Fla. Council Weighs Requiring Kayak Safety Course

December 5, 2006

A Florida boating advisory council may soon recommend that operators of kayaks and other non-motorized vessels must pass a safety course before they are allowed on the water.

The Florida Boating Advisory Council will consider the proposal for non-motorized vessels at its meeting Tuesday in Key Largo. The proposed safety course would be required for vessels such as canoes, kayaks, row boats and sailboats.

The 18-member council — which advises the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission — recommended earlier this year that motorboat operators of all ages have to pass a safety course. Current Florida law requires the course for anyone 21 years of age or younger operating a motorboat of 10 horsepower or more.

The Florida Legislature would need to give final approval before regulations become law. Maj. Paul Oulette, leader of the commission’s boating and waterways section, said the Legislature would likely consider the plans at its upcoming 2007 session.

Twenty-two states either require motorboat operators of all ages to pass a safety course or are phasing in such requirements, according to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. Under the current proposal in Florida, the plan would be phased in over a three-to-five year window.

Officials say boating-related deaths show the need for increased education. Of 81 boating deaths in 2005, a dozen involved non-motorized vessels, though none involved kayaks, according to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The statistic shows there isn’t a need for kayaks to be regulated in such a way, said Brack Barker, owner of Wild Florida Adventures in Williston.

Barker said the course would discourage out-of-state tourists from kayaking.

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