Massachusetts Kayak Safety Bill


Wooden Canoes are in the Blood
In Memoriam
There is a mandatory wearing of the PFD bill for kayaks working its way through the system. It has the racing community up in arms. I think it requires a compass and a whistle aboard too. (I believe the CG already requires a life jacket aboard and a whistle or means of making a sound anyway - but you can't be too safe right;) ).

PFD laws work really well here. I was the only one of a dozen people I saw on the Concord River a couple of weeks ago wearing a PFD, despite the cold water law requiring wearing of a PFD from Sept 15 through May 15.

Off my soap box.
mandatory PFD use

A similar effort is under way in Pennsylvania, see the note below, which came from a 'net-based discussion group (I got it 3rd hand). This may provide some ideas that can help you fight the reqs.

Personally, I always wear my PFD, but I'm not a racer, and I'm trying to set an example for my kids, and the people (adults & kids) to whom I teach canoeing. I paddle year-round, north of Chicago, where the water gets cold, but there's always open water somewhere. Running into people on the river in winter who don't even have PFDs with them, and are dressed in their cotton and down best, is not unusual. We give them a wide berth, but will often suggest they learn about hypothermia. As the occasion may warrant, I've gone so far as to suggest that wearing a PFD makes it easier to find the body.

And I've always wondered if mandating the use of safety equipment is just messing with Darwin's Law; maybe we should allow the less fit to weed themselves out of the gene pool? ;)


Date: Tue, 14 Nov 2006 11:25:35 -0500

The following is a long e-mail, but it lays out a previously recent
successful plan to exempt athletes in racing canoes and racing kayaks from
wearing a PFD in Pennsylvania:

The State of Pennsylvania is also currently considering requiring the
year-round wearing of PFDs by kayakers and canoers (see

(This posting is too long to copy here... you'll have to join the uscanoe discussion group to see it all)
"Personally, I always wear my PFD, but I'm not a racer, and I'm trying to set an example for my kids, and the people (adults & kids) to whom I teach canoeing. "

Ditto, though it's awfully uncomfortable on hot, sunny trips.
I figure I may end up being a "rescuer" at any time, in just about any condition. (That must stem from my time in the Coast Guard SAR, eh?)
Pre-kids, I often would bring the PFD, but only wear it if I deemed it neccessary. Now it goes on all of the time. Like using a seat belt, once you are used to it, it doesn't feel right without it.

Good point, Rob, about being the potential rescuer.

Interestingly about Pennsyvania. We could soon have a mandatory PFD law for paddlers, and just a couple of years ago, the legislature did away with the mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists. I guess it's okay to be foolish enough to ride without a helmet on, but not paddle without a PFD on. It's nice to know that they care more about us paddlers then bikers!

Just to clarify some, I'm not anti-pfd. I wear one under most circumstances. I don't want to be one of the folks that shows up on the evening news and they say, "Fitz ended up belly up under the Prospector and wasn't wearing a pfd at the time of his demise".

I just think there are probably enough existing laws on the books to cover this. The people coming up with the bill are also not paddlers and could use input from the paddling community. Also my point is many people in general have no clue about the existing laws - eg. the existing Mass. cold water pfd requirement (15 Sept through 15 May mandatory wearing of pfd).

I was simply bringing this to the attention of the forum. Racers and kayakers however feel strongly about it. It is also not out of the question that "canoeists" get added to the bill.
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Hadnt heard of a cold water PFD law; finally some common sense is legislated (or is it the other way around), have to check if there's such a thing for Ontario.
Cant seem to manage to get a PFD on during the summer on flat water, but if the cops come by I'll just swamp and tell 'em i'm swimming...:p
Havent had a thrill like riding helmet-less in Maine for a long time. Nothing beats straight pipes and a bare head.

Sorry if this dampens your opinion of the fine people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but there is (and has never been) anything remotely resembling "common-sense legislation" in this state. I agree with Fitz (imagine that:D ) that there are probably enough laws on the books and not enough educating being done regarding those laws.


"there is (and has never been) anything remotely resembling "common-sense legislation" in this state"

Thats it, you've shattered my naive, optimistic outlook.
I'm sure you've been here, but for those unfamiliar have at it....
best part is they indicate if its confirmed or simply urban legend
type in canoe, oh you better believe there's one
Bill is Baaaack.

Some version of this bill got through the Senate today (29-4). I think it remains directed at kayakers (and still makes no sense), but I can't seem to find the final language. Also, I can't find out the status - does it go to the House next?


Here is the apparent text of the current Bill:

Apparently, it still needs to get through the House
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I contacted our State Senator (after I heard the bill passed the Senate) and my State Rep.

An aid for our Senator got back to me and we exchanged emails with the issues. He indicated this is the current status of this bill:

"the Senate bill is now before the House of Representatives. Rep. Straus’ kayak safety bill passed the House around the same time and is now before the Senate Ethics and Rules Committee."

Apparently, our law makers are not listening to the paddling community. This bill is now on its way to the Governor's desk. The original bill didn't make any sense and now it is reduced to saying that if you kayak you must wear a PFD at all times. The definition of a "kayak" is a wonder to behold. Get ready to discuss boat design with the Environmental Police officer if your "canoe" happens to resemble a "kayak".......

A note or call to the Governor's office can't hurt.
The definition of kayak -- "a lightweight boat that: (i) is covered, except for a single or double opening in the center thereof; and (ii) is propelled by a double bladed paddle" -- is indeed wonderfully vague.

All of my boats have decks -- does this make them "covered" -- and all have a single opening between those decks. The issue of covered get cloudier with long-decked molitors and courting canoes.

Many small canoes, especially the sit-on-the-bottom type, are often propelled by a double-bladed paddle. If your paddle breaks down in the middle, might it not be merely two single-bladed paddles?

I don't know how one has a double opening in the center of any boat -- at least one of any set of double openings is necessarily offset from the center of the boat.

Of course, in Europe, especially England, many, if not most, small boats that are pointy at both ends with long decks (covered boats?) have traditionally been called canoes, even if they would be called kayaks by many people here. (What we usually call canoes are commonly called Canadian or Canadian-style canoes.)

Of course, there is the spelling issues -- if one paddles a qayak or a qajak, is one paddling a kayak? And back to the single blade issue -- many historical photos show qayaks being propelled with single-bladed paddles.

All of the above are merely random, off-the-top-of-the-head thoughts, and are not intended to constitute legal advice or a legal opinion.

However, I think a well-presented defense might well get a judge to strike the statute as void for vagueness.

Personal note -- we have a number of light-weight boats pointy at both ends, between 15 and 18 feet long, made variously of wood and canvas or -- gasp! -- plastic. One of these plastic boats, an OT Loon, has unusually long decks, one very big hole more-or-less in the middle, seats on the bottom of the boat, and usually paddle with double bladed paddles that can break in the middle, called by its maker a "Loon." We are all at least competent swimmers (daughter is more than just competent). Wife and daughter always wear pfds. So does the dog when he comes along. The husband prefers not to wear his pfd all the time -- but does so when appropriate -- cold water, bumpy water (from wind or rocks), when poling, rules of the group, etc.

Yes, I agree Greg. What got me too was the fact that a Sit-on-Top might NOT even qualify as a kayak - it doesn't have decks!

The bill was tweaked at the last minute and I can't seem to find the final language, but I don't think it changed much. MA already has a cold water pfd law which makes sense, (but is largely ignored in my informal observations on the rivers). I like to think most paddlers have common sense, (the fatalities seem to result from poor judgement, alcohol, late nights, cold water etc.), but MA apparently wants another law.

I got some incorrect information. The House did pass the kayak bill on 1/6, but they substituted the House language for the Senate language
before passage so now the bill goes back to the Senate and not to the

The thing to do now is to e-mail your State Senator and explain the
problems with the Senate version of the bill.

It's bad for you guys but,
It's good to hear that there are states other then MN that insist on protecting their citizens from themselfs.

As we all know, our elected officials "always" know what is best for us. :(

Still Alive and Kicking

This bill is still alive and kicking. The definition of a "kayak" is still a problem in one version of the bill (covered, open cockpit, propelled with a paddle) If you have a long-decked courting canoe, get ready to wear your pfd while courting, unless the warden giving you the ticket, or judge interprets it as being a canoe.

If you are in MA, write or call your reps and let them know how you feel. I have had several discussions with mine (but I don't think they are listening) - "safety" bills look good at election time, no?

I believe this is the latest House version of the bill:

This is the senate version of the bill:
Canoes Too

See what happens in the midnight hours! There has not been mention of canoes in the bill recently. Now, there is. Better get a comfy PFD to wear.

This is what I am hearing on the grapevine:

Pasted below is a copy of the bill that passed the House and Senate today. Now the bill goes to the Governor for his signature to become law.

All canoeists and kayakers are required to wear a type I, II, III or V PFD at all times.

If you are not happy with this you can contact the Governor at:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court
assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:
SECTION 1. Section 1 of Chapter 90B of the General laws, as appearing in the
2008 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting the following definitions: -
“Canoe”, a narrow, light boat with its sides meeting in a point at each end and is
moved by one or more paddles
“Kayak”, a lightweight boat that is covered, except for a single or double opening
in the center thereof, and is propelled by a paddle.
SECTION 2. Said Chapter 90B is hereby further amended by inserting after
section 13A the following section:-
SECTION13b. Anyone who holds himself out as a kayak instructor for hire shall
obtain and maintain:
(i) First aid training approved by the department of public health;
(ii) Cardiopulmonary resuscitation training approved by the department of public
health; and
(iii) Kayak instructor certification from the American Canoe Association,
American Red Cross certification in small craft safety and basic water rescue, or
equivalent water training.
The instructor shall train students on the safety procedures appropriate to the level
of paddling difficulty. Wet exit training, which is defined as the practice of
escaping from a kayak while capsized in a controlled water setting, shall be
required of all beginners and novice level operators who use an attached “spray
skirt” during any part of the kayak instructional session.
A liability release that limits an instructor’s responsibility to comply with this
section shall be void.
SECTION 3. Chapter 90B of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2008 official
edition, is hereby amended by inserting after section 5B the following new
Section 5C. Every person aboard a canoe or kayak, as defined in this chapter, shall
wear at all times a coast guard approved personal floatation device of type I, II, III
or V in good and serviceable condition.
stupid law

I've done my bit by using the link Fit has supplied to email my opposition (as someone who visits Massachusetts) to this stupid bit of legislation. I hope others will also. It just takes a minute.