a formal blueway along a much longer portion of this river, of which the subject area is a part. So, even if we don’t install another ramp, I am still seeking ideas for avoiding conflicts between motorized/non-motorized users.

Does anyone have any experience or information RE:

  1. Limiting horsepower of motorized craft? I’ve heard that this might be possible through the Army Corps or Coast Guard.
  2. Educational signage at launches or along strategic points in the river that encourage motorized craft to slow down or avoid certain areas altogether.

    Thanks again.

Yahoos on jet skis
will be the biggest threat to your peace and serenity

don’t build a boat ramp

Depends on what else is available
I see lots of replies from people thinking that the place will automatically be ruined by power-boaters if access is provided for them, but I think that depends on the nature of the area. Where I live, putting a boat ramp on a small river that’s not really suitable for large, fast boats, wouldn’t cause any problem at all. I see that as fact, numerous places. It might be because we have so much water here, and in tremendous variety, that power boaters and jet-ski users won’t automatically use water just because it’s available. Not knowing anything about the other choices that power-boaters have in your area, I don’t think it’s a natural assumption that a launching ramp will ruin that river for paddlers.

By the same token, I don’t know what your situation is, but around here, providing access for paddlers on a small river where previously access was more difficult probably would do almost nothing to encourage new paddlers to come. Again, it all depends on what other choices are nearby.

I agree with this

– Last Updated: Sep-26-14 11:17 AM EST –

One really needs to know a few things about the locality:

Where else are motorboat launches accessible?

Where else are paddling launches accessible?

What is the demand on the river? What's the capacity to handle boaters and fishermen? If you build it, will they come? (paddlers and/or motorboaters).

The Army Corps is concerned with maintaining traffic capacity and minimizing damaging erosion. I wouldn't bet on them helping and if thewy did, it would take them a decade or so.

county regulations
Apparently in Pennsylvania either the state DCNR or the local county can establish regulations for specific water bodies or segments thereof.

Among such restrictions are exclusion of internal combustion motors, limitations on HP (like 10HP or 20HP), maximum boat length, no wake, no water skiing, etc., even at least one that has specific restrictions on the quality of inflatable boats.

Oddly enough, I note that there are a few lakes in the state which require anyone in a paddle craft under 16’ long to actually WEAR their PFD at all times on the water. Our state, in general, has a stupid regulation that you are only required to have a PFD stashed on board somewhere on any type of boat but are not required to wear it if you are over 14 years old. Virtually all boating related drownings in the state are people not wearing PFD’s (and the ones wearing them are usually heart attack victims.)

I wonder if there is somebody at PA Fish and Game you could talk to about how they establish their regulations?

When I lived in Michigan (which was otherwise a pretty non-regulatory state as far as anything with a sacred internal combustion engine was concerned) I did note that there were waters where “lake lice” (jet-skis) were banned. One strong argument against them is that they are notorious for dumping fuel in the water during operation, so you might be able to restrict them on environmental grounds.

I think prominent warnings about shallow conditions and snagging hazards posted at the ramp might deter some (there will always be yahoos wanting to try their luck anyway.) It amazes me how little many people can be aware of the commonly accepted and even mandated rules of maritime courtesy and safety. Personally, I would like to see more signs posted at ramps reminding people of the “rules of the road”.

You might want to contact our local group “Friends of the Riverfront” who have been a major player in the development of the many riverbank parks around Pittsburgh. I believe they were instrumental in getting the Duck Hollow “paddlers only” ramp installed that I had mentioned in my earlier post. They would probably have some good input on dealing with the Federal regulations on shore access improvements.

more info
This is the Charleston, SC area, so water is plentiful and boat ramps to deeper, wider water bodies are as well. There is a motor boat ramp 2-3 miles downstream. This location is essentially located in an area where the river transition more from swamp to stream. It would be provide a paddling access to this area that would otherwise require you to put in many miles upstream, or paddle upstream from the aforementioned boat ramp.

Thank you for the links! I will definitely check them out.