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Do paddlers need more protection?  (NCPR file photo)
Do paddlers need more protection? (NCPR file photo)

Paddler death on Lake George sparks call for change

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A district attorney in Saratoga County says New York's legislature needs to change state navigation law to protect kayakers and other paddlers.

The issue arose after a paddler was killed last June on Lake George after his kayak was struck by a motorboat.

Brian Mann has our story.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Last June Peter Snyder from Troy was paddling near Elizabeth Island on Lake George with his wife when his kayak was struck broadside by a power boat.  The 63-year-old’s body was found hours later. 

The man driving the motor boat, 73-year-old Donald Peltier faced misdemeanor charges.

But earlier this month, Queensbury town justice Robert McNally dismissed the case.  He concluded that under state navigation law, a kayak isn’t a recognized vessel.

As a consequence McNally wrote, Peltier wasn’t –quote—“required to yield the right of way.”

Saratoga County district attorney Jim Murphy, who prosecuted the case, says the judge’s ruling sends a clear message to lawmakers in Albany.

"Try to amend this section of the state navigation law so that it's clear, so that judges don't have to interpret the statute.  So that it specifically talks about kayaks, rowboats, canoes and other non-motorized, no-windpowered craft."

According to Murphy, navigation law needs to change to reflect the growing popularity of paddle sports.

"Perhaps in 1956 when the statute was written you didn't see so many of this kind of vessel, but we certainly do today," he said.

Steve Doxson agrees.  He’s a guide and co-owner of Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters in Saranac Lake and says nervous encounters between speed boats and paddlers are far too common.

"There are incidents where motorboats do overpower paddle craft and sometimes they get turned over and swamped and people are intimidated to paddle in some of those areas at times."

Currently, state law requires that motorboats give the right of way to sailboats.  Doxson thinks it would be reasonable to add paddle boats to the list, just so everyone knows the rules of the road.

"It's definitely something that needs to be addressed," Doxson said. 

"Especially in this area with the number of boats there are in the waterways.  Especially if you go through the Saranac River between the lakes and Lake Ossetah where it can be somewhat congested and confined."

Doxson says he advises his customers to hug the shorelines when possible to give motorboats plenty of room, but that’s not always possible. 

Meanwhile, prosecutor Jim Murphy says he’s considering refilling charges in the case of the paddler who died on Lake George and will make a decision after speaking with the victim’s family.

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