The GCPBA Board thought we would provide a little more background on the recent change in the Noncommercial River Trip Regulations issued by the Grand Canyon National Park River Permits Office, which made optional the throw cushion requirement. (April 8, 2020, we reported on this here: Grand Canyon Noncommercial River Trip Regulations Are Updated. Thank you for your comments).
As a result of a 1931 court case, Arizona vs. California (283 U.S. 423), which concerned the apportionment of Colorado River water between the two states, the Colorado River was determined to be a navigable river. Navigable waterways are subject to jurisdiction of the United States (33 CFR § 2.38). To exercise this jurisdiction, the Coast Guard has set minimal federal requirements for recreational boats, including requirements for throw cushions, pfd's, fire extinguishers, hull numbers, lighting requirements for those night floats to Pearce, etc.
The Park Service applies and enforces all applicable Coast Guard requirements for both private and commercial river trips in Grand Canyon – 100 percent. When the Board met with the previous GCNP Superintendent Christine Lenhertz and Matt Vandzura, GCNP chief law enforcement officer, they indicated that the Park was not going to enforce only part of the Coast Guard requirements. A throw cushion was going to be carried if your boat was 16 feet or longer, as specified in the regulations. Some boat owners have brought a measuring tape along to demonstrate, just in case, that their 15-foot, 10-inch-long boat was exempt.
The Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018 has the following applicable language:
Equipment Requirements; Exemption From Throwable Personal Flotation Devices Requirement.
Pub. L. 115–282, title VIII, §827, Dec. 4, 2018, 132 Stat. 4314 , provided that: "Not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act [Dec. 4, 2018], the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating shall-
"(1) prescribe regulations in part 160 of title 46, Code of Federal Regulations, that treat a marine throw bag, as that term is commonly used in the commercial whitewater rafting industry, as a type of lifesaving equipment; and
"(2) revise section 175.17 of title 33, Code of Federal Regulations, to exempt rafts that are 16 feet or more overall in length from the requirement to carry an additional throwable personal flotation device when such a marine throw bag is onboard and accessible."
As of March 2, 2020, the GCNP noncommercial regulations now state, regarding a throwable flotation device for boats 16 feet or longer, "U.S. Coast Guard approved and in serviceable condition... Type IV device (throw cushion) or a throw-bag and throw-line".
However, although GCNP has made the revision in the noncommercial regulations, the GCPBA Board has learned that the revision has not been formally approved. Until it is, the throw cushion requirement still applies; a proper throw bag with rope as an option will not suffice. It has not been clarified how this discrepancy will be handled at the Lees Ferry equipment check performed by a GCNP ranger. Private boaters have been told for years to follow the regulations as printed. Hopefully, this will be cleared up by the time Grand Canyon river trips resume.
When the throw bag option has its final approval, it would be safe to assume that your throw bag will be carefully inspected. Like your pfd and throw cushion, it better not have any rips or tears. Many of us have had our throw bags for a long time and they’re probably a little beat up, hence the heads up.
As a side note, if you want to quickly see the other changes to the regulations, just scroll down to Appendix B, which lists all changes in chronological order.
The current regulations are here: Noncommercial River Trip Regulations 3-2-2020