May 27, 2018
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Mandatory sea kayak life preserver bill drifts in legislative limbo

Courtesy photo | BDN
Courtesy photo | BDN
Richard Malaby
By Tom Walsh, BDN Staff

LAMOINE, Maine — As a by-the-book Republican, State Rep. Richard Malaby isn’t a proponent of regulating what he feels should be common sense.

Don’t want to wear a motorcycle helmet? Fine. Don’t want to use your seal belt? Fine. Don’t want to wear a life jacket while sea kayaking? Fine.

That’s a matter of individual choice, Malaby feels, and none of the business of what he terms “nanny government” regulations that in his view encroach upon individual liberties.

That political philosophy puts Malaby in a curious position, having submitted for consideration LD203, a bill that would require sea kayakers to wear personal flotation devices, not just have them on board, which is already required by state law.

“I submitted this bill as what’s known in the Legislature as a ‘bill by request,’ which means I’ve offered it at the request of a constituent, but it also implies that it’s a bill that I do not personally endorse,” Malaby said Saturday. “But, if this were ever to come to a vote — and given the need for balancing the budget and educational reform and other pressing issues in Augusta that I’m passionate about, it’s not a high priority — I probably would vote for it.

“As the father of three, I would never think of going out in a kayak without a PFD,” said Malaby, who for 30-plus years has owned and operated The Crocker House Inn and Restaurant on Hancock Point. “I want our guests to come to Maine to have a great time. And I also want them to come back.”

Malaby submitted the bill on behalf of constituent Diane Sanderson of Lamoine, a retired registered nurse who in July of 2011 unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate a New Hampshire sea kayaker who died of hypothermia off the coast of Lamoine State Park after flipping his kayak while sitting on his life jacket, instead of wearing it.

“I asked Richard to introduce this bill because of that personal experience,” Sanderson said Sunday. “What the bill requires is a fairly simple thing, a small but essential step, requiring that people actually wear PFDs. not just have them with them.”

Sanderson’s research shows there have been 38 drowning fatalities, including those related to hypothermia, between the years 2000 and 2007, 32 percent of which involved kayaks. Three out of four of those who died were Maine residents. In 68 percent of those drownings, those who died were not wearing life jackets, she said.

Her research also showed that regulations in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York require boaters to wear life jackets approved by the U.S. Coast Guard at all times when the “water is cold,” which is defined as September through May.

“Maine’s waters,” Sanderson said, “are always cold. In the middle of July in Bar Harbor, the water temperature is 59 degrees.”

Sanderson said she’s “hardly optimistic” that the bill Malaby has submitted at her request will pass during this legislative session.

“There will be a committee work session on this bill this week, probably Thursday,” she said Sunday. “But, given everything else that is going on in Augusta, who knows where this will go?”

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