Bill would exempt paddleboarders from life jackets

Bill would exempt paddleboarders from...

MADISON, Wis - Amelia Horn knows just how important it is to be prepared for anything out on the water.

"The more you are out on the water the more you realize the less you can expect out there, anything can happen and you can't anticipate it. It's great to have a life jacket with you, that way you ensure you are 100 percent safe the whole time," Horn said.

Horn always uses a life jacket when out on the water. It's a lesson she learned early when she was just 3 years old and fell off a boat and another time as a teen. She credits life jackets for saving her life not once, but twice.

"I was in the middle of the lake with 3-foot waves, fell off my paddleboard and if it weren't for my life jacket I would have probably froze to death out there. I wouldn't have been able to get back up," Horn said. 

Under current state law, paddleboarders who don't have a life jacket could be fined $162. One lawmaker is trying to save them money by changing the requirements. Since January of 2016 the DNR issued 801 citations for those without a flotation device, those numbers include more than just paddleboarders but Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Mantiowoc, the bill's author says paddleboards shouldn’t face fines for something he believes should be a choice.

"It seems very unrealistic that they should be ticketed for something like this. The paddleboard itself is a flotation device," Tittl said.

The proposal would not require paddleboards to wear life jackets if they are 18 or older. Paddleboarders who use their hands to move through the water, sailboarders and windsurfers are already exempt.

"It's a matter of freedom and personal responsibility. If you are allowed to go out on a windsurfer which generally is going to be in a lot rougher waters, you have wind and what have you and you don't have to wear a flotation device," said Tittl.

Owner of Marshall Boats, Tyler Leeper, said regardless if the law passes, he will require his customers to take a life jacket out on the lake.

"Storms can come out of nowhere. Things can happen very quickly out on the water, so having something you can reach for, grab or already have on that will help keep you afloat if you get knocked over from a wake or something along those lines just gives you that little piece of extra security," Leeper said.

Tittl said the bill would be amended to require stand-up paddleboarders to be tethered to their boards if they choose not to use a flotation device.

If passed, the law would not apply to federally controlled waters like Lake Michigan.

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