Should paddlers be required to register their watercraft?

The Michigan State Waterways Commission is proposing a regulation that would call for canoers, kayakers and paddleboarders to register their watercraft. (Photo by Tom Pink)

Not too long ago, when Great Lakes water levels were too low to launch my 14-foot motorized boat, I started using a canoe and rowboat for duck hunting and some fishing excursions.

This went on for eight to 10 years, mostly out of necessity and convenience, but it had other benefits as well, like providing great exercise and the chance to listen to the pre-dawn sounds of the marsh instead of a loud outboard motor.

I never gave a thought to the fact that I didn’t have to register those watercraft, but according to what is being proposed by the Michigan State Waterways Commission, I should have been counting that as a benefit, too.

Earlier this year, the commission unanimously passed resolution 10-2016-0, which, if passed by the legislature, would amend Michigan’s watercraft registration law so owners of kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards would have to register their watercraft. Rowboats under 16 feet would still be exempt from registration.

When I saw the recent proposal from the Waterways Commission, it reminded me of when Michigan paddlers were required to register their canoes for a brief time in the late 1980s. The law was changed after public outcry.

My first inclination was to cry foul at this latest proposal, but a buddy reminded me of discussions we’ve had in recent years, when I have suggested that residents and non-residents should be required to buy small-game licenses if they’re going to pick berries or mushrooms in the state. They’re using the same resources that hunters are using.

So why shouldn’t paddlers help shoulder the weight of paying for public access and law enforcement on state waterways, as motorboat enthusiasts have been doing for years, especially since more and more paddlers are requiring assistance or rescue?

The American Canoe Association is concerned about the proposal and suggests that it might discourage people from buying paddle craft, but that seems unlikely, since the $7-per-year registration fee suggested by the commission won’t even buy a paddler’s lunch on the way to the boat launch.

Given the increased number of paddlers on the water, it seems that it may be time to register canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. But if water levels drop again, I may have to go back to using my little registration-free rowboat.

Categories: Michigan – Tom Pink