Regulation of kayak instruction

So, some legislators here in Massachusetts are proposing to begin regulation of professional kayak instruction (that is, “for hire”) in this state.

Without getting into the pros and cons (this bill has a long, tortuous history), does anybody know of similar or ANY regulation of paddlesport instruction in ANY other state or foreign country?

Here are the details, but again, I really need to collect data on what other states do or don’t do.


  • instructors must have approved training in first aid, cpr, “small craft safety and basic water rescue”

  • they must train students in safety, and, if a spray skirt is used, wet exit, by actual practice in water.

    All this applies only to kayaks, which are defined as “a lightweight boat that is covered, except for a single or double opening in the center thereof, and is propelled by a paddle.”

    Thanks. --David.

typical Mass

– Last Updated: Jul-08-08 9:50 AM EST –

stems from an incident a couple of years ago while on a guided tour with high end(FG) kayaks and neoprene sprayskirts, a fellow flipped over---and couldn't (or didn't) do a wet exit--it took the guide 30 seconds or so to get him out---when he got to the surface he was able to talk and breath but apparently died shortly afterwards---

the rumor was he had a heart attack but ever since then there have been a couple of pushes by the Mass General Court(ie the state legislature) to pass a law requiring outfitters to require the clients do a wet exit prior to going out on a guided trip---the Outfitters oppose this because they feel that very few customers would go on these trips if they had to do the wet exit first--

Mass Kayak Legislation

This sounds very similar to legislation that was filed in the previous two Mass legislative sessions over the last several years.

Fortunately, knowledgeble testimony from kayakers and the kayak outfitting community was presented when the bills were in committee. This testimony along with the “clout” of a couple of kayak friendly solons helped kill the bills.

It would be helpful if you could post the bill numbers, sponsor’s names and committee assignment so concerned citizens could weigh in on the current proposal.



Neopene skirts
A law might be going to far,but I like the idea of demonstrating a wet exit or wearing a nylon skirt. Let the customer choose.


most outfitters use nylon skirts which tend to simply fall off(also are cheaper for the outfitter). The case in Mass was an exception—relativly rare for a person to be trapped by a skirt although it does happen—happened to me once when I was teaching someone to roll using my boat and skirt(neoprene).

This guy had been through a guides training class the year before and definitly knew how to wet exit—trouble was he always did it with a nylon skirt–when he flipped with mine on, he panicked when it just didn’t fall off. Luckily I was right there and just reached under and popped the skirt for him.

Am I missing something?
The two lines presented above of what the law entails seem perfectly reasonable for protecting the public and no one who has BCU or ACA credidation would have any trouble with the requirements.

Dry practice

– Last Updated: Jul-08-08 1:40 PM EST –

Yeah, seems like pretty barebones requirements to me. If the guide companies are worried about losing customers, wouldn't the state requiring ALL such companies to have the same minimum requirement prevent customers from shopping around for "looser" companies? Then again, those kinds of customers might decide to not go kayaking at all, so I can see that being a potential way to lose customers.

Just had another disturbing thought: if the requirement is put in place, companies could still skirt the requirement (pun intended) by not providing sprayskirts at all! When we rented kayaks in Florida, the outfitter refused to provide us with sprayskirts UNLESS their guides accompanied us. Even after I offered to demonstrate proficiency by doing a wet exit and re-entry for them, they said no. So off we went without sprayskirts.

Maybe requiring the companies to teach (and have the students practice) removing skirts on dry land would be a step in the right direction. It's not the same thing but it's better than just hoping the people will be able to pop the skirts when actually capsized.

not just a safety issue

– Last Updated: Jul-08-08 2:49 PM EST –

Obviously people would be safer if required to actually do wet exits prior to going out on a guided tour, rather than just the dry exit that most outfitters, including the one I guide for, require.

The problem is that if the law required outfitters to force their clients to do the wet exit, the outfitters would have very few clients, probably about 25% of what they have now---most people are not willing to immerse themselves, and quite honestly with nylon skirts that fall right off, wet exit practice, although nice, is probably not a necessity.

I'm not defending the practice---I'm just acknowledging reality---if wet exits were required many, if not most commercial guiding services would close up shop due to lack of buisiness.

SOTs would be the answer
It seems that if a person is afraid to do a wet exit that they should not be in a SINK. Outfitters who would cater to that type of paddler should invest in SOTs and they would be fine.

in the SE it is standard practice for
rentals and guided tours to be without spray skirts - even in winter.

but I never see SOTs on the coast of Maine—only place around here that you see them are on the lakes, usually in very warm weather for the grandkids—hard to stay dry on an sot when the wind and waves kick up–and you wouldn’t believe how many people are amazed that they have to get thier feet wet even getting in and out of a kayak–“But I just paid 100 dollars for these shoes!!”

Just what we need…more laws


G_K Kayak instructor get 5-10 years for not wearing a PFD while teaching a class.

I’m staying in Georgia.

Paddlin’ on


And the rest of the story…
You’ll probably have to be licensed by the great state of taxachusetts.

You will have to take a test which will cost a arm and a leg and be administered by “river-dorks”.

And the waiting list for the test will be approximately three years.

Part of the test will be paddling through the Cape Cod canal against the tide.

One of the questions on the test is: which is worse the bite of the green head flies that frequent Ipswich, or the bite of the Duxbury mosquitoe.

If you make it this far and can prove that you are a healthy male who was lawfully wed to another healthy male in California than you probably will be issued your beginner Kayak instructor certificate.



You’re missing the point

– Last Updated: Jul-08-08 8:48 PM EST –

Of course this is reasonable stuff. All the coaches/instructors I've ever paid or known to be "for hire" were trained that way and better. And since that incident, they all do wet exit training assiduously when a spray skirt is involved.

B-U-T -- is there really any reason to make a L-A-W about it?!

The prior versions of this proposed law were rife with technical errors and just plain stupidities -- like you only need to teach wet exit if you're going in 5 feet of water or more -- or everyone has to carry a compass on their kayak. Once the foot is in the door, what's to stop all that from coming back?

Do any other states have these kinds of laws? I doubt it -- please speak up if you know for your state?

And how about canoes, SOT's, hybrids. No spray skirt there, of course, but are they so much safer that instructors don't need CPR, first aid, or any training at all? That's a really dangerous message to send -- hey, you're in a canoe, no problem! Did you know that there are more canoe fatalities than in kayaks. And more kayakers wear PFDs than canoeists.

And how about rock climbers, hang gliders, etc. Are they regulated this way BY LAW?!

Of course not. So why are kayaks -- and just one type of kayak -- singled out? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, THIS MAKES NO SENSE! (I have theories, but another day for that).

Sorry to rant this way. I'm a card-carrying, big-government-loving pinko-liberal, but this makes no sense. Is there going to be a big bureaucracy to test instructors, license, observe, sign, stamp, seal and mail them in triplicate? Or is this just a feel-good measure with no teeth, so the wife of a gentleman who tragically died in a kayaking class can think they've achieved an adequate memorial to their loved one?

If you really want to save the lives of kayakers, not to mention canoeists, SOT-ers, etc, my friends in the state legislature, how about appropriating a few big bills of another kind to send BCU and ACA coaches into the schools one hour/year to tell students that wearing a PFD is actually likely to save a life -- maybe their life? Oh no, that's actually costs m-o-n-e-y. This law is for free!

Whew -- sorry about that rant.

But back to the question. Does your state have a law like this? If you know one way or the other, please speak up.

And if not, do you want one? Well, if Mass does it, you may be getting one soon. And then, watch out below...


dont worry about it
they tried to pass it twice before and failed—probably won’t get through this time but even if it does its in Mass so who cares—even the paddlers that live there come to Maine to paddle.

in New England
we all wear them, even in summer although if a client didn’t want to I wouldn’t insist on it, particularly in nice weather.

worry a lot
It didnt pass before, at least in part, because a few paddlers got off their behinds and did something about it for the rest of us, not me but my thanks, despite my never having paddled/instructed in Mass. and having no desire to do so I am very grateful.

Anyone remember the “all kayakers should have a 6 foot mast with a flag on their kayak” legislation that was proposed and quashed, thanks to a few activists several years ago, wouldnt that have made it so much fun to go paddling but don’t worry I’m sure that one will be back as well.

Yes its a better written bill this time (thats not saying much) and its only Mass. but it sets a precedent and makes it much easier and more likely for similar legislation to pass in other states.

Tom at MIKCo will know who was active in fighting it last time and probably the same people are working for us this time and could do with some help whether you live in Mass. or not.

ALL boats should have a 6-foot mast
with flag, not just kayaks! That’ll kill the bill.


just jerking the chain of
the Mass folks—I opposed a similar bill here in Maine and it hasn’t been around since—the town council in Bremen though passed a local ordinance requiring kayaks to have a flag—it apperently is not enforced and even if the local harbormaster started handing out tickets, there is a pretty good chance that the ordinance would be struck down as illegal as the area of safety equipment for boats is normally reserved for federal and state regulation, and may well be beyond the purview of local government.

The Mass. Bill will probably pass.
Here’s why.

The sponsor, Rep Straus of Mattapoiset etc. ( has negotiated a compromise bill with the opponents. As a result, resistance in the House seems to have melted away. Apparently, this bill has become a point of pride for him to get passed, and he was willing to bargain away a number of issues, especially those arising from a different incident (the Jagoda-Aronoff deaths off the Cape in 2003.)

So, if you live and/or kayak in Massachusetts, I suggest your write immediately to your Representative and Senator and tell them what you think. The basic theme, IMHO, is that while these are good ideas, there is no defensible reason to ensconce them in law, especially a law that focuses, for no good reason, on just one subtype of paddlecraft. Either this will entail a new bureaucracy and funding sources to actually enforce the law, or it will become a meaningless, unenforced memorial to a single individual.