Erie County deputies to start ticketing kayakers

Posted at 8:38 PM, Jun 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-01 20:34:47-04

Starting July 1st, kayakers in Erie County will have to follow all New York State Navigational laws or they could face a ticket and fine.

In previous years, and for the month of June this year, the Erie County Sheriff's Office simply warned kayakers and other paddle boaters when they were violating safety laws.

Part of the reason for the change is the popularity of kayaking.  Justin Dahl is the general manager at BFLO Harbor Kayak.  He's seen an explosion in kayakers the past few years.

"It's been a super busy summer," he said.  "It gets busier every year.  Everything that's going on at Canalside, kayaking in general, we get hundreds of people out here."

Elaine Townsend of Buffalo has been kayaking for three years.  Thursday at River Fest Park, she brought her friend Debbie Staszak out on her first ever kayak trip.

"This was my first time today and I was very nervous," Staszak said.  "But now that I've done it I'm not so nervous anymore."

"It's a good upper body workout," Townsend said.  "You can go out and just relax and enjoy the scenery and environment.  And you run into a lot of really nice people."

Deputies will be checking kayaks and other paddle boats to make sure everyone has an emergency whistle.  If anybody is paddling after dark, they'll need to have a white light on board to be more visible.  You can look at the specific laws in the New York State Boater's Guide.

Townsend heard about these rules last week.  She didn't remember that deputies would begin issuing tickets on Friday.

"I do have my life jackets and I do wear them every single time I go out," she said.  "I always take a bottle of water with me.  But I will be ready with my whistle next time for sure."

Dahl recommends first-time kayakers take the time to research before jumping into the water.  Being more aware of boat safety tips and laws will make everyone more safe.  He's noticing a lot of unsafe behavior this summer.

"There is tons of people with no life jackets," he said.  "There's tons of people hanging out in the middle [of the river].  People should get more instruction before they go out on the water."

That's exactly what Townsend and Staszak did before going out on the water today.

"Before we went out, she told me all the rules and safety things we needed to watch out for," Staszak said.  "I think if I just went out here myself and put this boat in the water, or even just to rent it, I might not have felt so confident.  But being with somebody who's done it and told me things before we went on the water made me feel better."