Policy & Stewardship
The ACA is a leading voice in paddlesports regulation. We work hard to represent the interests of paddlers at the local, state, and federal level in three core areas of regulation: mandatory education, life jacket wear, and how paddlers pay into the system.
Disclaimer: These are written with the intent to educate paddlers; they are not official ACA policy statements.
Mandatory EducationRead More
Meeting the Needs of Recreational Paddlers
~Written by Brett Mayer on behalf of the ACA Policy Advisory Board
In the past five years growth in entry-level (recreational) paddlesports has been meteoric.
Since 2010, every year there is close to an additional one million paddlers on the water, and half of these paddlers identify as recreational paddlers.
- As participation grows, there is unfortunately a growth in paddlesports fatalities.
- Since 2010, paddlesports fatalities, as a proportion of total boating fatalities (including motorized), has grown by almost 7%.
- Regulatory agencies are noticing and responding.
- Rhode Island recently passed a mandatory life jacket wear law.
- Washington and Florida proposed legislation for mandatory education.
- Arizona is offering paddling instruction programs to residents.
Given the rapid growth, it is important that the ACA works hard to address the needs of this unique paddling community, and create the educational experiences that provide the knowledge and skills to keep these paddlers safe on the water.
Three-quarters of boating deaths occur when vessel operators have had no boating education. The ACA is the leader in paddlesport education, but to ensure our paddlesport education programs are accepted by regulatory agencies and our instructors are able to teach courses recognized by regulators, three distinct entry level, recreation-focused classes are being proposed.
The ACA is proposing three courses to ensure that we are well prepared to offer curriculum in any state that makes legislative moves to require mandatory paddler education. It is vital that our curriculums are written in accordance with standards (ANSI and NOWS) recognized by regulators.
- Paddlesport Safety (online )- focuses on general risk reduction
- Can be taught by members with a PSF certification and any instructor
- Essential paddlesport safety course.
- Paddlesport Safety and Knowledge (onshore)
- Can be taught by an instructor at any level in their discipline
- Essential recreational paddling safety and knowledge course
- Paddlesport Safety, Knowledge and Skills (on-water) – all of the components of the Paddlesport Safety and Knowledge course, but includes an on-water skills assessment of paddling skills
- Can be taught by an instructor at any level in their discipline
- Essential recreational safety, knowledge, and skills course
Without this effort, the ACA – the leading paddling education organization in the US and the US NGB for Olympic and Paralympic paddlesports – will not have a program that meets regulatory requirements for potential future mandatory education legislation.
Because ACA does not have an approved course offering, even a level five instructor certification workshop will not meet regulatory standards whereas existing online paddling courses from BoatEd and BoatUS already meet these standards. This is an unacceptable position for ACA’s instructor cadre.
Perhaps most importantly, in addition to meeting regulatory requirements, the creation of this new suite of entry-level, recreation focused courses allows the ACA to best meet the needs of the growing recreational paddling community.
These courses will:
- Align with initiatives found in our Strategic Plan.
- Meet the recommendations of a recent third-party review of our curriculums
- Proactively position the ACA to be a leading voice in the creation of regulatory environments that are fair and equitable for paddlers in every state
- Do not change existing curriculums in ways that require substantial changes to ACA instructor pedagogies
The ACA is doing its best to work on behalf of paddlers to ensure regulatory environments are fair and equitable for all paddlers. The important work of developing these courses will position us to not only be well-prepared in the face of future legislation, but also allow us to best serve the steadily growing recreational paddling population in the United States.
Life Jacket WearRead More
Life Jacket Wear
Life Jackets Save Lives
Life jackets are a key boating safety measure. Life jacket wear significantly decreases the likelihood of a boater drowning. ACA requires life jackets to be worn while on the water for all ACA sponsored activities. Requests for exemption from life jacket wear must be requested from ACA’s National Office. Some past exemptions are described below:
- Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs): SUP paddlers in surf zones are not required to wear life jackets when participating in ACA sponsored activities, so long as appropriate safety measures (e.g., lifeguards in swimming and bathing areas) are enacted. However, local program organizers may choose to require life jacket wear as part of their safety measures.
- Racing canoes and kayaks are exempt from life jacket carriage, as noted under the Federal Code of Regulations, 33 CFR 175.17b. Paddlers engaged in competition, or active training for competition, are not required to wear life jackets during competition or training so long as appropriate safety measures are enacted by program organizers and coaches. However, individual program organizers and coaches may require life jacket wear as part of their safety measures. In many cases (e.g., whitewater slalom and downriver races), life jacket wear is an essential component of competitor safety.
In all cases, the risk of not wearing a life jacket must be carefully considered: including the risks associated with cold water immersion, waves, currents, and other water features, distance from shore. and likelihood of immediate rescue. ACA recommends that life jackets be worn during participation in all on-water activities minus the few exceptions listed above.
Currently, level 50 buoyancy devices are not approved as life jackets. ACA supports approval of level 50 buoyancy devices.
Mandatory life jacket wear by paddlers has been proposed by various state and federal agencies. ACA will not oppose mandatory lifejacket wear policies so long as:
- The policy in question was developed in collaboration with the affected paddling community
- The policy retains exceptions to wear as codified in current national policy as noted above
- The policy retains the flexibility to allow wear of level 50 buoyancy devices once they are approved for wear by the USCG
How Paddlers Pay Into The SystemRead More
How Paddlers Pay Into The System
An Exploration of How Paddlers Financially Support Infrastructure and Safety
~Written by Brett Mayer on behalf of the ACA Policy Advisory Board
Paddlers access waterways in many different ways, including both public and privately owned resources.
The ways in which the paddling community accesses resources for paddling is incredibly different from the ways in which the motor boating community accesses resources, but there are many examples of overlap.
In order to put a motorboat in the water, it is necessary to have a boat ramp. Boat ramps are essential infrastructure for the motorized recreational community. These ramps are expensive, and many ramps across the country are in need of repairs. For example, in a recent report from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, they stated there is a backlog of deferred maintenance amounting to tens of millions of dollars.
You might ask, what does all of this have to do with paddlers? Well, for one, sometimes paddlers access waterways through the use of boat ramps, and in more modern facilities, there are even kayak launches, slides that are specifically designed for the non-motorized community to access the waterway. You might be thinking, not me, but in many states where the non-motorized and motorized communities are using the same resource for access, there are increasing incidences of conflict.
Furthermore, the money that supports this infrastructure comes from the 1950 Sport Fish Restoration Act, a fund that is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, that supports fishery projects, boating access, and aquatic education.
This act collects money that goes into a trust fund that eventually distributes the money to each state to support relevant projects. Half of the money is generated through fuel taxes, and additional revenues come from taxes on fishing equipment, electric motors, and small engines. States use the money to support the Sport Fish Boating Partnership Council, conservation grants, and state fishery commissions. Other monies go toward the Recreational Boating Safety Act, boating infrastructure grants, sport fish restoration, and coastal wetlands restoration.
The Government Office of Accountability completed a study on the Sport Fish Restoration Act and Boating Trust Fund to try and determine the extent to which paddlers pay into support the system, and were ultimately unable to develop any clear findings. This is in large part because anyone can buy fishing equipment, not just motorized recreators, and the non-motorized community also buys gas, which is a largest part of the revenues generated. You can examine the GAO Report here, Recreational Boating: How Vessel Users Contribute to and Benefit from a Federal Trust Fund.
Though it is difficult to determine the extent to which non-motorized vessels support the Federal Trust Fund, increasingly, states and waterways managers are discussing ways to address a variety of issues. In a recent study by the River Management Society, several key findings can help the paddling community better understand these issues.
The River Management Society study, Peering Into the World of Non-Motorized Recreational Boating, December 1st 2022, contains several key findings.
- People are Talking About How the Paddling Community Can Pay Into the System
- 43% of respondents indicated there’s been some discussion of regulatory fees that support non-motorized recreational safety, water quality, or access.
- Growth in the Number of Paddlers is Outpacing the Number of Safety and Education Programs Offered
- Only ⅓ of respondents mentioned there was a growth in safety programs that coincided with the growth in paddlesports.
- There is Often Conflict Between User Groups at Access Sites
- 46% of respondents said there is a conflict between the motorized and non-motorized community at some or all access points. There is also often conflict between paddlers and private landowners.
- Growth in the Number of Paddlers Requires Enhanced Access
- “A growing non-motorized recreational boating community will require states to add or improve access sites that accommodate the needs specific to these members.”
In sum, the recreational paddling community is growing rapidly, and there is a concordant rise in the number of incidents.
Click on the NASBLA (National Association of State Boating Law Administrators) dashboards, to examine real data from the United States Coast Guard and state level recreational boating safety programs.
Paying into the system on the national level is only one part of this issue. There are innumerable other ways in which paddlers pay into support access and infrastructure, and they are wide ranging. Below we offer a list of existing models used to collect revenues from the paddlesports community.
- Hull registrations
- (with and without Coast Guard numbers)
- Licensing/Permitting of Operators
- (like a fishing license only for paddlers)
- Mandatory Education
- (like a boating or hunting license)
- Permit Lotteries
- (fees for paddling certain rivers, this is also capacity management)
- Excise Tax Model
- (this is national in scope)
- Sales Tax Model
- (this is in Georgia, where anything you buy in certain stores, 40% of the sales tax goes to the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Fund)
- Public Lands Passes
- (like Washington State, where these passes provide access to public lands)
- Nantahala Pass
- (you get a daily or annual access to a specific waterway, this is also a way to manage capacity, this is supporting conservation, fits because it’s a plastic bracelet that goes on a life jacket)
- Parking Fees
- Example – US Forest Service at the Hiwassee River (parking fees at the river access and reinvest those fees in the access)
- Hull registrations
All of these models collect revenue from the paddling community and use the revenue for a wide variety of purposes. In most cases, the paddling community has no say over how the revenues are used, and depending on the model, it can be difficult for the paddling community to see how they benefit from paying.
Below we offer a brief discussion of ways in which existing models may not be fair and equitable for the paddling community.
Mentioned above, these are excise taxes levied on marine fuel. Percentages of revenues from gas sold at marinas are directed toward land and conservation funds, boat ramps etc.
Paddlers are buying gas, but there are no percentages allocated to reflect our purchases of gas. This is missing in policy documentation law.
Hull registrations can be problematic for many reasons including:
- The tax is disproportionate per boat based on the value of the boat. For example, $40 for powerboat hull registration as a percentage of the total value of the boat is very small. $10 for a hull registration for a $1,000 kayak is disproportionately large.
- Hull registration taxes are disproportionate per boat based on the number of people the boat serves. For example, powerboat families have four or five people, but only one boat. A paddling family has a boat for every type of water, and often a boat for every person. So, it’s not one registration per family, it’s many registrations per family. This can be really expensive.
- The cost for a state employee to administer a database of property, given the proliferation of boats being bought and sold, is incredibly expensive and difficult to track. Do states require a registration of every bicycle, every fishing pole?
- In many cases, generated revenues are not directed toward projects that are important to the paddling community. Do tax revenues support the watersheds we care about?
The issues are clearly complex, but a few things are clear.
The explosive growth in the creational paddling community coincides with increasing fatalities, accidents, and user conflicts. State agencies and others are talking about how to address the situation, and one of those ways involves thinking about how the paddling community might pay more into the system to support rescue and infrastructure.
We can see that there are many ways the paddling community already pays into the system, and that the ways we do so vary as much as the waterways on which we paddle.
The ACA is concerned that the ways in which the paddling community is taxed may not be fair and equitable regarding disproportionate fees, and having a say in where the money goes. We also recognize the need to engage and collaborate in efforts to find solutions that work for all stakeholders.
One emerging idea is a statewide waterways pass, a VOLUNTARY way, that paddlers might choose to pay into the system that allows paddlers to designate where a portion of the revenue goes.
Statewide Waterways Pass
- This might be a plastic bracelet, color coded so you can buy a lifetime or a seasonal band, that supports conservation, education, and rescue.
- We might establish pathways through which organizations that support paddlesports can apply to be a local partner, so when I as a citizen paddler voluntarily pay a fee, I can select where a portion of my money goes.
- A voluntary system creates more visibility for the paddling community, raises revenues for things the paddling community cares about, avoids expensive and cumbersome bureaucratic oversight, creates an additional pathway for paddlers to support more traditional infrastructure, and creates opportunity for small-scale search and rescue operations at the local level to earn desperately needed funding.
At the moment, these are only ideas, but we hope by sharing insights, we can serve through the opportunity to provide education about complex policy issues, and how they impact our community.
The ACA is committed to being a collaborative partner and a voice that represents the best interests of the paddling community.
If you have information to add, or thoughts you would like to share, please feel free to email our Director of Policy and Stewardship, Brett Mayer, email@example.com.
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