Registration tags being considered for kayaks, canoes

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Starting in 2019, anyone in Michigan using a kayak, canoe or paddleboard could be required to pay a fee and register their water craft.

On Feb. 1, the Michigan State Waterways Commission (MSWC) voted 6-0 to approve a list of recommendations for proposed legislation

to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In that list is a stipulation that would require people to register rigid-hulled kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards 8 feet in length or longer for up to $10 each per year, and require a seasonal pass for non-resident craft for up to $10 per year. See more specific suggestions in sidebar.

Dennis Nickels, chairman of the commission, said these suggestions came after years of collecting data on Michigan’s waterways and paddle sports, and gathering input from dozens of paddle sport organizations in Michigan.

Currently, there are approximately 800,000 registered boats and more than 3,000 miles of water trails in the state of Michigan. The U.S. Coast Guard estimates the state sees 650,000 paddle sport vessels, such as kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards every year.

“Paddle sport vessels are 45 percent of vessels on the water,” he said. But these vessels do not come with a registration fee.

Boat registration fees partially go to the 1,300 boating access points around the state, which many paddle sport users take advantage of but don’t pay for. These access points are packed, Nickels said.

Safety concerns

Another concern is safety and law enforcement resources for paddle sport vessels. Nickels said they heard first a “dull roar and then a plea for help” from the DNR water safety division and from county sheriffs and municipal marine patrols.

By law, if an individual is out on the water and someone else is in distress, they are required to help if it does not put themselves in danger, and then to alert law enforcement.

“Disproportionately, law enforcement gets called on emergencies for paddle craft, not motorized vessels,” he said. “With no ID on the kayak, they don’t know if it was blown off someone’s dock or their lawn, or if they’re looking for a person in the water, also. They don’t know if it’s a vessel recovery or a search and rescue.”

Funding for water safety

Approximately 50 cents from every dollar collected from boat registration fees is divided between three sections: the DNR law enforcement division, county and municipal marine patrol, and for both the states and local units of government to provide watercraft safety and awareness. The other 50 cents goes to the waterways fund and can only be spent on maintenance and construction for public access points.

“We do what we can but we can’t keep taking money from registered boaters to give resources to unregistered boaters,” he said. “Law enforcement budgets have been blown to smithereens.”

Numerous states, such as Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana and others require these vessels to be registered. If paddle sport vessels are registered in Michigan, those users would not have to pay the fee in other states if they wish to travel and kayak.

What the money would go to

While the commission voted on a fee up to $10, Nickels said he expects the fee to be around $5. The commission aims to disperse the money through grants for local paddle sport organizations. The money would go to the water trails initiative, public access sites, law enforcement, boater safety education, and providing identification for paddle sport owners to aid in search and recovery attempts.

In talking with paddle sport organizations, Nickels discovered a need for adaptive launch devices that are handicap accessible with hydraulic lifts. Disabled people would be able to get their kayaks and canoes in and out of the water.

“It’s not going to be without controversy, but so far largely the controversy is misunderstanding as to where the money would go,” he said.

Nickels hopes to get legislation passed by the next voting season this coming fall.

Suggestions that could become law

The Michigan State Waterways Commission is a seven-member advisory body responsible for the construction and maintenance of public recreational harbors, channels, docking and launching facilities.


• Require registration of all rigid-hulled kayaks and paddleboards (over 8 feet in length) at a fee to be determined

• Require that the registration certificate be affixed to the vessel in a prominent location, containing information on the owner’s name, address, landline and cell phone, emergency contact, and email address

• Require that personal flotation devices be on onboard or worn while using these crafts, which is already state law

• Not allow new owners to use previous owner’s registration

• Require that out of state paddle craft register the vessel in Michigan or get a seasonal permit, but this excludes vessels registered in other states

Source: Michigan State Waterways Commission

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