Paddleboarding safety discussed

Newport Harbor has become a chaotic highway of stand-up paddle boarders, says one City Council member who wants to regulate their traffic.

Citing safety concerns, Councilwoman Leslie Daigle requested that the Harbor Commission consider installing "paddleboarder lanes."

The sport has exploded in recent years, and with the harbor becoming more crowded with all sorts of craft, people are increasingly nervous that boaters could hit paddle boarders.

Paddlers essentially stand on a large surfboard and have nothing to protect them but a paddle, so they are more vulnerable than people in other watercraft like kayaks.

"We have a lot of other users in the bay," said Daigle, who cited people doing yoga and carrying dogs on boards. "We have boats that are trying to navigate."

While she didn't go into specifics, Daigle mentioned that lanes could be made with buoys, and compared them with shipping or swim lanes. She said that Honolulu recently installed stand-up paddling lanes in its harbor.

In Newport, many of the paddlers are renters, and their inexperience is the real issue, said Mandy McDonnell, the founder of SUP Dog, a stand-up paddle social group.

She said she couldn't imagine what lanes would look like, but recommended that rental shops confine beginners to cordoned-off areas and give them better instructions.

"The problem is the people who are not familiar with waterways and boat traffic, and the rules of the road," McDonnell said.

Experienced paddlers, she said, know they should paddle single-file when in a group, stay to the right of a channel, and start their paddle going up-wind.

One of them is Mayor Nancy Gardner, who paddles the bay for exercise. She was quick to rebut Daigle's proposal Tuesday.

"I oppose it already," Gardner said. "As a stand-up paddler, I want my freedom."

But it's an important topic to discuss now, McDonnell said, otherwise a serious accident could force all paddlers — experienced and novice — to conform to some strict rules.

"It really is like the 405 out there with paddlers," she said, "and it's only going to grow from here."

Twitter: @mreicher

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