See also the article from United States Windsurfing on Why PFD's aren't the Answer for Windsurfers.
In California recently, authorities ticketed a windsurfer for jumping too close to a beach. But was he a watercraft? Was he bound by the same rules as boats or was he a water toy? If he was a watertoy, then likewise, perhaps, are we? And what rights do we have when Testosterone Tony and his 35 ft speed boat bears down on us at Lanier? A debate simmered on the internet, until finally Mike Childs had the wits to email the US Coast Guard and get some real answers to a list of submitted questions. Here are some excerpts:
Q: What is a "sailboard?" The windsurfing community has from time to time found itself regarded by local jurisdictions as "sail vessels" rather than surf boards or sports equipment. We need a definitive definition of sailboards or windsurfers from the USCG (Coast Guard). Are we subject to federal regulations regarding sailing vessels or are we considered sporting equipment i.e. surfboards?
A: The short answer is a sailboard is a vessel. A sailboard is not a surfboard or sports equipment. You are subject to the Navigation Rules (Rules of the road) as are other vessels. You are not subject to the Coast Guard PFD regulations, but may be subject to PFD requirements imposed by States or other agencies.
Q: What is a "sailboard?"
A: According to 33 CFR 175.3, Sec. 175.3 Definitions. As used in this part:
Boat means any vessel manufactured or used primarily for noncommercial use; leased, rented, or chartered to another for the latter's noncommercial use; or engaged in the carrying of six or fewer passengers.
Recreational vessel means any vessel being manufactured or operated primarily for pleasure; or leased, rented, or chartered to another for the latter's pleasure. It does not include a vessel engaged in the carrying of six or fewer passengers.
Sailboard means a sail propelled vessel with no freeboard and equipped with a swivel mounted mast not secured to a hull by guys or stays.
Use means operate, navigate, or employ. Vessel includes every description of watercraft used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water.
Q: What is the difference between a "sailboat" and a "sailboard?"
A: While many sailboard manufacturers advertise their products as "sailboats," there are major differences between the two. A sailboat has a fixed mast that the operator does not need to hold up. The design of a sailboat is such that the operator and any passengers can sit down. A sailboard has a free fall system for the sail and mast. In order to sail a sailboard, the operator must stand up and hold up the mast. If a sailboard carries more than one person, it is designed so that each person operates a separate sail while standing on the board.
Q: What Federal regulations govern the operation of sailboards?
A: Currently there are no Coast Guard equipment carriage requirements or manufacturer requirements applicable to sailboards. However, sailboards are subject to Federal regulations promulgated by other Federal agencies under the authority of other Federal statutes. Examples are regulations issued by the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. State and local laws also apply to the operation of sailboards.
Q: Does the operator of a sailboard have to wear or carry a lifesaving device?
A: It depends on the law or regulation in effect at the location where the sailboard is being used. The Coast Guard does not require the carriage of Personal Flotation Devices (PFD's) on sailboards. The National Park Service requires PFD's on some waters within its parks, and a number of States and their political subdivisions also require them. Sailboard operators must know the local laws or regulations which apply to their operation in the locations where they are used.
Q: How do the Rules of the Road apply to the operation of a sailboard?
A: According to the Navigation Rules, International and Inland, "The term, 'vessel,' includes every description of watercraft including non-displacement craft and seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water." As a result, the Coast Guard considers a sailboard a "vessel" as the term is used in the Rules of the Road. Therefore a sailboard is subject to the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as any other vessel.
Most of the above material appeared in Boating Safety Circular No. 58 published June 1984. The exception is the definition of sailboard which appeared in amendments to the PFD equipment carriage regulations which were published August 4, 1993 [58 FR 41607].
Q: Are there any registration requirements?
A: The States are free to require numbering and registration of whichever vessels they choose (as a minimum they are required to number all motorboats). Some States choose to require numbering and registration of all watercraft, including sailboards.
Q: Are there any PFD (or other safety) requirements?
A: While the Coast Guard does not require the carriage of lifesaving devices on sailboards, the States and other Federal agencies are free to require such equipment at their option.
According to 33 CFR 175.5, Sec. 175.5 Exemption from preemption. The States are exempted from preemption by Federal regulations when establishing, continuing in effect, or enforcing State laws and regulations on the wearing or the carriage of personal flotation devices directly related to the following subject areas within the jurisdictional boundaries of the State: (a) Children on board any vessel; (b) Operating a canoe or kayak; (c) Operating a sailboard; and (d) Operating a personal watercraft.
That means the States are free to set whatever PFD carriage requirements they wish for the above individuals or vessels.
Q: Are there any other USCG requirements for windsurfers or sailboards?
A: The Coast Guard considers the terms, "windsurfer" and "sailboard" synonymous. Windsurfer International was the original sailboard manufacturer. The only remaining reference to the term, "sailboard," appears in 33 CFR 175.17(d): Sec. 175.17 Exemptions.
I hope the above information is sufficient. If you have additional questions, please contact me.
Technical Writer and Editor U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Product Assurance Division Tel: (202) 267-0981 Fax (202) 267-4285 AColihan@comdt.uscg.mil.