TOPEKA — Kansas is slowly paddling toward adjustment of state law on labeling life jackets used by boaters on lakes and rivers.
The underlying Kansas statute requiring anyone under 12 years of age to wear a personal flotation device when on board any vessel isn’t up for debate. Neither is the mandate each boat be equipped with a life jacket for every person on board.
Instead, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has recommended adoption of revised U.S. Coast Guard standards for grading the fundamental piece of equipment relied upon to save lives.
“We need to update the statute to allow us the flexibility to make changes when the Coast Guard makes changes in PFDs,” said Jason Ott, the state game warden in charge of water safety. “We’re at the mercy of the Coast Guard when it comes to flotation devices and boating laws.”
The Kansas Senate voted 37-3 on Tuesday to approve a bill authorizing the state agency to transition from a system of labeling personal flotation gear based on five type levels to the modernized system embraced by the Coast Guard. The measure has yet to clear the Kansas House and be signed by Gov. Laura Kelly before implemented.
The Coast Guard's standards were published in 2015, but never endorsed by Kansas lawmakers. The newer numerical system of rating PFDs reflects the user’s weight, intended activity and type of water environment.
Older equipment in good working order wouldn’t be banned under reform of state law in Kansas.
Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican who voted against the bill, said he was concerned the legislation granted the state wildlife department authority to alter boating safety regulations without review by the Legislature. He didn’t want the state to exceed Coast Guard standards.
“How often do you guys have time to be flotation device police?” asked Sen. Mary Ware, a Wichita Democrat voting for the bill.
“We take it very serious,” Ott said. “Our goal is to have no drownings in the state of Kansas.”