Washington State Senate Bill 5597 - ACA

Feb 6, 2023

Washington State Senate Bill 5597


Statement of Brett Mayer, Policy Chief
On behalf of American Canoe Association

Washington State House of Representatives
Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee

February 6th, 2023, 1:30 PM
Concerning Boater Education
Sponsors: Lovick, Van De Wege

Senators Lovick, Van De Wege, and members of the Committee, my name is Brett Mayer, and I am the Public Policy Chief for the American Canoe Association (ACA). The American Canoe Association is opposed to SB 5597 as written.

The American Canoe Association (ACA) is a national non-profit 501(c)(3) paddle sports organization. Founded in 1880, we serve the broader paddling public by providing education related to all aspects of paddling, stewardship support to help protect paddling environments, and serving as the national governing body for olympic paddlesports in the United States. The ACA is seen as the standard of paddlesports education in the United States and around the world. The large majority of paddlesports education in the United States happens through curriculum written and continually adapted by the American Canoe Association.

The discussion of paddle sports safety is an important aspect of our mission, and we appreciate the attention the legislature, and your Committee has placed on boating safety. The past several years saw tremendous growth in paddlesports. In June of 2020, sales of paddle sports products were up 56% compared to one year prior (1*). This growth was fueled by people eager to spend time outside in socially distant ways, and we are attuned to the importance of enhanced education, especially for novice recreational paddlers new to paddle sports and to our nation’s waterways. Following the pandemic, these trends continued, and recreational paddling continues to see significant growth.

Data from Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics Reports show that the largest percentage (79 percent) of fatal boating accident victims drowned(2*). Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 86 percent were not wearing a life jacket and alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor accounting for 23 percent of total fatalities. Many of these tragedies may have been prevented by wearing a personal flotation device. The ACA is focused on educating paddlers through all disciplines and courses offered through the ACA, to wear a personal flotation device at all times, and support partners like the National Safe Boating Council in the efforts to encourage increased adoption of personal flotation device use through promotions such as the Wear It Campaign.

Key Concerns With SB 5597 As Drafted

  • Boater registration cards are a potential impediment to equitable paddle sports access. We are concerned that placing the financial burden of a fee associated with a legally mandated boater education card would have the effect of deterring potential paddlers. Furthermore, fines might be levied disproportionately in minority communities, or communities that are already socially economically disadvantaged. Mandated registration cards and additional fees create barriers to access for already underfunded programs.
    • Diversify Whitewater is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in paddlesports by removing the barriers that may exist for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and allies in kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and stand-up paddleboarding.
    • In Darrington, Washington, Oak Rankin, is the executive director of Glacier Peak Institute. GPI is a non-profit organization that educates underserved youth in paddle sports.
  • SB 5597 takes a one size fits all approach. The ACA is pleased to see that SB 5597 focuses on education related to the human powered paddling community, compared to House Bill 1018 from 2021. However, it remains, the statute, as written, does not differentiate between different paddlesport disciplines, i.e. stand up paddle boarding, canoeing, whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking, and rafting, all different disciplines within ACA curriculums (3*), nor does the amended statute differentiate between operating environments, i.e. river, open ocean, lake. Different disciplines and operating conditions can require nuanced safety information that is critical in the efficacy of a strong curriculum.
    • Lumping all paddlesports together does not best serve any one of the communities.
    • It is clear that existing legislation does not differentiate. In fact, the free paddlesports safety course on the Washington Recreation and Conservation (4*), is clearly designed for open boating situations only. Examples of sample questions from the free recreational paddle sports course that show a lack of differentiation are as follows:
      • A boat’s maximum load capacity includes the total weight of which of the following?
      • Which of the following navigation lights are required for non-powered vessels under 23 feet in length?
  • SB 5597 designates the committee as the authoritative body for deciding what qualifies as a legitimate boater education safety course. The ACA is a global leader in paddler safety and education. We receive grants from the U.S. Coast Guard to develop safety and education programs every year. Most recently, we launched an online Paddlesports Safety Facilitator course that provides basic paddler safety education in the ways that SB 5597 seems to intend. If SB 5597 moves forward, it is essential that the
    paddling community has a seat at the table when designating valid courses and learning targets. In our experience, if the paddling community is not at the table, we will not end up with fair and equitable policy that is productive for the citizens of Washington State.
  • Additional net revenue from this program does not benefit the human powered paddling community. SB 5597 designates additional revenues generated from this program to be directed toward local marine law enforcement. While we understand this program is not intended to generate revenue, it currently states that additional revenue is designated solely for marine law enforcement.
    • The paddling community should be a part of designating where additional revenue is directed. The bill should be designed as a user pay – user benefit system. The paddling community should be able to see the benefits of money paid into the system. Additional funding needs to benefit either paddler-based programming, go back to designated watersheds, or remove the financial barrier of the card cost for those with less financial means.
  • Individuals would still have the legal choice to not wear a personal flotation device. Currently, Washington State law requires personal flotation devices be worn on all vessels under nineteen feet in length for children 12 years old and younger.
    • 86% of drowning deaths occur because victims are not wearing a pfd. Anyone aboard a vessel is required to have a pfd, but individuals on non-motorized crafts can still choose to not wear a personal flotation device. Legally mandating a boater registration card is not necessarily going to be an effective way to change this behavior.
      • All vessels (including non-motorized watercraft) must carry at least one USCG–approved wearable Type I, II, or III PFD for each person on board. Non-motorized watercraft include vessels such as canoes, inflatable rafts,
        kayaks, and sailboats.


The ACA primarily sees this as an issue within the novice recreational paddling community. Most paddlers with knowledge and experience, educated through our paddle sports curriculums, choose to wear personal flotation devices. The development of paddle sports pedagogy that takes into account different disciplines and environmental factors is key to the efficacy of increased usage of personal flotation devices. A one size fits all approach will not serve any one community well, and the requirement of a card will do little to affect whether or not a paddler chooses to actually wear their personal flotation device while paddling.

The ACA is committed to being the standard for paddle sports education, and believe there may be other opportunities to more effectively convince paddle sports newcomers to wear personal flotation devices, and ultimately prevent unnecessary paddle sports related deaths.

A different solution might be mandating education at the point of sale of paddle sports equipment through enhancing attached educational literature. This could provide information, not only, on basic personal flotation device laws, but also where to go to find entry level instructional courses in various paddle sports disciplines.

We encourage the Committee to examine other communities where recreational paddling safety concerns are an ever present issue. The Potomac River, outside of Washington D.C. that flows through Great Falls and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park is an area of high incidence. There are an average of several fatalities a year on this stretch of river. In response, the National Park Service collaborated with the local advanced and expert paddling communities to develop a volunteer safety program to help patrol the river, encourage personal flotation device wear, and warn people of dangers.

In sum, expanded education, if done well, and thoughtfully, could be beneficial and effective, but the ACA wants to ensure such efforts are not creating inequitable impediments to access, that the paddling community clearly benefits from any collected fees, that the ACA is a part of designating approved boater education courses, and that such efforts actually enhance safety on the water.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony to your Committee. I would be happy to answer any questions.


Respectfully Submitted.

Brett Mayer
Public Policy Chief
P.O. Box 7996
Fredericksburg, VA 22404

1* https://uscgboating.org/statistics/accident_statistics.php

2* https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/thought-leadership/2020/consumers-are-flocking-to-these-5-activities/#:~:text=%24172M,%24172M%20in%20June%202020

3* https://www.americancanoe.org/page/Course_SR

4* https://www.boaterexam.com/paddling/