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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

"Farwell's Rules," Footwear, and Folding Boats By Farwell Forrest

A Note to the Reader

We've deferred this month's installment of Trip of a Lifetime, our paddlesport novel-in-progress, until next week, in order to answer some letters that came our way recently. If you're joining us for the first time and you want to see what our Trip is all about, just use the hot-linked title to go to the In the Same Boat Archives. Every one of the seventeen previously-published chapters is there.

And now, a look at a few of the letters from our mail-bag….

August 7, 2001

It's summertime—at least in the northern hemisphere. The living's supposed to be easy. And for many paddlers it is. Summer's the season for long expeditions, after all, and for family holidays by the lake. But sometimes things don't go quite as smoothly as we'd like. Gear that we've relied on for years vanishes from the marketplace, for example, just when we're getting ready for a big trip. Or the peaceful lake that's been our holiday getaway for many seasons is suddenly full of strangers, not all of whom seem to know how to stay out of trouble on the water.

Who are these strangers, anyway? Sometimes they're jet-skiers or other motorsport enthusiasts. No surprise there. But at other times they're…us. Us? Yes—us. Canoeists and kayakers can be nuisances, too. Take the following letter, for example. The writer's a sailor, not a kayaker, but he shares his home waters with paddlers. No problem, you say? Aren't we all "no-octane" boaters?

Right. We are. But we still don't always agree how to share the water. In fact, we sometimes find ourselves on a collision course. What then?

Rules? What Rules?

I do not own a kayak, but I do own three catamarans: a Hobie Cat 16, a Prindle 16, and an Isotope 16. (I know, you can only sail one at a time!)

My question: When I am on a large lake, in daytime conditions—bright sun, fair weather—and I am trapped out in my harness, moving along at about 20 mph, on a port or starboard tack, or even a reach, does a kayak that suddenly appears in front of me have the right of way over an unpowered, paddleless, sailboat? I have had kayakers tell me that they—the kayakers, that is—have the right of way at all times, on any body of water.

I, too, am unpowered. I do not carry a paddle. I am dependent totally on the prevailing wind. How can I maneuver around a kayak? The kayakers I meet mostly wear dark colors, and they paddle boats with dark-colored hulls. They often sit still, sunning themselves in the middle of the lake, and are definitely not aware of what is going on around them. Who has the right of way?


Commodore, W.P.S.C. (Whitney Point Sailing Club)
Broome County, New York

Commodore since 1988

That's a very good question, Commodore, and it's an increasingly important one, too, as more and more boaters compete for space on America's crowded recreational waterways. Unfortunately, though, it's not an easy question to answer, and the subject's a highly technical one. I'm neither an admiralty lawyer nor a legal scholar, but I'll do my best.

First things first. Neither kayaks nor canoes enjoy any sort of special status under the "rules of the nautical road," and neither can lay claim to any manner of unqualified privilege or "right of way." Neither, in fact, is specifically mentioned in either the 72COLREGS (the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea, 1972, as amended—the so-called International Rules) or the Inland Rules (as contained in the Inland Navigation Rules Act of 1980). New York State Navigation Law (embodied in Chapter 37 of the Consolidated Laws) mentions only canoes, and then only to specifically exclude them from the category of regulated vessels, "except as…expressly provided."

OK. Kayaks do not "have the right of way at all times, on any body of water." In fact, the only time when a kayak can lay claim to the right of way is when it's being overtaken by another vessel in waters governed by the International or Inland Rules. On such waters, "any vessel overtaking another shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken." (A vessel is "deemed to be overtaking when coming up with another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft her beam.")

As luck would have it, however, state courts have exclusive jurisdiction in cases arising from collisions on any lake contained wholly within the territory of a state, and in such instances the provisions of state navigation law supersede those of the International and Inland Rules. To make matters worse, New York State Navigation Law nowhere addresses the question of rights of way in situations involving both sail and paddlecraft.

Cynics might see this as confirmation of Frank Zappa's sweeping criticism of the American legal system ("The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced"), and I'm afraid it's sometimes hard to disagree. Perhaps the only answer to your question, therefore, is the rather unsatisfactory suggestion that the dictates of courtesy and common sense place the greater burden of responsibility for avoiding collision—though certainly not the sole responsibility—on the more maneuverable vessel. And in the situation you describe in your letter, that vessel is the kayak. After all, no sensible kayaker wears drab-colored clothing when paddling in congested waters, or catnaps in the middle of a busy lake. Furthermore, no courteous kayaker forces a fellow no-octane boater who is wholly dependent on the wind to maneuver around him, especially when he can readily move in any direction with just a few strokes of his paddle.

Still, I've suggested that as a sailor, you too bear some responsibility for avoiding collisions. And just what is that responsibility? Much the same as that of the kayaker. In the words of the International Rules of the Road, it is the responsibility of every vessel…

  • To "at all times…maintain a proper lookout"

  • To "proceed at a safe speed," even when this is less than the maximum speed possible under prevailing conditions

  • And to be prepared to take any action necessary to avoid collision, "in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship."

Once again, it all boils down to common sense and courtesy. These are very good things, but they're hard to define and almost impossible to enforce. Until the law catches up to the demands of recreational boaters on increasingly congested state waters, however, they're all we have, and we'll have to make the best of the situation. Perhaps if we keep in mind what draws us to the water in the first place—the challenge of using our wits and our muscles to propel ourselves over the surface, assisted whenever possible by wind and current—we'll remember that, whether we're paddlers, rowers, or sailors, we're all in the same boat. That should make it easier for us to get along with each other. I hope so, at any rate.

May the wind always be blowing your way!


Other problems bedevil summer paddlers, too. They may be less serious than questions involving rights of way on the water, but they're often no less annoying. What do you do when a piece of gear you've relied on for years wears out, for instance, and you then discover that it's no longer being made? A recent letter got Tamia thinking hard about this one.

These Boots Were Made for Walking

Just read your article on back-country canoe footwear. Interesting. I've always worn leather boots, and resigned myself to having wet feet for a couple weeks. Where do you get your wellies? Do you know of any sources? I have a pair of cheap ($15?) knee high "rubber" boots that I found at the local farm supply store, but they don't seem very rugged. Any suggestions? Thanks.


Glad you found "In Wellington's Footsteps" interesting, Boathead! When I wrote the article, early in In the Same Boat's first season, I'd have had an easy answer to your question: L.L.Bean. But times change. The "L.L.Bean Wellie" I wore then was cheap ($30), durable (I used to get three to six months of use out of each pair on the survey line), and snug-fitting. In short, it was the perfect boot for a lot of back-country paddling (and tramping).

That's "was," though. The only wellie L.L.Bean sells today is their "Women's Wellie." These are three inches shorter than the old wellie—I guess the waters always part for the L.L.Bean woman—and they're too tight in the calf for me. I do too much walking to have fashionably slim legs.

This is more than a nuisance. I'm on my last pair of old-style wellies now. When they bite the dust I'm going to have to find something else. The LaCrosse Men's 18" Grange rubber boots look like one possibility. At $40, they aren't exactly cheap, and I have no idea how durable they'll be, but they look pretty good in the catalog photos. I'll probably give them a try. Of course, I'd rather stick with my tried and true friends, but that's not an option. (So long, Leon. It was nice while it lasted.)

Good luck in your search. And when you find a pair of wellies you can live with, always be sure to take plenty of thick wool socks. Wellies are great, but it's wonderful to be able to change your socks at lunchtime. Makes a world of difference on hot days.


Not all summer problems can be blamed on inconsiderate boaters or the whims of the marketplace, though. Sometimes we make our own troubles. As I did in a recent piece on folding kayaks and canoes for's new GuideLines section, for example, when my attempt at keeping things simple and light left one reader shaking his head in disagreement. Happily, though, this reader didn't just shake his head. He wrote to me and set me straight. Now I'm wiser than I was.

Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate

I have just read your article on Folding Kayaks.

As an owner of a Feathercraft I have to agree with you: they are very seaworthy, fun, and surprisingly resistant. Before I bought a surfing boat I even used my Feathercraft in surf, sometimes in waves chest- to head-high. The maneuverability was somewhat limited, but nonetheless my boat endured.

You can "feel" the water under a folding kayak at all times. It squeaks a bit when paddled in not-so-flat conditions, and, being a boat you have to dismantle periodically for maintenance and repair, you develop a sort of close, personal relationship with it.

However, there are a couple of points in your article I disagree with.

  1. It does not take just 15 to 30 minutes to assemble a folding kayak, as you suggest. To do it properly and to ensure safety, you have to take your time.

  2. At least with a Feathercraft, you do not have to take it apart after every use. If you lubricate it well when assembling and rinse the whole boat (especially the aluminum frame) with fresh water after each use, you can go up to three months without taking it apart. I've been doing this since the boat was purchased.

    Assemble and take it apart after every use? I don't know….

By the way, I bought a folding boat because it was the only touring boat that would fit on my balcony at the time.

Congratulations on your great article!

Marcelo Pacheco

I'm delighted to hear that you enjoyed "In the Bag? Folding Kayaks and Canoes," Marcelo. And your points are very well taken. The 15-30 minute figure was my estimate of the "typical" assembly time. (My experience has been limited to Folbots and Kleppers.) I wanted readers to understand that assembly wasn't instantaneous, and that folding kayaks weren't good boats for folks who are always in a hurry. I certainly didn't wish to imply that all boaters should adopt this time-frame as a fixed limit—or even that it was possible to assemble all folding boats in so short a time.

Nor did I mean to imply that a folding kayak couldn't be left assembled between trips. I only hoped to remind anyone planning to buy a folder because it could be stowed away in a closet or carried along on a bus (or train) that it wouldn't assemble and disassemble itself.

I'll be updating "In the Bag?" soon, and I'll certainly take the points you've raised into account when I do. I'm in your debt.

Best wishes—and many thanks!


That's it for now. Look for "Our Readers Write" again in two months. Next week, however, we'll be rejoining Ed and Brenna on their Trip of a Lifetime.

Keep writing!

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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