Massachusetts Will Soon Require all Kayak Instructors to be Certified with the American Canoe Association [Poor Policy]

Friday, 20 November 2009
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David Johnston giving a poor kayak rolling lesson...The state of Massachusetts has a new House bill sitting with the Senate committee that is related to kayak safety and instruction.

Senate Bill S:974 is an interesting piece of legislation as it will require anybody who paddling a kayak to wear a personal flotation device in good and serviceable condition.

Another major section is related to kayak instruction. Here is the key wording:


[blockquote](B)  Anyone who holds himself out as a kayak instructor for hire shall obtain and maintain: (i) first aid training approved by the department of public health; (ii) cardiopulmonary resuscitation training approved by the department of public health; and (iii) kayak instructor certification from the American Canoe Association, American Red Cross certification in small craft safety and basic water rescue, or equivalent water training.

Any course of kayak instruction shall include, but not be limited to; (i) the safety procedures appropriate to the level of kayak paddling difficulty; and (ii) wet exit training, which training shall be conducted prior to a student operating a kayak unsupervised or in water deeper than 5 feet.  Wet exit training shall consist of practice escaping from a kayak while submerged in a controlled water setting.  Wet exit training shall not be required by this section if the kayak to be utilized by the student during the training is a sealed-hull, sit-on-top or open-decked kayak in which no part of the kayaker’s body is covered or enclosed within the cockpit, or center opening of the kayak.

A liability release that limits an instructor’s responsibility to comply with this section shall be void.”[/blockquote]

I’m ok with the idea that all instructors will be required to have first-aid and CPR training. It is the industry standard to have it and practically speaking, everybody should get trained in first aid no matter what you do in life.

The second part of the bill is the wet-exit training part. This comes from several highly publicized drawings over the past couple of years. We talked about it here and here. The requirement to add wet exit training into every lesson is controversial and several paddling websites have been discussing the perceived problems throughout the bill. Jump over there to get educated and join in the conversation if you wish.

On one hand, I’m an advocate of teaching the wet exit to anybody who hasn’t done it before but the language makes it a requirement for every lesson you ever teach even if the student has done it  a 1000 times in the past. The other thing is that you better make sure you teach the wet exit very first thing. If an accident happens to your student before you get a chance to get organized and teach the wet exit then you really open yourself up to some serious litigation.

American Canoe Association LogoThe one thing that really caught my eye in the above bill is the requirement that all instructors get certified by the American Canoe Association. I have no problem with the ACA as they do great work. I’m just surprised that the legislation names them specifically as the only approved sanctioning body.

By naming the ACA as the only certifying agency, it effectively eliminates any other groups from coming in including the British Canoe Union North America, US Canoe/Kayak, USA Freestyle Kayaking or the Eastern Surf Kayaking Association. I will admit that several of these bodies do not offer an extensive certification program but the fact remains that if any do decide to offer any type of coaching program or clinic throughout the calendar year (any many do), they will need to make sure that they go back to the American Canoe Association for training.

From a policy perspective, Massachusetts would do much better not to name any specific group but to rather word the bill so that kayak instructors must be certified by an industry recognized certifying body. That would eliminate companies and clubs from self certifying themselves yet keep the “training market” open to future growth in the state.

Practically speaking, it doesn’t change things too much as there just aren’t that many places to get certified that don’t already offer the ACA program. It’s the principle that I have a problem with.

Please tell me if I’m wrong but there is no requirement in Massachusetts for canoe instructors to be certified with the ACA. Just kayak instructors. Also, kayakers will be required to wear a PFD year-round yet canoeists will only be required to don a vest from September through to May. Strange how that is...

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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