Rohrabacher Letter
US Congressional Representative Dana Rohrabacher wrote a powerful letter to the US Coast Guard...

A Paddleboard in the Surf Zone is Not a "Vessel"

Washington, DC, March, 2012

Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr.
United States Coast Guard
2100 Second Street S.W.
Washington D.C. 20593-7000

Dear Admiral Papp:

Like thousands of my constituents, I surf, scuba dive and boat along the shoreline of the coastal cities within the 46th Congressional District, which I have the honor to serve in Congress. Anyone out on the water along our beaches these days cannot help but see that stand-up paddle-boarding is a major new ocean sport that seems here to stay. I write to request that you take appropriate action to ensure that federal regulation of stand-up paddle boards (SUP's) in navigable waters reflects common sense and serves the best interests of the United States Coast Guard as well the public using our waterways.

As you know better than anyone, the United States Coast Guard has been entrusted with multiple missions critical to homeland security, safety for all users of navigable waterways, and prevention of interruptions to navigation that would disrupt our economy and way of life. That is why we all have an interest in ensuring the brave men and women who protect and serve along our coastlines and waterways are not distracted from their missioin by anomalous assignments and duties that are not essential. I hope when you consider the matter you will agree that enforcing life preserver rules for SUP's is not effective use of Coast Guard personnel and resources.

Indeed, that is why the USCG in 1981 cancelled proposed federal regulations on use of life preservers on sailboards, allowing state and local governments to decide if and when sailboarders, and later windsurfers, should be required to wear a lifejacket, or "personal flotation device" (PFD). Now that stand up paddle boarding has emerged as a major new board-riding sport, the only common sense approach is to extend to paddle board users the same federal policy on use of PFD's already applicable to sailboards and windsurfing. It would seem tha tif you so determine this very well may not require lengthy or unduly complicated new rule-making, just a common sense administrative determination that SUP's fall within the same class of water craft and PFD rules as sailboards and windsurfing.

Paddle boards are PFT's, and leash options coupled with low paddling speeds make SUP's even safer than sailboards and windsurfing, both of which have excellent safety records without any federal PFD requirements. Classifying SUP's as vessels subject to all other applicable safety and navigation rules is expected, but the board riding community makes a good case that PFD's actually increase risk of injury and loss of flotation by the SUP if worn by paddlers or attached to SUP deck. The published record and supporting the 1981 USCG policy of regulatory restraint on PFD requirements for board-riders (Feeral Register Vol. 48, No. 161 42288) spelled out the specific safety related reasons, as well as principles of good governance, favoring locally promulgated board riding safety rules based on local conditions.

There are reports of ad hoc communications to state marine safety officers and SUP user organizations indicating that SUP's are not covered by the sailboard and windsurfing exemption from PFD requirements. Because that would not enhance safety and raises enforcement feasibility issues, my constituents in the board-riding community hope that upon closer consideration the USCG will embrace the logic of the sailboard and windsurfing exemption as the only relevant federal policy precedent rationally and reasonably suited for adoption as a federal PFD policy for SUP's.

That enlightened policy will prevent the perverse result that would obtain of paddle, sail, and windsurfing boards with virtually identical features and safety attributes are treated differently with respect to PFD rules. Again, application of uniform federal boating safety rules to SUP's is expected, but that should include a uniform rule on local control of PFD rules for all board riders. Under the 1981 PFD rules for board-riders and subsequent rule-making by USCG, sailboards and windsurfers are subject to the same rules on internal and international navigation, casualty reporting and operator intoxication as other vessels when used in navigable waters.

It is my understanding that as with other small wave riding devices, including surfboards, when used in the surf-line along the shores where waves are breaking, wind, sail and paddle boards are outside USCG navigable water ways jurisdiction. In the surf line however all board riders are subject to local rules made by local officials accountable to the local community. The customs and protocols established by the wave rider community also play a role. This arrangement should be preserved because it works, and that is why I support restraint of federal power in favor of local rules not only for wave riders, but also for PFD rules applicable to board riders in navigable waters.

Accordingly, I am requesting a simple and timely administration determination that SUP's fall within the PFD exemption for board riders using watercraft in the same class. The USCG and Congress have urgent work to do, and an administrative determination in this already settled matter is in the best interest of the USCG. Among the other things it avoids non-essential and arguably vexatious enforcement duties. It also is just common sense for my constituents and al our fellow citizens who use the navigable waters of our nation for recreational water sports that include sail, paddle and wind boarding.

Allowing state and local governments to ensure paddle boards are treated the same as sailboards and windsurfing with regard to PFD rules will promote uniform enforcement of federal and local boating and water safety rules, for the benefit of all who depend on the navigable waters of our country for a livelihood or for recreation.

Yours sincerely,

Dana Rohrabacher
Member of Congress

Paddle board in surf zone is not a vessel
USCG Issues Surf Zone Update" followed with "Paddle Surfing in surf zone is NOT a "vessel" as clarified in this important update requested by the HPWA

A Paddleboard in the Surf Zone is Not a "Vessel"

Washington, DC, January, 2011

The Coast Guard respnds:

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your inquiry requesting clarification on the Coast Guard's determination that a paddleboard is a vessel. Specifically, our determination was that a paddleboard is a vessel when used "beyond the larrow limits of a swimming, surfing or bathing area." If a paddleboard is used within a designated "swimming, surfing or bathing area," the Coast Guard does not consider it to be a vessel.

I hope this response clarifies the issue and assists you in your work with state and local governments. If you have any further questions on the paddleboard issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Jeffrey N. Hoedt
Chief, Boating Safety Division
Office of Auxiliary & Boating Safety


Preserving coastal access
We saved the lateral coastal access way and China Harbor has a 25 foot lateral dry sand beach easement

Coastal Access Protected

China Harbor, CA, September, 2010

The HPWA partnered with Coastwalk California's coastal access advocate Fran Gibson to testify at the SDS Family Trust appeal on the remote Harmony Coast of San Luis Obispo county near Cayucos before the California Coastal Commission in August. China Harbor is a small historic pocket beach popular with boaters, kayakers and human-powered watercraft on the fifteen mile Harmony Coast.

The county approved extinguishing a lateral public access way (in two noncontiguous sections: bluff top trail and China Harbor beach easements each one-half mile long) granted as fair mitigation for new residential development six years ago. Each easement is 25 feet wide and this provides valuable public access to China Harbor. Property owners completed development approved within their coastal development permit, are enjoying the benefits of this development and the OTD represents a public asset that is permanent, irrevocable and "runs with the land in the chain of title."

The Coastal Commission voted 10 to 1 to keep the access way for the public and the HPWA played a vital role in ensuring that beach access for this part of the central coast remains open for boaters and recreational beach users. We look forward to more opportunities to have a positive impact before the Coastal Commission as we partner statewide with other organizations committed to improving coastal access for all people in California."


Those beautiful popsicle-colored racks!
HPWA Advisor Mickey Munoz and Director Steven Alan Fry test the 3D glasses at the GoPro booth on opening day August 3, 2010.

Report on our 1st annual

Salt Lake City, UT, August, 2010

The 2010 Summer Outdoor Retailer show took place under hot and beautiful skies in Salt Lake City last week. The Salt Palace hosted over 1100 exhibitors competing for attention in a very challenging market.

This is a trade show that serves the "sporting goods" retailer who typically carry a wide variety of products for many sports.

Everything from climbing gear to kayaks is on display. With the market depressed, the high growth SUP niche was on fire. Any company making human powered watercraft has or will have a line of SUP's that reflect a huge diversity of lifestyles. It is very clear that the "walking on water" market is just getting started and will bring many different kinds of enthusiasts. WOW! But not surprised...

Attended by HPWA Director Steven Alan Fry, the goal of getting letter-writing commitments from every SUP manufacturer in support of the petition to the Coast Guard was a no-brainer. Naish, Starboard, C4, Imagine, Lakeshore and others all committed to get their letterhead on the record. Look for postings on the HPWA web site soon as the petition drive continues through the summer season.

2010 - the year the SUP market explodes in the retail mainstream!

Image of the "Thor's Hammer" object on Doheny beach

SUP and PFD -- your action needed!

Paddle sports industry backs “SUP” petition to challenge the United States Coast Guard

Download a copy of the SUP SAFETY ALERT Poster

A national petition to challenge the Coast Guard’s determination that Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP’s) are “vessels” is receiving strong support from paddlers coast-to-coast.

The Human Powered Watercraft Association is championing this industry-wide petition so that several unintended negative results can be avoided and safety standards improved.

In September of 2008 the Coast Guard made a legal determination that SUP’s are “vessels” without seeking any public comment and apparently unaware of the unique operating conditions experienced by SUP’s.

The “vessel” status requires a personal flotation device (PFD) either be mounted to the paddle board or worn by the paddler – both scenarios leading to a dangerous false sense of security with potentially catastrophic results.

The accompanying poster serves to demonstrate the safety issue. In scenario #1 the paddler loses both the board AND the PFD. In scenario #2 the paddler loses the board and is stranded with a PFD. Both scenarios are inherently dangerous and unnecessary. Scenario #3 represents the HPWA’s recommendation for safe paddling, with the paddler attached to the board wearing an industry proven leash enabling the paddler to simply remount the SUP and continue on, out of the water, highly visible and able to travel.

Industry insiders and experts are supporting the petition drive and assisting the HPWA in distributing this safety alert. Many water sports enthusiasts recall this is the same Coast Guard “vessel” determination initially thrust upon windsurfers, resulting in windsurfers obtaining an exemption to the PFD requirement. The fast growing SUP industry is determined to optimize both safety and the enjoyment for paddlers, and strongly endorses the HPWA’s leadership role on this issue.

Aligned manufacturers and dealers are asked to link the petition on their web site or Facebook page to the HPWA web site or host a copy of the petition. Retailers should display the poster and provide pre-printed petitions for their customer’s use. Over 1,500 petitions have been received already, but broad distribution is critical to the HPWA’s goal of achieving a large nationwide collection of individual petitions by mid-summer. Once this goal is met the HPWA will hand carry all petitions to the USCG and launch a national media campaign to educate local, state and national agencies to build political support for this important initiative.

Questions and comments can be directed to the HPWA’s Director, Steven Alan Fry here.

The Human Powered Watercraft Association is a not-for-profit organization supported directly by donations from manufacturers, retailers and individual paddlers. Sponsor details are posted on the HPWA web site.

Human Powered Watercraft Association
25725 Paseo Colonial
San Juan Capistrano, CA. 92675 U.S.A.

No SUP Surfing North of the Hammer!

Dana Point, CA, April, 2010


Download a copy of the State Standing Order, 2010

Image of the "Thor's Hammer" object on Doheny beach

On April 1, 2010, the California State Parks Orange Coast Division updated the Standing Order for "Vessel Operations" in "Special Use Areas" ... what does this mean? They messed with the rules for standup surfing for all Orange County State Beaches. The rules remain essentially unchanged with one very, very notable exception. Now, standup surfing is forbidden north of Thor's Hammer at Doheny State Beach. As HPWA members probably know, Thor's Hammer is the concrete "thingy" at the end of the jetty that separates the swimming beach from the lagoon area approximately 1000 yards south of the Dana Point Harbor. South of Thor's Hammer, the State will likely be enforcing the "no standup surfers within 100 feet of swimmers and surfers..." as summertime arrives. So, be careful. Some standup surfers have already received tickets for (allegedly) stand up surfing in restricted areas at San Onofre State Beach... at six in the evening on a weekday! For those of you tempted to test the law by breaking it, the HPWA and its counsel advise against it!

Remember: Standup Surfing is NOT A CRIME... (most of the time... if you obey the State Standing Order... and the Orange County local ordinances... and the city codes...)

Surf Hard!

Wash Down Water for Paddlers

Dana Point, CA, March, 2010

VICTORY! Paddlers Get Wash-Down Water!

After 3 ½ years of discussions, human powered watercraft operations at the extremely popular West End launch site in Dana Point Harbor have been provided with a water source to assist boaters in washing down their water craft.

HPWA Youth Chairman Brian Haag demos the much-appreciated water supply!
Brian Haag at the new water supply.

Recently in a meeting with Harbor Director Brad Gross it was agreed that a water source for wash down activities could be provided at the existing water fountain, directly in front of the most active human powered launch area. The low cost and linking to an existing water fixture made this suggestion cost effective and ultimately “doable.”

Beginning on October 12, 2006, HPWA Director Steven Alan Fry first met with Orange County officials to request the installation of wash down capabilities. Initial discussions centered on the need for a wash down “facility.” This would require a “site” selection, expensive run-off drains plumbed into the sewage treatment system, design submissions and project funding. When the County suggested that the paddlers would need to pay for this facility themselves it became clear that some extra patience and a different strategy were going to be required.

Steven locating West End “site” for wash down facilities with Orange County personnel.

Steven locating West End “site” for wash down facilities with Orange County personnel

The wash-down challenge for Dana Point paddlers was significant because the only water source was the outdoor public shower where paddlers would struggle to fill their jugs without taking a shower! Some boaters chose to use the shower to give their water craft a power-rinse. Most paddlers brought their water from home in jugs.

Two images of paddlers using the public shower.

This is not what designers had in mind when Dana Point Harbor was built – the popularity of human powered watercraft has exploded and a need for a dedicated wash down water supply became a high priority.

VICTORY – Paddlers get their first, but not last, “amenity” in the West End of Dana Point Harbor!”