LFP Now Requires Life Vests Be Worn On Paddleboards, Kayaks, and Other Human Powered Watercraft

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This ordinance caught my eye so I reached out to the principal sponsor, LFP Councilmember Tom French. In summary:

  • It becomes law today, May 23rd
  • Just having a life vest (personal floatation device or PFD) onboard is no longer all you need, you have to have it on
  • LFP's Lake Washington enforcement area extends from the waterfront within city limits to the middle of the lake
  • Who could give you a warning or citation? King County Sheriff or Seattle PD marine patrols
  • Will LFP get a police boat? See below

Councilmember French: Thanks for your questions. As principal sponsor, I'm happy to answer what I can.

  • How did the idea for this ordinance come about?

First and foremost, this ordinance is about outreach, awareness and education.

Over the past few years we have observed a dramatic increase in human-powered craft out on Lake Washington. This is due to a variety of factors: the popularity of watersports, such as paddleboarding; less expensive paddle boards and kayaks which can be purchased at Costco or online; the growth of our community and the increases in membership at the Civic Club; and the expansion of waterfront activities in Kenmore, including kayak and paddleboard rentals; the pandemic has encouraged families to try new outdoor experiences and get out on the water more.

I originally brought consideration of a PFD ordinance to City leadership early last year, but because of the pandemic, we chose to table any new business until we had a better understanding of the impacts of the crisis.

We felt that that with the spring season upon us and the dangers that the cold water presents to the users of human-powered craft and to boaters, it was timely to bring it to Council for consideration.

At the state level, during this legislative session, House Bill 1018 would have added human-powered craft to the list of watercraft that users would have been required to undergo training, testing and certification in just the same manner as recreational boaters. This bill failed to get out of committee and there seems to be little support to bring it back next year.

HB1018 was also considered by many, including myself, to be somewhat inequitable and in effect made access to water sports more expensive and place an undue barrier to entry for many. While appropriate education is essential for the safety of anyone who is accessing the waters of our state, I suspect very few would take a boater's education course and get a boater's card to rent a paddle board or kayak for an hour or two.

  • I rarely see paddleboarders wearing PFD's, how do you think it will be received by the people it affects?

I think it will be received well.

While state law requires that a Coast Guard approved PFD be on board a paddleboard or kayak, anyone who is a serious paddle boarder or kayaker at the very least wears an inflatable, belt-type pfd, if not a regular pfd. Nearly all that I have spoken to who are regular watersports enthusiasts are in full support. It is the first time or more casual users of human-powered watercraft that I hope this ordinance will help contribute to their awareness of the dangers of the water, particularly in the spring and early summer when the water is so cold.

Incidentally, this is not like a helmet law- if someone chooses not wear a helmet (they should wear one!), they are not placing a first responder in danger. Failing to wear a PDF can place a first responder's life in jeopardy out on the water.

  • How will it be enforced?

The City of LFP contracts with the King County Sherriff's Marine Unit to provide safety and enforcement on LFP's portion of Lake Washington. On hot days, they also use their fire hose to cool down the kids on the docks at the Civic and Sheridan Beach Clubs!
The intent of this ordinance is outreach, awareness and education, and the first violation will result in educational outreach and a warning. Subsequent offenses will result in a citation as allowed in 11.20 LFPMC.

  • Does this lay future groundwork for an LFP police boat?

Such an expansion of our Police capabilities could not be undertaken without significant consideration and community involvement. This type of unit is very expensive to fund, train and equip, not to mention the tremendous amount of ongoing training required of the officers in the unit. Our partners at the KC Sherriff's Marine Unit do great job helping us out, but they have experienced severe cuts to their budgets and because of the distances involved, their response times in an emergency can be challenging. Budget cuts at the County have forced the elimination of the KC dive unit and for those needs we now have to request the assistance of the Seattle Police.

On the other hand, the creation of the Marine Unit for the north end of Lake Washington could make a lot of sense, particularly in concert with the City of Kenmore. With the opening of the new lakefront property in LFP in the coming years, there is a perfect opportunity for the community to have a conversation about a boat based at the new park. Short reponse times save lives.

  • Where are "LFP waterways" defined?

LFP's waterways extend to the middle of Lake Washington, bordered to the north just south of Logboom Park and bordered to the south at the Seattle city limits. I have attached a KC Marine unit jurisdiction map for your reference. LFP is Marine Patrol District M3.

We have had positive conversations with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Kenmore regarding implementation of their own PFD ordinance and are hoping that they will consider passage this year to ensure consistency on the north end of the lake. Similarly, I discussed this ordinance at a recent North End Mayor's meeting and I hope that Kirkland and Redmond might consider a similar path as LFP.

Should the LFP City Council act on this ordinance, the city will be working on programs for PFD accessibilty, including discounted PFDs and loaner programs and education about water safety at as many waterfront access points as possible.
National Safe Boating Week is May 22-28 and is a perfect time to begin the process of ensuring everyone who wants to access the water is safe and educated.

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