Join Date: Dec 2004
RRFW Riverwire - Throw Bag Legislation Sent To President
RRFW Riverwire - Throw Bag Legislation Sent To President
November 28, 2018
I remember how foolish I felt, standing at the lectern addressing the Arizona Game and Fish Commissioners as I wore my PFD. My unease increased when I threw a throw cushion at them. The armed law enforcement officers at the meeting all took a step closer.
The throw was a good one, and the cushion landed near their feet. Then I tossed a throw rope to the cushion, reeled it back in and tossed it again at the cushion. The Commissioners "got it," the officers stepped back, and I was kindly referred to the Arizona Water Law Administrator. That gentleman simply shrugged his shoulders and said Federal Coast Guard Law would need to be changed in Washington, DC, and wished me “good luck with that.”
This was in June of 2016, after I had been writing letters to the National Park Service for years asking the NPS to allow river runners to be able to use of a throw rope in lieu of a throw cushion on rafts 16 feet and larger on regulated rivers like the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.
In 2011, the State of Utah had changed their Utah Game and Fish Department rules to allow a throw rope in lieu of a cushion on rivers where lifejackets are required to be worn by all boaters. The NPS in Utah followed suit, for the Yampa, Lodore and Cataract canyons. Then, in 2016, the Coast Guard threatened Utah with lack of following Coast Guard regulations and the Utah rule was quickly rescinded.
After the Utah rule was removed, I called a lot of western states Water Law Administrators. It turned out that New Mexico had allowed a throw rope in lieu of a cushion for decades. Not only that, but the Western States Boating Administrators Association had passed a resolution in support of the use of a throw rope in lieu of a throw cushion way back in 2003. Some of the Administrators were very mad that after a decade and a half, nothing had been done. They directed me to the National Boating Safety Advisory Council, who had passed a similar resolution in 2014.
Lots of phone calls later, I found a receptive audience in the offices of the House and Senate USCG legislative committees in Washington, DC, and I floated the need for a rule change past them for their consideration, with supporting documentation. They drafted initial language which fit the basic need.
More phone calls, emails and letters to boaters around the country ensued. Some were supportive, some not. The naysayers liked their cushions and thought the ropes in a bag were unsafe. Fair enough. But for the rest of us that use a rope in a bag, what if WE could CHOOSE the tool we wanted to use?
The supportive ones called their legislators. That helped. I called American Whitewater and the American Canoe Association and got them up to speed. They notified their membership, and some of those folks called their legislators. That helped.
Then there was a problem. The Stand Up Paddle Board community didn’t want the language at all. So there was more tweaking. New language was inserted in the bill the SUP people liked, and on November 27, 2018, the “Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018” headed to the President’s desk for his signature. The following language is in the Act:
SEC. 827. EQUIPMENT REQUIREMENTS; EXEMPTION FROM
THROWABLE PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICES REQUIREMENT.
Not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating shall—
(1) prescribe regulations in part 160 of title 46, Code of Federal Regulations, that treat a marine throw bag, as that term is commonly used in the commercial whitewater rafting industry, as a type of life saving equipment; and
(2) revise section 175.17 of title 33, Code of Federal Regulations, to exempt rafts that are 16 feet or more overall in length from the requirement to carry an additional throwable personal flotation device when such a marine throw bag is onboard and accessible.
The above language means that in another year the US Coast Guard rules on throw cushions will change. It means managing agencies who regulate whitewater rivers across the country will retool their regulations, following the new USCG language, to allow you to bring a throw rope when you go boating and leave the throw cushion at home, if YOU want to. You don’t have to, but you can if you want to.
Clearly, this was a unified bi-partisan effort by a lot of people from across the country working the issue. Everyone who helped needs to stand up and take a bow.
As for me, I volunteer for a non-profit called River Runners For Wilderness, seeking wilderness protection for our wild rivers and equitable access to same. If you like what RRFW does, put your bucks where your heart is. Christmas is coming and River Runners For Wilderness has an online store. Store sales and donations help RRFW keep on keeping on.
In the meantime and until the new regulations are put in place, I’ll keep using my throw cushion as a seat on my cooler. My throw bag will be right next to it.
Seasons Greetings, Tom Martin
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