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Safety First!
by Wayne Spivak
National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary


Are you a Paddle boater?
Do you want to help your fellow boaters?

Paddlesporters are the fastest and largest group of boaters today. For those of you who are hard core participations, you know what the term means. For those who are not, they are Kayakers, Canoe enthusiasts and the Rafters, plus all the other type of self-propelled watercraft.

The rest of us boaters, well quite frankly we pale in numbers. But, for years, we have (that’s the Power Boaters and Sailors) been the foci of both Recreational Boating Safety drives, and the people who contributed to our own education.

That’s why many of us have joined recreational boating safety organizations such as the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary; to assist the Coast Guard in their Recreational Boating Safety mission. And, we’ve been successful. But that success must be tempered, since its only been focused at and on us, the traditional boater.

This year, the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary’s focus has fully moved to getting the message out to all our brethren on the water, specifically the Paddlesports. We have joined forces with the American Canoe Association and others to develop specific courses just for the Paddlesports.

Safety and Education

Our Vessel Safety Check (VSC) program (www.safetyseal.net) is now targeting the Paddle boater. We want you to ask for a VSC, and we want you to pass the VSC. We want you to know what equipment you are required to carry, and what equipment you should seriously consider taking. We want you to be safe.

If I were a true-blue diehard kayaker, canoeist or rafter, I’d be saying “What do a group of gas guzzling, blue-water sailors know about us? They don’t even talk our language!”

Well, you may be partially right, so how do we go about fixing that discrepancy? Who is best to perform and educate a Paddle boater? Who speaks your language? The answer is one of their own. That’s right, you the member of the Paddlesport community!

That’s why we’re seeking Kayakers, Canoeists, Rafters and other non-traditional boaters to help us. We want you to join the Coast Guard Auxiliary and be part of the proud tradition of service to our Country, the Coast Guard, and all our recreational boaters.

Boating education doesn’t start or stop with VSC’s, they are just one of many tools in our bag of tricks to make all boaters safer boaters. In 2003 (which are the latest USCG statistics available), 703 people died. 86% of them were not wearing Personal Flotation Devices (PFD’s). 77% of all fatalities had no boating education. The statistics go on to tell us that 13 million boats were registered, but as you see, Paddleboaters are not actually counted.

The statistics further tell us there were 343 casualties (165 deaths) from Paddleboaters in 2003. But what’s wrong with these statistics? Well for one thing, Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations says this about what is a Recreational Boater:

Recreational vessel means any vessel manufactured or operated for pleasure; or leased, rented, or chartered to another for the latter’s pleasure that is propelled or controlled by machinery, sails, oars, paddles, poles, or another vessel.

A recreational boating accident means a recreational vessel, a numbered vessel, or a documented vessel is being used by its operator for recreational purposes AND one or more of the following events occur involving the vessel or its equipment - Title 33 Code of Federal Regulations, Subchapter S – Boating Safety, Part 173 – Vessel Numbering and Casualty and Accident Reporting, Subpart C – Casualty and Accident Reporting

From latest estimates (2003), 48 million people went kayaking, canoeing and rafted. There are no statistics on how many of them had safety courses. By the way, have you?

Regardless (and we would hope you would take a safety course in any event) you can help educate some of these 48 million people, by volunteering your time.

How Can You Help?

We in the Coast Guard Auxiliary need educators, trainers, instructors, and participants in a myriad of programs.

We need you to help us reach out to each and every Paddleboater, from Maine to California, Alaska to Guam, and all points in between. In fact, you find Auxiliarists wherever the Coast Guard serves and sometimes where they don’t!

And don’t think if you join, that’s all you’ll do – teach. The Auxiliary performs or assists the Coast Guard in almost every mission area, with the exception of Direct Law Enforcement and Military activities.

We need Paddleboaters to become involved in America’s Waterway Watch. This national program is all about Homeland Security of our Maritime Domain. The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary needs people who transverse and know our shorelines, be they coastal, intra-coastal, on rivers or around lakes. We need people who know what’s normal, and what’s not, who should be where they are, and who should not.

Paddleboaters have fast become a key component to many areas of our maritime environment, because they utilize areas not visited by your traditional boater. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is always seeking new ways and programs that reach out to the Paddlesport community.

In conjunction with the American Canoe Association, the Smart Start for Paddlers program was developed, just for the Paddlesport community. This short course covers the major safety points each and every Paddler needs to know before they push off from shore. This is a must-have course for every new, old, novice and seasoned Paddler.

Get Involved!

How do you start? Visit us at www.cgaux.org and use our Flotilla Finder (www.cgaux.org/cgauxweb/getzip.html). Call us at 1-877-875-6296. Contact your local Coast Guard unit (www.uscg.mil), or look in your local telephone directory.

Remember Boating and Paddlesport Safety is every participant’s responsibility.


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