Kayak

A kayaker paddles on the Spokane River through the University District on Oct. 6, when leaves were just beginning the change to their fall colors.

A Washington bill aimed at regulating human-powered watercraft in the same way as motorboats is being criticized by some local paddlers.

“Personally, I’m opposed,” Spokane River Forum executive director Andy Dunau said. “Trying to regulate by creating a course will create a bureaucratic burden that is not helpful. What we need to be focusing on is ordinances and measures focusing on wearing personal flotation devices.”

House Bill 1018 would require canoes, kayaks and paddle board participants to take a boater education course, pass an exam and carry a boater education card.

Rep. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek), a sponsor of House Bill 1018, believes the bill is necessary to deal with what he calls a crisis on the water.

“Washington State is fifth in the nation in boating-related fatalities,” he said in a televised hearing on Jan. 20. “Half of the fatalities in 2019 were in paddle craft. I think this is a good approach to what we want to do.”

There were 53 boating fatalities in Washington in 2020 and 24 involved paddle craft, according to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. The association supports the bill, as does the private outdoor education company Kalkomey.

No other state has mandated education for human-powered watercraft.

The bill had a hearing Jan. 20 in front of the House Community & Economic Development committee. It has yet to be scheduled for an executive session, a key step before the bill can be brought to a vote.

Still, the prospect of the proposed law has raised hackles. An online petition started two weeks ago has more than 8,500 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

“While we support safe participation in paddle sports, this isn’t the way,” states the petition, which was started by Scott Holley, the president and co-owner of Eddyline Kayaks in Burlington, Washington. “The boater education course is geared toward large motorized craft and isn’t appropriate for kayakers.”

Paul Delaney, a board member of the Northwest Whitewater Association, doesn’t think the bill would accomplish much.

“I’m just kind of looking at it and going, ‘Why?’ ” he said. “Other than revenue.”

Instead, Delaney and Dunau emphasized the importance of wearing personal flotation devices. Dunau said a statewide PFD ordinance “would be great.”

“We had three fatalities on the Spokane River this year within the span of two weeks,” Delaney said of the summer. “The common denominator there? Not one person wearing a life jacket.”

Spokane already has a PFD law requiring that anyone using a watercraft (including inner tubes and pool toys) on the Spokane River wear a United States Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device.