Commission considers canoe, kayak registration

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By Lauren Gentile

One plan to pay for the dredging of Great Lakes harbors is requiring state registration for kayaks and canoes. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

The chair of the Waterways Commission, Gary Marowske, has a new plan to combat low water levels and dredge many inland and Great Lakes harbors — require state registrations for non-motorized watercraft.

“Currently, non-motorized boats like kayaks and canoes do not have to be registered, but in the words of Gov. Snyder, ‘You have to pay to play.’ So my goal is to start registering these watercraft to have more of an income for the commission,” Marowske of Grosse Pointe Farms said.

Marowske said he has no estimate of the number of non-motorized watercraft in the state.

Currently, the commission is funded through the approximately one million boats that are registered in the state and 2 percent of the gas tax.

The commission provides advice on policies and manages waterway programs such as refuge harbors and boat launch maintenance.

“One million boat registrations sounds like a lot, but when the commission has so many initiatives, the money depletes quickly,” Marowske said.

No registration legislation is pending, but Marowske said the process would start soon.

Ron Olson, chief of the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division, says the seven-member commission has challenges in addition to funding.

“With the low water levels this year, dredging is an issue that needs to be

Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

addressed,” Olson said. “The commission needs to continue to come up with some strategies on how to deal with the levels economically and recreationally.”

Dredging is an excavation technique that gathers up sediments and disposes of them at another location to make waterways navigable.

Ward Walstrom, a new member of the commission and co-owner of Walstrom Marine in Harbor Springs, Cheboygan and Bay Harbor, said dredging is his number-one priority.

“Assuming the waterways stay at their current low level, harbors will have to apply for grants and estimate the cost of dredging in the area. The commission will then review the application and see if we can budget the expense,” he said.

Denny Grinold of Lansing and Dennis Nickels of Grand Rapids were also appointed to the commission by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Marowske said, “All three of the new members have had some type of expertise in waterways whether they are an avid boater, a marine owner or whatever it be. They’re bringing a wealth of knowledge to the group.”

56 thoughts on “Commission considers canoe, kayak registration

  1. So everywhere we canoe gets more rundown each year. Signs not replaced, logs not cleared except by liveries, potential rivers getting no attention, so the local towns not getting any benefit from putting in some parking spots and clearing downed trees, but we’re supposed to pay for other types of boats? Michigan doesn’t spend nearly enough on the quiet sports. I notice no new hiking/skiing trails, water trails for sea kayaking, way more spent on snowmobiling than canoeing. This stinks. Maybe it’s long past time to form lobbies for canoeing and hiking and pressure these guys to realize the full potential of our state.

  2. Absolutely NOT a good idea to register non-motorized watercraft in the name of dredging harbors. I would not object to a small one-time fee to register my canoe and kayaks but not if the dollars are to be used for dredging harbors. I already am required to purchase for an annual trail sticker for my snowmobile despite the fact that I only use the snowmobile to drive 75 yards to the lake for ice fishing. My little 15hp Elan snowmobile never goes within 10 miles of a snowmobile trail (it would be suicidal) but the law requires me to have a trail sticker. It sounds like we have moved passed “User Fees” and now the state just wants “Because you don’t have a fee – fees”. This whole concept makes the Waterways Commission look stupid.

  3. The tax on non-motorized watercraft the Waterways Commission is considering is to pay for dredging. Presumably this is because some think these craft benefit from dredging. On the contrary, not only do canoes and kayaks not benefit in any way, most canoeists and kayakers would likely rather be taxed to stop dredging activities altogether, as they alter the natural ecosystem and make it possible for powerboats to go places we would rather not share with these disruptive craft.

  4. I have relatives in Michigan and am a life-time paddler, an environmental scientist and a water-resources engineer. I sympathize with both sides of the policy issue. Many other states require registration of non-motorized water craft, but most of the funds go to environmental preservation and restoration efforts.

    My question is “How will the Commission obtain permits to dredge?” In the Pacific Northwest, such permits are virtually unobtainable, from both Federal (US Army Corps of Engineers) and State authorities. Before the tax war begins, is dredging really a viable option?

    If dredging is a viable option, and if the entire state/regional economy benefits from the process, the entire state/region should pay for it. It no longer seems to be a waterways use issue. The paddling community tends to be one of the most environmentally sensitive communities in the US. To support major economic policy by taxing just this (relatively) small community seems to inequitable.

    In addition to this discussion, a larger water use / water rights discussion should be held, to address methods to keep more water in the waterways, both during drought years and as the warming climate trend continues.

    These are just the thoughts of an outside observer…I don’t really have a say, as I’m not a Michigan voter. I do, however, wrestle with similar issues in the western US.

  5. Oklahoma just recently stopped the registering of canoes and kayaks by the state. Now we have to pay a sales tax on kayaks to make up for the shortfall. BUT, the City of Oklahoma City does require a city permit to paddle on city waters and went up last year from $22 to $35 (on each kayak). What does this pay for? A fish hatchery. Oklahoma is suffering from the drought and two of the city lakes (reservoirs) do not have enough water to paddle, a third lake is so shallow even kayaks are becoming grounded and most of the city kayakers are recreational paddlers not fishermen. At least dredging is constructive for all watercraft but I see your point. And you already pay for your drinking water each month.

  6. Don’t forget to tax swimmers, shore fishermen, innertubes, ducks, fish, and people who drink water. Heck let’s just personally charge those legislators who favor this.

  7. Are stand up paddle boards included? What if it’s an inflatable SUP? What about kite boards, surf boards, and inflatable rafts? Before you know it they’ll be taxing any kids water toys that float.

  8. A tax here and a tax there and soon enough it all adds up to real money. Yes, I have a kayak. However, the season here is so short that I have only used it once in two years. However, when I head south in the spring it is going with me. So, even if they manage to pass the tax, I won’t be paying it and will just paddle in Florida.

  9. They did this once before and later rescinded the registration law. This idea is not good for tourism. Rental canoes are already taxed. Why not tax skis, sleds, tobagons, snowshoes, tennis shoes,,, Canoeist already pay their way. this is just another way to squeeze higher taxes on one hand whlie on the other claiming to be a ‘no new taxes’ promse keeping republican.

  10. If the reason for the proposed registration included projects for small craft safety, watershed improvement or management, or anything which directly effected or were affected by canoes and kayaks, then the idea may be palatable. As it is however, it seems the increased revenue would simply be a tax to be redirected for benefit of freighters and deep draft Catalina Yachts. It’s like having to register tents and hiking boots to help pay for paved highways. It just doesn’t add up.

    I hope that watersports retailers and watershed groups get involved in objecting to this. Many communities which have been investing heavily in water trail development and making their rivers, lakes, and harbors a recreation destination for paddlers will be adversely effected by any program that deters higher involvement, which this most certainly will.

    For myself, I paddle enough that I would still register and use my boats, but I’m sure for many weekend recreational paddlers who put in on the occassional whim, this would be a significant enough speedbump to discourage participation. I have little doubt that this would affect communities and businesses which have worked so hard to encourage greater participation. I do hope that the Watershed Commission consults with these groups which rely on easy and convenient access to our public waterways, and considers the negative economic impact they would most certainly suffer.

  11. I’m sure it’s in the interest of a marina owner to have more dredging so he can sell more gas to more power boaters to contribute more polution and CO2 to our environment. There is nothing about dredging which is in my interest beyond keeping the Great Lakes open for shipping.
    How many State boat launches have you seen designed for paddlecraft? There a few, but neither dredging nor taxing canoes and kayaks would do anything to change that number.
    If we want a healthy state, does it make any sense to tax paddlecraft or mountainbikes or rollerblades? What about running shoes or hiking boots?
    Another point that seems to have gone unnoticed is that dredging is not much of a fix. If the next storm can wash in more sand, maybe we need to think this through a little better. And then, let the power boaters deside out how best get onto the water, at a price they are willing to pay.

  12. I happen to have participated some years ago in the reversal of a similar proposal. We wrote letters, and marched on Lansing successfully; however the point that some may be ignoring is that there is considerable evidence and written scientific opinion about the water levels in the Great Lakes gradually lowering, which will create problems of epic proportion compared to registration fees.

    We may find it easy to complain about increased taxes, the recession and most recently the government’s failure to do enough for us during natural emergencies, but when is it our turn to be responsible? We may be taking for granted the natural wonders that are available to us all, and failing to realize that this isn’t just a problem for the motor, sailing and commercial boater’s.

    This issue deserves more study, not as the article suggests: “… a commission of … avid boaters, a marina owner or whatever it be…”, but on scientific evidence pointing to the short and long term projections of water levels in the Great Lakes, the probable causes, and the possible solutions.

    In the short term, dredging may be the most logical answer and registration of canoes and kayaks the fastest way to raise some money; however, is it the best approach in the long run? I’m likewise a little concerned that the results of further investigation will produce recommendations that none of us eagerly want to be responsible for.

    The government can’t fix everything, and if we all hope to maintain the “convenient” lifestyles we currently enjoy, we too may need to “pay to play”. I’d like that decision to be based on a consensus of scientific evidence, and thorough analysis, not political process.

  13. I have no children in schools, but I pay taxes to support schools. I have a job and pay taxes on my income so the government can give free phones and monetary assistance to no-accounts who won’t work. Why is this any different?

  14. Taxing kayaks and canoes is a terrible idea. These boats do not require the dredging. Tax those who require it.

    “in the words of Gov. Snyder, ‘You have to pay to play.’”

    Make those who need this pay to play.

  15. Tsk, tsk. I’m surprised at all the whining, entitled paddlers! We enjoy one of the most stunningly beautiful states in the land, with incredibly numerous waterways. I don’t think the issue is whether or not we paddle on dredged waterways (although I can’t believe the claim by so many that they never do), rather, it’s about all boaters sharing the burden to maintain the waterways in general. Many states, with less to offer than Michigan, require their non-motorized watercraft to be registered, e.g., Ohio. I for one support a reasonable price & registration term to register my kayaks.

  16. Pingback: Commission considers canoe, kayak registration to fund dredging | Great Lakes Phragmites Cutter

  17. If this even went through, enforcement is impossible. Who knows how many families have a canoe sitting in their garage or shed for the occasional trip downriver, most likely some local stream. The effects on tourism will be devastating.

  18. Ohio is part of the problem. Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota are part of the problem. They have taken canoe and kayak registration sitting down rather than fighting it. Put your boat in a database; why? So you can be regularly taxed for it. And, so your state can get some $ from the federal govt. Now Minnesota has more registered boats than MI and gets more federal $. State officials need to be educated that this is an unnecessary abridgement of freedom. Tax inner tubes, ice skates for frozen rivers, baseball bats to pay for park use??????? We would all be better off if Ohio and the few other draconian states near us would push back registration of human-powered craft.

  19. We have gladly paid $10 for each of our vehicles to use MI State access points. This was a smart solution for canoeists and kayakers. This should be enough $ to handle what canoeists and kayakers receive in return. I am surprised that a Republican, lower taxes, government would suggest something that so unnecessarily EXTENDS GOVERNMENT REACH. All, keep posted, we must revive The Birchbark Alliance from 1989. KEEP PADDLE POWER FREE as it is in Wisconsin and almost all other US states, except in the Midwest.

  20. Canoes and Kayaks do not put any oil or gas in the waterways and is a clean way to enjoy our State Park waterways. We do not like to even boat in deep water and or be around motor boats while in our canoes and Kayaks. So why should we pay for deep water for users that need the deep water and who put bad stuff in our clean waters and run us over with their big wake from their motor run watercraft. Mr. Snyder you are turning our State into a ghost town at every bend in the river. Go back to where you came from and take your crazy ideas with you. I love the State of Michigan and I buy 3 passports every year for our cars to use the State Parks and keep them clean. I say NO to this crazy idea!

  21. I cannot add any comment that has not already been written, except that canoe and kayak manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers need to lead the charge on this issue. A significant percentage of users have more, or would purchase more, than one paddle craft such as families. This fee (tax) will curtail much of that economic activity.

  22. That is ridicuous, tax the people with the large gas guzzling boats that can afford it. I dont need dredging to opperate my kayak. What is SNyder thinking? I just recently got permanetly laid off, thats all I need is another tax to pay. Maybe I can get a job Dredging!!!

  23. And canoes & kayaks need dredging because why? Why should we be forced to pay for something that we do not even require. Stick to the power boats and leave us pleasure boat paddlers alone. You are obviously dredging for a reason, someone needs it done for something…BILL THEM and leave the little guys and gals alone!!!!

  24. Are you kidding me? Tax non-motorized craft owners so powerboat owners can chug their over-sized, air-polluting fuel hogs into artificial harbours dug out of the natural Great Lakes shoreline? Really? Commissioner Marowske needs to tax those who use the harbours! or, better yet, powerboat owners should go natural and return to paddle craft.

  25. In Ohio we register for each non-motorized vessel over 12″ we own. Registrations $35 and are are good for three years. We don’t pay for access to state parks and waterways. A couple of years ago we got sacked with a $5 increase to support the scenic river initiaitive as it moved from one state dept to another. It was a huge money grab on the backs of paddlers. Motorized boaters, fishermen and hunters use the same waterways and accesses but no increase in their fees. It was an untapped revenue stream for the state and the power boat lobby is much more powerful and represented than the kayker establishment. Paddlers are easy to pick on. I understand the powerboaters also pay their registration fees and extra fee’s, etc.

    So far I can’t legitimately say access has improved, or signage replaced or new waterways designated as a scenic rivers. I know there is a science portion to what they say they do with the monies, but at the end of the day it was a money grab on the less represented.

    I followed alot of the arguments, sent letters, particpated in surveys, but alas it still went through. We have to register each boat, unlike a hunter who carries licences for seasons and not per gun. Fishermen carry one licence not per rod & reel.

    In the end it doesn’t matter where they say the money is going towards. I guess it is better they are telling you up front vs. telling you it’s to improve access and then routing it towards dredging in the end.

  26. To coerce kayak and canoe owners into paying for registration to fund dredging is like requiring horse owners to register their horses to pay for airport runway maintenance. There is absolutely no corelation between the 2 activities. This is only the state’s excuse for applying yet another tax on it’s citizens, and it is totally wrong! Besides, I do not want to garbage up my beatiful redwood sea kayak with a bunch of crappy looking numbers.

  27. Why don’t we tax non-smokers to subsidize the expensive medical costs for smokers. Or tax tea-totallers to subsidize the treatment of alcoholics. That’s the “logic” employed by this commissioner.

  28. Absolutely not!!!
    As far as Snyder’s “pay to play idea”; I already pay for my recreation passport, metropark passes etc. My kayaks don’t need dredged areas. I think pay to play should apply directly to those who need the dredging to continue to play!

  29. If you can afford a watercraft that measures fuel consumption in gallons per mile, you can afford to pay for dredging. Fuel consumed = atmospheric CO2 = global warming = lower great lakes water levels.

  30. I already pay for 3 Recreation Passport stickers; pay multiple day-use fees of $5 each in Nat’l Forests; participate in River Cleanup Days plus pick up the trash I find while paddling. I wouldn’t even mind registration fees if they are going towards building more river and lake access points. But to have our potential registration dollars go for DREDGING is inane. Let’s institute a “Draft Fee” – if your boat drafts over 4′ – you get to pay an extra tax for dredging.

  31. As a motor boater I find this not fair at all to fellow paddlers of any kind!! If it has a motor fine but they should not be the ones to funds such acts!! I stand behind my motor-less friends 100%!!! Hell I’ll pay extra for my tags if need be!!

  32. As an owner of three canoes/kayaks I do not support registration fees for canoes & kayaks for the purpose of dredging I do support it for other pusposes. As a user of the public waters I do not object to registration fees to support other costs of maintaining those waters; invasive species control, water quality protection, access & parking areas, and similar efforts to protect and utilize our public waters. So as a paddler I am willing to pay my share.

  33. I would rather pay based on my lakefront property than pay and register my boat. What about the large boats that really need a dredged harbor? As has been stated before, we buy the rec pass for our cars to use the launch sites, clear the rivers ourselves, don’t need dredged waters to paddle in. Write your legislators!

  34. What an idiotic plan, put the expense on the boats that draw the least amount of water. They can go out at any water level. It’s just another way to steal money and it would never make it to an actual project anyways.

  35. Canoes and Kayaks do not require waterways to be dredged so why should we pay for dredging? This would certainly not be a use tax. Waterways used by canoes and kayaks are done so in a quiet, conscientious and unobtrusive way. Typically the waterway is left much cleaner after the passage of non-motorized watercraft. Charging a fee on non-motorized watercraft for dredging is certainly an irresponsible proposal.

  36. There’s a Waterways Commission meeting coming up in Lansing on Dec. 7. Here’s a link to the Waterways Commission meeting schedule:

  37. As long as you are taxing unrelated people for dredging; how about taxing deer hunters, airplane pilots, dog owners and mall walkers. I am sure that there are lots of other people who don’t benefit from dredging that you can impose these taxes on.

  38. Unfortunately there are probably way more paddle boats than power boats to dredge!

    I am an owner of 7 kayaks. These days I’m not using them much and so if it comes to being taxed for them will probably unload most of them!

    Many states require that paddle boats be registered/licensed, etc. I’m not saying this makes it right or popular.

    The fairest way to raise more revenues in my opinion is to raise the income tax. Anything else may produce less then desired results.

    If I unload my boats to avoid paying taxes on them then Snyder loses.

    My personal economy has been affected quite a but of late and I must economize where ever I can. Dinging me for everything under the sun reduces my ability to purchase non essential items – items that drive other sectors of the economy. This will increasee unemployment rates! Of course raising the income tax will have the same net affect, but If I have 7 kayaks and must pay $15 a piece to register them for one year adds up to $105.

    How much of an increase in total income tax per workinmg person in the state would it take to cover needed expenses. May be $1 or $2?

    But you see, suggesting increasing income taxes in un republican. Dinging particular sets of the population and creating fees that they can not avoid is more popular because these small groups are not EVERYBODY and it is hard for them to fight back.

    We have the sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

    We have the driver responsibility fee for those who have ALREADY been fined for traffic infractions.

    God knows what else we have.

    So it has ALREADY been pointed out that paddle boats do not require dredging to use the water ways that they use. From this perspective the proposed tax on paddle boats is unfair to subsidize actions that need to be subsidized, however they can NOT add additional user fees to power boat users and those water craft that NEED these actions.

    So an increase in the income tax to cover these actions IS fair as long as they MUST be subsidized.

    The issue probably is that if dredging is not done in areas where power boats need it, there will be fewer licensed power boats which will create more loss in state revenues.

    So where will Snyder get the LEAST pushback. Possibly with the paddle boat users.

    I’m going to renew my membership with the ACA today and apply for membership with any other potential lobbyist organization to HELP push back on these initiatives!

    John Hayes
    jhh at envirobat dot org

  39. This is ridiculous! I already buy the State Park Passport fee annually for 4 (yes, 4) vehicles. We don’t RV, or camp or use anything but DNRE launch site for our 2 kayaks.

    Registering kayaks and canoes? Raise the tax or reg. fees for those who need a deep water draft not those who regularly patrol the rivers and streams for trash and regularly engage in voluntary clean up efforts for the waterways we use. When’s the last time you saw a flotilla of partying motorized vessels and PWC engaging in voluntary clean up efforts?

    Typical “commission” short sighted solutions from idiots that I wouldn’t elect as Dog Catcher. We’ll make sure to keep an eye open for an opportunity to vote your a$$ out of office!

  40. It is unfair to ask people who use non-motorized vessels and who won’t benefit from dredging efforts to pay for this effort.

  41. It doesn’t seem fair to ask owners of non-motorized watercraft to fund dredging operations for motorized watercraft.

  42. mmmm. Canoes and kayaks don’t need the deeper harbors that need to be dredged for power boats.. SO why should we need to pay for the pleasure of the others. If they started clearing deadfall from streams and rivers.. that would be another subject. BUT that has all been done volunteer and/or private clearing.

    Just sayin’

  43. While I can appreciate the need for dredging in some areas, as well as the need for funding these initiatives. I feel that we as paddlers should not be funding these initiatives. We do not need the extra water depth for our non polluting watercraft. I have not been a fan of wide spread dredging in the past and will not be in the future.
    If a marina or recreational harbor in particular need dredging, they should find a way to pay for it themselves by possibly a useage fee or by donations, grants ect. In fact I am sure that our goverment, even though well intentioned, would find a way to spend the funds generated by this means on something else anyway. History doesn’t lie after all…

  44. There is absolutely no correlation between dredging and canoes and kayaks. Only motorboats and large sailboats (which usually have motors, too) benefit from dredging. Let the non-consumptive recreational users enjoy the outdoors without yet another tax!

    And if the Waterways Commission really has any ideas about how it can keep the water levels up, why haven’t we heard anything from them? It sounds like Gary Marowske is just blowing smoke.

    And, by the way, where and when was the top photo taken? It looks a bit suspicious.

  45. Taxing canoes and kayaks to fund dredging is ridiculous. Canoes and kayaks do not require dredging of harbors: Motorized vessels do. This is another renewed effort to tax human powered watercraft to fund motorized watercraft. The State should be encouraging canoes and kayaks as an environmentally friendly recreational activity and not make them another source of taxation for the State. The inner tubes going down the Au Sable River on tourism billboards will be taxed next. NO MORE TAXES.

  46. This is a terrible idea……..I will fight having to pay to register my non-motorized watercraft. I do NOT use my kayak or canoe in waterways that require dredging, as I use them exclusively on small inland lakes and rivers (as do many other canoe/kayak owners). Find another way to pay for your dredging that actually taxes the users of areas that require dredging!!

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