Emergency legislation, to be submitted by Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, would require all those on board kayaks and canoes to wear personal floatation devices at all times. Malaby said the bill was submitted at the request of a constituent.

The bill comes in the aftermath of a number of kayaking deaths this season.

Eric Hogan, a 28-year-old man from Webster, Mass., died June 18 when his kayak flipped over in Frenchman Bay.

A month later, a New Hampshire man, Steven M. Brooks, 43, was kayaking from Hadley Point to Lamoine State Park when his kayak flipped over. Brooks had brought a life jacket on the trip, but was not wearing it.

On Aug. 9, 75-year-old Hong Sohn of Seoul, South Korea, was kayaking on Beech Hill Pond in Otis when his kayak overturned. Sohn was also not wearing a life jacket.

Malaby’s change would require anyone in a kayak or a canoe of any length to wear a Type I, II or III PFD on all waters.

For other types of boats shorter than 16 feet, there would have to be a wearable PFD on the boat for each person on board.

Currently, Maine law requires that there must be a wearable (Type I, II or III) PFD for each person on board any canoe or kayak under 16 feet in length in all waters.

If the boat is 16 feet or longer, there must be a wearable PFD (Type I, II, III) for each person on board, plus at least one throwable device (Type IV) on board.

While wearing a PFD is not normally required by law, there are some exceptions.

Children 10 years of age and younger must wear a Type I, II or III PFD while on board all watercraft. There are also requirements that are specific to parts of the Saco, Penobscot and Kennebec rivers.

Anyone operating or riding on a personal watercraft, such as a Jet Ski, or being towed on waterskis, surfboards or similar devices must wear a life jacket, life belt or similar lifesaving device.

Federal law requires children 12 and younger to wear PFDs when on vessels in marine waters.

Personal choice may endanger others

Camden Lake Warden Ken Bailey said he could see both sides of the debate about whether wearing life jackets should be mandated.

“That’s a hot button issue,” he said. “Life jackets have been shown, time and time again, to save lives regardless of the type of watercraft you are in. With the dramatic increase in kayak use, and the dramatic increase in kayak deaths in the past year, I can see where some may think it’s a necessary step. I usually lean on the side of safety.”

“It’s kind of like the helmet law,” he said. “There’s some personal choice involved, but other people are being put at risk in these rescue or recovery operations.” Bailey said he was still not sure if wearing a PFD should be mandatory, but was leaning that way.

Bailey said any change that applies to canoes and kayaks should also apply to stand-up paddleboards. He said paddleboarders are required under current law to have PFDs on board, but many ignore that law.

“If you fall and hit your head you’re going to have some issues,” said Bailey.

He said the PFDs available today are more comfortable, lightweight and motion-friendly than the bulky life jackets many people remember from childhood.

Rockland-based stand-up paddleboard instructor Thor Emory said he makes all his clients wear PFDs.

“They make sense for touring,” he said. “A leash is generally even more important so that you do not get separated from the board.”

“In the surf the PFD is a hindrance,” said Emory. “Personally when on my own I prefer not to wear one because I cannot get separated from my board. I do have some issues with over-regulations. That being said, we have cold water here so PFDs, wetsuits, etc. make sense.”

Malaby said the constituents who spoke to him in support of this bill did not specify that paddleboards be included.

All boaters should be prepared for the unexpected

The website at touringkayaks.com offers the following suggestions for those venturing out.

  • Wear a life jacket, but also understand its limitations. Life jackets extend survival time in cold water but do not ensure survival.
  • Choose a kayak appropriate for the waters. In cold waters, kayaks with enclosed cockpits and sealed bulkheads, that provide reserve flotation in case of capsize, are recommended.
  • Leave a written float plan indicating the route and return time.
  • Dress for air and water temperatures. Along the Maine coastline, this may mean wearing a wetsuit or dry suit. When it is summer on the land, it may be spring or fall on the water.
  • Listen to weather forecasts. Winds greater than 12 mph may be too much for beginning paddlers. Winds greater than 18 mph may make conditions unsafe for intermediate paddlers.
  • Be prepared for changes in weather. Dramatic and unexpected weather changes will eventually affect all outdoor adventurers.
  • Study charts. Know the areas you will paddle. Understand the effects of tides and currents. Stay along shorelines as much as possible.
  • Carry a waterproof/submersible VHF radio and a cell phone in a waterproof pouch.
  • Practice self-rescue and assisted rescue techniques. Take a class to learn these if you have not done so.
  • Paddle in a group when possible. Doing so increases your ability to successfully handle an accident or other unexpected situation.
  • If paddling alone, be more conservative in your decisions regarding all of the above.
  • If you are unsure about any of the above, strongly consider going with a guide or more experienced paddler.

Malaby, who represents House District 34, said his bill would be voted on by the Legislative Council on Sept. 30.

If they approve, the bill will be drafted and referred to the Marine Resources Committee sometime in January. Public notices would go out, and two weeks later the committee would hear testimony from both supporters and opponents, prior to making a recommendation to the House and Senate.

“If the Legislative Council denies my request, then I will have an opportunity to make an in-person appeal, sometime during the second week in October,” he said.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at sauciello@villagesoup.com.