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U.S. Geological Survey Manual

U.S. Geological Survey Manual

Appendix 31-F
Part 445-2-H Chapter 31


Nonmotorized Watercraft

1.  Purpose. This appendix establishes the minimum requirements for the safe operation of all non-motorized watercraft including, but not limited to, canoes, kayaks and rafts and (or) other watercraft(s). This appendix applies to all non-motorized watercraft for which the USGS is responsible (e.g., watercraft owns, borrows, rents, or leases), anyone on board watercraft, and personnel conducting official duties on watercraft regardless of the ownership.

2.  References.

A.  American Canoe Association

B. Paddlesports North America

3. Definitions.

A.  Nonmotorized watercraft. Any watercraft (canoe, kayak, raft, or other watercraft) propelled by oars or other non-mechanical equipment.

B.  Class A. Lake water. Typically, still waters. No perceptible movement.

C.  Class I. Easy waters. Smooth water; light riffles; clear passages, occasional sand banks and gentle curves. The most difficult problems might arise when paddling around bridges and other obvious obstructions.

D.  Class II. Moderate waters. Medium-quick water; rapids with regular waves; clear and open passages between rocks and ledges. Maneuvering required. Best handled by intermediates that can safely maneuver watercraft and read water.

E.  Class III. Moderately difficult waters. Numerous high and irregular waves; rocks and eddies with passages clear but narrow and requiring experience to run. Visual inspection required if rapids are unknown. Open canoes without floatation bags will have difficulty. These rapids are best left to paddlers with expert skills.

F.  Class IV. Difficult waters. Long and powerful rapids and standing waves; souse holes and boiling eddies. Powerful and precise maneuvering required. Visual inspection mandatory. Cannot be run in canoes unless the watercraft is decked or properly equipped with floatation bags. An advance preparation for possible rescue work is important.

G.  Class V. Extremely difficult waters. Long and violent rapids that follow each other almost without interruption. River filled with obstructions. Big drops and violent currents. Extremely steep gradient. Even reconnoitering may be difficult. Rescue preparations are mandatory. Can be run only by top experts in specially equipped whitewater canoes, decked watercraft, and kayaks.

H.  Class VI. Extraordinarily difficult waters. Paddlers face constant threat of death because of extreme danger. Navigable only when water levels and conditions are favorable. This violent whitewater should be left to paddlers with extreme ability. Every safety precaution must be taken.

I.  Team Leader. Person primarily responsible for mission.

J.  Operator. Primary paddler who has responsibility for the mission and safety of all crewmembers, passengers, watercraft, and self.

K.  Secondary paddler(s). Additional paddler(s), have secondary responsibility for control of watercraft (tandem paddling).

L. Crew. Secondary paddler(s).

M.  Passenger(s). Persons who have no role in the operation of the boat. They are subject to all USGS safety regulations and to a safety briefing by the operator.

N. Personal Floatation Device (PFD).

(1)  Type I PFD / Off-Shore Life Jacket. Best for all waters, open ocean, rough seas, or remote water where rescue may be slow coming. Abandon-ship lifejacket for commercial vessels and all vessels carrying passengers for hire.

(2)  Type II PFD / Near-Shore Buoyant Vest. For general boating activities. Good for calm, inland waters or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.

(3)  Type III PFD / Floatation Aid. For general boating or the specialized activity that is marked on the device such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and others. Good for calm, inland waters or where there is a good chance for fast rescue. Designed so that wearing it will complement boating activities.

(4)  Type V / Non- Inflatable Rescue PFD. A specialized Paddle Sport PFD, typically used in moving water. Designed with features primarily to enhance rescue operations.

O.  Protective Helmet. Safety device used for protection of head and ears, secured with a chin strap.

P.  Qualified Trainer. An approved trainer of nonmotorized watercraft operators that has met minimum requirements to successfully train USGS paddlers. Qualified trainers must receive approval by the BWSPM prior to commencement of training.

5. Responsibilities.

A.  Supervisors. Must ensure that job hazard analyses address use of nonmotorized watercraft based on environmental conditions and that nonmotorized watercraft operators receive safety and practical training on the appropriate watercraft in the environmental conditions that can be reasonably expected.

B.  Operators/Crew Members.

(1)  Operators and crew members of nonmotorized watercraft must be trained, tested, or qualified prior to nonmotorized watercraft operation.

(2)  Operators and crew members of nonmotorized watercraft engaged in official missions will be certified in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

(3)  Where operations exceed a 1-hour medical response time, operators and crew members will receive Advanced First Aid or Wilderness First Aid training and remain current with these certifications.

(4)  Operators and crew members of nonmotorized watercraft provide his/her supervisor and (or) designee with proof of certification, training, or personal experience levels appropriate for the type(s) of waters anticipated during the mission. Qualified paddlers for Class I waters cannot operate in Class II or Class III waters. Class III qualified paddlers can operate in Class I, Class II, and Class A waters.

C.  Team Leaders are responsible for:

(1)  Filing a detailed float plan.

(2)  Safety logistics and a crew/passenger safety briefing, including the use of all onboard safety equipment.

(3)  Incorporating an appropriate call-in schedule with a responsible supervisor or designee.

(4)  Determining class of waters prior to the mission.

(5)  Reporting and investigating accidents involving nonmotorized watercraft.

6.  Required Equipment for Nonmotorized Watercraft.

A.  U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)-approved personal floatation device (PFD) with secured knife and tethered whistle. Approved PFDs are:

(1)  Standard issue PFDs as approved for motorized watercraft use (Types I, II, and III only). Type V inflatable PFDs are not authorized for nonmotorized watercraft activities.

(2)  Specialized PFDs for nonmotorized watercraft use must be approved by the Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager or a Regional Watercraft Safety Program Manager prior to purchase. Refer to list of suggested models available on the Watercraft Safety internal Web site

B.  Personal signaling device (e.g., signal mirror, strobe light) for each person onboard.

C.  Lights meeting USCG minimum requirements for vessels under oars must be used on all nonmotorized watercraft.

D.  USCG-approved visual distress signals (day/night approved or combinations of day approved and night approved).

E.  Spare paddle or use of paddle tether(s).

F.  Bailing device (not required on self-bailing watercraft).

G.  Emergency communications devices.

(1)  Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or satellite phone or equivalent device such as the Satellite Personal Tracker, one device minimum where multiple watercraft are in a group together.

(2)  Exemption. In areas of dependable cell phone coverage, other emergency communications devices are not required. The cell phone must be enclosed in a watertight floating case or dry bag if the device is the primary communication device.

H.  First aid kit (one per watercraft) in a waterproof container.

I.  Rope throw bag.

J.  Adequate anchor and line for environmental conditions.

K.  For Class III and greater waters, use of a protective helmet is mandatory.

Note. Certain missions or watercraft (e.g., canoes used on center research ponds) may be exempt from elements of the required equipment list. Contact the Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager or a Regional Watercraft Safety Program Manager for a determination.

7.  Recommended Equipment for Nonmotorized Watercraft.

A.  Dry bag of adequate size to carry necessary equipment.

B.  Spare clothing, hat, sunglasses, sun-screen, and insect repellant carried in dry bag.

C.  Waterproof flashlight(s) with spare bulb(s).

D.  Spare batteries for all battery-operated items.

E.  Foul weather gear.

F.  Small tarp and lines for emergency shelter.

G.  Fire starter kit.

H.  Binoculars.

I.  Weather radio (one device minimum where multiple watercrafts are in a group together).

J.  Topographic map (waterproof or in waterproof container).

8.  Approved Resources and Curriculum for Training. (Refer to 31-F.4.)

A.  The USGS grants reciprocity for successful completion of any DOI-approved nonmotorized watercraft training module. All other training must be approved by the Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager or a Regional Watercraft Safety Program Manager.

B.  American Canoe Association (Basic/Introductory, intermittent, or advanced paddle sport certification).

C.  Paddlesports North America (Basic/Introductory, intermittent, or advanced paddle sport certification).

D.  Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) (Basic/Introductory, intermittent, or advanced paddle sport certification).

E.  Contractors approved by the Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager or a Regional Watercraft Safety Program Manager (Basic/Introductory, intermittent, or advanced paddle sport certification).

F.  Cost centers are encouraged to contact the Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager or their respective Regional Watercraft Safety Program Manager for approved resources within their geographical area that are capable of providing approved training.

G.  Cost centers utilizing large numbers of nonmotorized watercraft are encouraged to consider qualified in-house trainers as viable options to contractors. Contact the Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager for additional information regarding nonmotorized watercraft instructor training opportunities.

9.  Minimum Curriculum approved Nonmotorized Watercraft Modules. The basic safety curriculum must include, but not be limited to, the following:

A.  Reading the types of waters encountered.

B.  Righting an overturned nonmotorized watercraft.

C.  Reentering an overturned nonmotorized watercraft.

D.  Assisting another paddler into their nonmotorized watercraft.

E.  Demonstrating proper paddle strokes.

10.  Nonmotorized Watercraft Recertification.

A.  There are no recertification requirements of nonmotorized watercraft operation at this time. However, different levels of water classifications require levels of training equivalent to the class of water(s).

11.  Restrictions in Use of Nonmotorized Watercraft.

A.  Normal nonmotorized use is restricted to Classes A, I, II, and III waters.

B.  A request for operations in higher class waters must be submitted in writing to the Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager and the Bureau Occupational Safety and Health Program Manager for consideration prior to the mission.

12.  Additional Responsibilities for Solo Operations.

A.  Solo Operations are discouraged. Solo operations performed under low hazard/low risk conditions shall be discussed with the supervisor (including a review of the JHA) for the mission). Upon review and supervisor signature, Solo Operations may be conducted.

B.  Solo Operations performed during high hazard/high flow conditions shall not be authorized.

C.  A thorough float plan shall be filed and a call-in procedure shall be initiated. In the event of canoe, kayak, and rafting operations or smaller (limited-capacity craft), an additional craft with personnel shall be considered as an additional safety backup.

D.  If solo operations are conducted, the operator must carry a form of dependable communications for the mission(s).

13.  Exemptions to Training Requirements.

A.  Employees successfully documenting previous nonmotorized watercraft training or possess adequate paddling skills related to previous experience may be exempt from required training.

(1)  Employee must prepare a detailed synopsis of his or her previous training and (or) experience and submit to his or her supervisor and Collateral Duty Safety Program Coordinator (CDSPC) for evaluation and final approval.

(2)  Previous training and (or) experience must include documentation on the Watercraft Experience Summary to Determine Self-Qualification Form for the water classification the individual will encounter, e.g., Classes A, I, II, and III. The Watercraft Experience Summary to Determine Self-Qualification Form is accessible at the Watercraft Safety Program website:

B.  The Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager or the Regional Watercraft Safety Program Managers may be contacted for additional guidance or recommendations.

C.  Supervisor and (or) CDSPC shall retain employee nonmotorized watercraft training records.


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Last modification: 22-Aug-2017@14:50