Legislature considers making canoeists wear life jackets

It was a sad and sorrowful tragedy that provoked a Passamaquoddy Mom to seek legislation making it mandatory for canoeists to wear their life jackets. Sponsored on that Mom’s behalf by Senator Joyce Maker of Washington County, the public hearing on LD 342 drew several people from the Passamaquoddy Tribe who spoke in favor of the bill.

One member of the tribe read that Mom’s letter, and it was a somber reminder of how important it is to wear those life jackets when conditions warrant that. The Mom’s son drowned in Quoddy Bay after falling out of a canoe. He was not wearing a life jacket.

Many members of the IFW Committee offered condolences and other remarks of sympathy to the Mom and the tribal members in attendance.

Colonel Joel Wilkinson of the Maine Warden Service spoke against the bill noting that it did not apply to kayakers. That led some to suggest that kayakers be added to the bill.

Wilkinson also reported that, “The Maine Warden Service encourages everyone to wear a PFD while in a watercraft of any type and actively participated in the North American Safe Boating Campaign called ‘Wear It.”

He also said, “We try to lead by example and have a self-imposed mandatory PFD wear policy for our staff while operating any form of watercraft. We have partnered with McDonald’s and issue ‘Flotation Citations’ to all children twelve and under who are found wearing PFDs while in any type of watercraft. The Citation is actually a redeemable coupon for a free snack.”

He summed up his testimony by acknowledging that the bill “would increase safety, (but) create an undue restriction on canoeists.”

Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association and David Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine also opposed the bill.

Don reported that, “I have been a US Coast Guard Licensed Captain since 1989 and spend over 100 days in a boat of some sort every year.”

“The most important piece of safety equipment on any vessel is the clear thinking of the operator who will judge for themselves the conditions and any special safety precautions that must be taken,” said Don.

“One of my biggest concerns about personal flotation devices is about a group that is already mandated to wear them: kids under 10,” he said. “Most of my time on the water is in the summer and I am constantly worried about them on hot sunny days since they are required to wear an insulated jacket no matter what.”

Dave suggested that “a better solution might be to propose a statewide education campaign that includes areas like overall boating safety.” He also suggested that manufacturers produce PFDs “with a parachute cord style attachment that would allow the canoeist to attach a cord to themselves and their PFD.”

At the work session on the bill, the IFW Committee voted 10 to 1 “ought-not-to-pass.” The one committee member supporting the bill added kayaks to it. The bill now proceeds to the House and Senate for further action.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.