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Bill requiring paddlesport safety course stalls, but boating laws still apply

Fishermen take part in a Lake Washington "Let Us Fish" protest and rally on Lake Washington on April 26, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

state bill that would require paddlesport participants to take a safety course has stalled in committee this year, but those using kayaks, canoes, row boats, and stand-up paddleboards are encouraged to take an online course to learn the laws, emergency procedures, rules, and paddling techniques.

Rob Sendak, the safe boating program manager with Washington State Parks, told KIRO Radio that the state parks’ webpage has free, online courses.

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According to data from the safe boating program, paddlers accounted for half — 13 out of 24 — recreational boating fatalities in the state last year.

“Understanding who has right of way I think causes probably the most confusion,” Sendak said.

“The recreation conservation office in the state, they were estimating that there were probably about a million and a half human-powered watercraft in the state,” Sendak added.

Per federal and state laws, kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards are subject to boating laws and regulations. All vessels are required to have at least one properly fitted, Coast Guard approved life jacket for each person on board. Children 12 years and younger are required to wear a life jacket at all times.

“No matter your age and skill level, you’re encouraged to wear a life jacket every time you go out on the water,” the state parks department website reads.

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It’s also advised to have a leash for stand-up paddleboards, and to always carry essential gear for safety, emergency communications, and comfort, which includes a sound-producing device like a whistle.

The penalty for failing to carry the proper safety equipment is a civil infraction punishable by a fine of $99 for each violation. For example, a stand-up paddleboarder without an appropriate life jacket and sounding device could be charged with two violations for a possible fine totaling $198. For not carrying a valid boater education card while operating a boat in the state, there’s a minimum fine of $99.

All boaters are encouraged to take a safety course, but you are required by law to carry a boater education card if you fit the following criteria: you operate a vessel with a 15-horsepower (or greater) motor; you were born after Jan. 1, 1955; you are 12 years of age or older. At the end of January 2021, more than 400,000 people in Washington had a boater education card.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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