They shouldn’t be considered fringe boaters, by the Recreational Boating Marketplace or by themselves

By Wayne Spivak
National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

The Professional Paddlesports Association (PPA) defines their sport as people who raft, canoe or kayak. The American Canoe Association (ACA) lists eleven (11) different “paths” that a Paddlesporter can participate in and enjoy.

Whether you look at this sport in a macro sense, or on a micro level, people are purchasing, renting, borrowing and using all different types of paddlesport equipment and enjoying the sport.

According to the ACA’s “Critical Judgment: Understanding and Preventing Canoe and Kayak Fatalities” issued in 2003, the numbers of people involved in paddlesports is increasing every year.

In fact, kayaking is (according to the available studies) the fastest growing segment of the entire boating community with a growth rate of 182.5% over the past seven years. The National Survey of Recreation and the Environment (NSRE) found that, during 2002, 20.6 million Americans paddled in canoes, 7.3 million paddled in kayaks, and 20.2 million went rafting… According to the NSRE, 76.5 million Americans went out in some kind of boat in 2002. – page 9

Safety is job number one

As evidenced by this report, safety has taken hold in the industry, as reports of injuries and fatalities have risen in the mass media. To this end, both industry groups and the United States Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary have stepped up their efforts to reach out to this extremely large and diverse group of [paddle-] boaters, and stress the need for boating education.

Another trade association, TAPS - the Trade Association of Paddlesports, has created a series of guidelines. These guidelines relate to operators, retail and touring establishments and give advice on everything from lesson plans and areas that should be taught and/or covered during operator instruction to the types of equipment that should be provided by rental companies.

Safety is big business. On a review of available on-line versions of Paddlesport Magazines, safety is definitely given its due. In every picture shown, a padldler is wearing a PFD. In one magazine, Wavelength, from the Feburary/March 2002 issue to the April/May 2003 issue, a total of sixteen (16) different articles appeared that were related to some aspect of safety.

On a search of Canoe & Kayak Magazine web site, thirty articles appeared when searching for the term “safety”. Articles run the gamut from properly choosing the right paddle to first aid and safety signals.

Safety Education

Given the logarithmic explosion of the paddlesports, recreational boating safety, specifically education has become paramount. How many paddlers go paddling without a PFD? How many go without any means of attracting attention, should they get in trouble (signal mirror, whistle)?

More importantly, how many of these boaters know, care or realize that they should, that they are boaters and need to know about navigation, safety equipment, and rules of the road? This is why the Coast Guard Auxiliary, through its Boating Department has stepped up efforts to educate these “non-traditional” boating students.

Just as the United Safe Boating Institute (, an association of boating organizations, (the US Coast Guard & Auxiliary, US and Canadian Power Squadrons, the Red Cross, NASBLA, and US Sail) has targeted such diverse boating groups as Safe Boating Tips for Anglers, Hunters & Campers with educational pamphlets, the paddlesport industry needs to band together with the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary and offer such educational opportunities.

Recently, I attended the New York Boat Show, where over 225 vendors displayed their wares. What was missing from this show was a concerted educational effort to include these “non-traditional” boaters. Educational material abounded at the Auxiliary and Power Squadrons displays, as well as the law enforcement displays.

However, even the Auxiliary and Power Squadron have no literature that specifically targets this large group of boaters. Although the New York Boat Show had only a few vendors showcasing canoes and/or kayaks, they too, had no educational brochures on paddlesport safety.

Worse of all, missing from every vendor was some type of hand out extolling the needs for their customers, new and old to become better, more knowledgeable and safer boaters.


While brochures, pamphlets, and other traditional methods of getting any message out, is still an important part of outreach, the Paddlesport market place needs a change in paradigm, at least in as marketing of the recreational boating safety message goes. The reasons are part in parcel of the sport.

Traditional boating starts at one of several places. The boat ramp. The marina. The waterfront dock. Paddleboaters start - well frankly anyplace they want. The portability of both kayaks and canoes, as well as inflatable rafts, make them relatively easy to transport.

The inaccessible beach front., the small lake or stream - these are all areas where a Paddleboater may well begin his or her journey. This is not, for the most part, where we, as an industry, attempt to reach. Other traditional methods, for the most part, also don’t reach this marketplace.

Examples that fail us with this large number of boaters are trips to the boat store, the gas pumps, and state boater’s registration office. In fact, this group of boaters - boats without propulsion, is exempt from boating registration and licensing laws in many states.

Fortunately, there are ways to reach this wide audience. Again, with a little leg work on the Internet, we can find large numbers of local organizations geared toward the Paddlesport marketplace. We find, what is in effect, their version of the “traditional” Yacht Club.

Canoe & Kayak Magazine, for instance lists thirteen clubs, from the ACA to the Washington Water Trails Association. They also have a partial listing of approximately 50 clubs sorted via the States. A little more searching and you’ll also find clubs listed on the ACA web site. Wavelengths Magazine lists 91 clubs in the US, and 44 in Canada.

Outreach is possible, and it is incumbent upon all the members of the Recreational Boating Safety community to reach these boaters. USCG statistics for 2002 provide a backdrop of why further outreach and education is necessary. In 2002, it was reported that 113 people lost their lives on Paddleboats (kayak, canoe and rowboats), with another 85 injuries reported. While, the Coast Guard reports an improvement in kayak/canoe safety, most of the deaths occurred from drowning.

According the study issued by the ACA, 74% of the 399 fatalities based on data from 1996 – 2000, were not wearing life jackets (PFD’s). In 2002, if we were to apply this same percentage, 83 people died, simply because they didn’t wear a PFD.

You reach your own conclusion as to whether a stronger marketing campaign to this “non-traditional” boating group could increase PFD wear?


Paddlesports is the fastest growing aspect of the boating industry, and we, as the providers of information to the general public need to impress upon all those who venture upon our rivers, lakes, streams, bays, and oceans that they are all boaters. Hunter, fisherman, kayaker, canoeist - they are all boaters who need to be as educated about their particular slice of the greater boating sport, but also about the sport itself.

Navigation, rules of the road, safety equipment, etc. are all part and parcel of this great sport, and all boaters, traditional or non-traditional need education.

For more information about boating education, contact the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary either on the web at contacting your local Coast Guard unit