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Understanding the MA Boating Safety Laws that Apply to Kayakers

Posted by on October 8, 2012

Over the years I’ve heard many different versions of how the Massachusetts boating safety laws apply to kayakers. The stories include when and where you’re required to wear a PFD, a proposal on how you’re supposed to instruct a kayaking class, and even some whacky rules aimed to make a kayak more visible to motor boaters. Whether these tales were mere fish stories or actually laws on the books has always been a mystery to me. Therefore, I’ve set out to investigate how the MA Boating Safety Laws actually read in an effort to help clear up this mystery to the kayaking community through this post.

MA Boating Safety Laws that Apply to Kayakers:

The Boating Safety Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can be found in Chapter 90B of Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) and in Section 323 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR). The following laws apply either indirectly or directly to kayakers:

MGL Chapter 90B Section 5:

This law requires that every motorboat operating in MA waters carry on board at least one personal floatation device (of type I, II or III) for each person on board. The law requires that the PFDs be clearly labeled, easily accessible, of appropriate size for the intended wearer, and maintained in good and serviceable condition. The law does not require that passengers wear the PFD while onboard.

MGL Chapter 90B Section 5A:

Section 5A extends the lifejacket law to certain other craft, including canoes and kayaks, which are not covered in Section 5 above. This means that kayakers are required to carry a personal floatation device (of type I, II, or lll) onboard their kayak at all times in an accessible location. This law does not require a kayaker to wear a PFD.

CMR Section 323-2.07(10):

“Any person aboard a canoe or kayak between January 1 to May 15 and between September 15 to December 31 shall wear at all times a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of Type I, II, or III…”This is where the law requiring kayakers to wear a PFD during cold water months comes from!

Pending Acts and Amendments that may Impact Kayakers:

There are a couple of pending acts and amendments to the MA boating safety laws which may affect kayakers in the future. These include:

An Act Relative to Kayak Safety (Bill H.664)

This petition was made by William Straus of Mattapoisett and Cory Atkins of Concord and first appeared in front of the MA Senate in January 2011. The act calls for an amendment to Chapter 90B of the MGL to include legal definitions of “canoe” and “kayak” and to use the language “including canoes and kayaks” in Section 5A. The Act also calls for the addition of Section 13B which will require kayaking instructors to obtain specific credentials and abide by specific safety practices under the law.

A kayaking instructor will be required to obtain first aid training, CPR training, ACA instructor certification, American Red Cross small craft safety certification, and unspecified basic water rescue training. Furthermore kayaking instructors “…shall train students on the safety procedures appropriate to the level of paddling difficulty. Wet exit training shall be required of all beginners and novice level operators who use an attached spray skirt during any part of the kayak instructional session…”

An Act Relative to the Safe Operation of Kayaks in Navigable Waters (Bill H.652)

This petitioned was made by Sarah Peake of Provincetown and Cory Atkins of Concord and first appeared in front of the MA Senate in January 2011. The act calls for kayaks operating within navigable water of the Commonwealth to display a “high visibility orange flag on a pole at a height of 6 feet above the waterline. The act also calls for kayakers operating navigable waters between sunrise and sunset to “display a revolving yellow stern light that is visible for 360 degrees”

I hope that this post clears things up for the paddling community. Just remember, safety is the responsibility of everyone on the water and ultimately no law, whether well or poorly conceived, is going to keep you safe!

Happy and Safe Paddling!

-Kayak Dave

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