Public Program Safety Protocols for Human-Powered Boating

The mission of the New York City Water Trail Association is to support and promote the safe use of the New York City Water Trail, established by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation in 2008. We are a diverse group of local paddlers, rowers and waterfront activists who aim to represent the common interests of more than 20 community boathouses in and around New York City. We see the harbor as public space, and in fact the largest open public space in our city – a true New York Commons.

Based on data collected in our Water Trail user surveys, we estimate that last year local boating groups provided nearly 60,000 individuals the opportunity to experience the waterways in all types of human-powered craft.-- a dramatic increase from just a decade ago. Some of these organizations have been around for over 70 years and some are only one or two years old, but all have maintained remarkable safety records.  Nevertheless, in order to provide guidance and context to community boating organizations who may wish to establish or update their own safety guidelines, and to send a a clear and consistent message to government agencies and landowners who may be concerned about the safety of boating in the harbor, we have drawn from member groups and national organizations to assemble this compendium of safety guidelines, policies, protocols, recommendations, and best practices.

This is not an attempt to prescribe what safety policies New York Harbor boathouses should adopt, but rather a collection of ideas based on policies that local boathouses and national groups have put forward. In other words, it can be used as a template or as a set of reference materials. Due to the diversity of skills and experience of boaters utilizing the different programs available, the different kinds of boats that are used, and the different types of water where programming takes place, we feel that a “one size fits all” set of rules or guidelines makes no sense. Depending on their programming, location, and particular mission, individual boathouses may choose to adopt some, all, or none of the policies outlined here.

The following documents, all in DRAFT stage, address various aspects of on-water programs for the public. We welcome your comments and input at

General Safety Recommendations and Requirements
Suggested Minimum Skills - Kayaking
Suggested Minimum Skills - Canoeing
Appendix 1: Local Knowledge Curricula
Appendix 2: Minimum Suggested Safety Equipment: Kayaking and Canoeing
Appendix 3: Gear List for Kayakers
Appendix 4: Float Plan Form
Appendix 5: Minimum Suggested First Aid Supplies
Appendix 6: VHF Radio Usage for Human-powered Boats