Paddlesports are growing explosively across the U.S., including stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing. And with that rapid growth, local, state and federal governments have worked to ensure there’s plenty of paddler access, including paddlecraft-only launches that make it easy to launch a kayak, increasing efforts to ensure paddler safety, and minimizing user conflicts with traditional boaters.

The question is, who's paying for that?

Under a nearly seven-decade-old federal funding mechanism, the answer is recreational power, sail, and fishing boat owners.

But a newly introduced bipartisan bill, the Sport Fish Restoration and Recreational Boating Safety Act of 2019, aims to give the Government Accountability Office an opportunity to examine and report on the increasing use of non-motorized vessels and their impacts on recreational boat launches, and look at user conflicts and how funds are used to support non-motorized boating safety programs. It will also look at boat recycling, a concern for some waterfront communities.

The nation’s advocacy, services and safety group for recreational boat owners, BoatUS, applauded bill authors Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) for their sponsorship.

Scott Croft, VP of Public Affairs for BoatUS, explained this act is meant to empower the GAO to look at paddling and quantify how much money generated by the taxes on powered/fishing/sail boating is actually being spent on paddle sports, which do not pay any such earmarked tax. He emphasized BoatUS knows there is a strong crossover between powered boaters and paddlers—many boaters are both—and that this was not an "us versus them" mentality. He said BoatUS hopes this helps create more understanding about how the rapidly growing paddle sports industry has been benefiting from tax-funded infrastructure (boat ramps, etc) and programs (boater education, etc) into which it is not paying.

“Any way you can get on the water is a good thing,” said BoatUS Manager of Government Affairs David Kennedy. “However, we can’t ignore the continued, successful growth of paddling participation in America and the need to have equitable funding for access and safety programs. Our thanks to Reps. Cunningham and Graves for looking to better understand today’s waterway user and ensure everyone is investing in their future.”

Created in 1950, the Sport Fish Restoration Program follows a “user pays – public benefit” model of funding that uses excise taxes paid on boat motors, motorboat fuel and fishing equipment to fund boating access sites, fishery and conservation programs, as well as state and local boating safety and clean water programs. The newly-introduced bill will also extend the authorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund to 2024.

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