Oceanside Harbor Police have been dealing with an uptick in reports of electric foil surfboards in the harbor, prompting questions about whether the devices are considered vessels by regulatory agencies. The California Department of Motor Vehicles says yes.
OCEANSIDE— Harbors and marinas throughout the country have seen an increase in the amount of human powered watercraft on their waterways with much of the activity centered on the booming paddleboard explosion. Now motors have been popping up on paddleboards, kayaks and even surfboards and the new trend has been causing a stir in Oceanside Harbor.
Oceanside Harbor Manager Ted Schiafone said in an email electric foil surfboards have become a popular attraction in the area and have caused some waves in maritime law enforcement. These watercraft have a lithium-ion battery as a power source and/or a hydrofoil that extends below the board into the water.
“These new electric foil surfboards are difficult to carry so it’s much easier to launch one at a public dock and simply ride it out into the ocean and surf line,” Schiafone said in an email. “As more of these new watercraft hit the Harbor, our slip renters began calling about enforcement.”
Schiafone went on to say it’s easy to spot a trolling motor mounted on a kayak, but the new technology has made it more difficult to identify an electric motor built into a paddleboard, kayak or surfboard.
“This new technology allows a surfboard to rise up on the foil at about 5mph and travel as fast as 30mph,” Schiafone said. “Once the surfboard leaves the friction of the water, there is no wake so spotting its movement is more difficult, especially at daybreak or twilight.”
Surfboards of any kind, including foil and electric, have been banned in Oceanside Harbor for safety reasons. Boat operators have trouble seeing them due to obstructions in and around the water and poor visibility of the small fraction of the person that is above the water’s surface.
While the issue has been resolved in the Oceanside Municipal code, Oceanside Harbor Police had issue with enforcement, because surfboards are technically not a “vessel” and they didn’t produce a wake. Schiafone reached out to the U.S. Coast Guard, hoping to gain some more clarity on the issue as to whether they would be considered vessels.
Under USCG regulations, any craft determined to be a vessel requires safety equipment, including a personal flotation device, and registration. Gold dredges, paddleboards, argo-amphibious ATVs, kiteboards and float tubes have all been determined to be vessels, but electric foil surfboards are not currently named as a vessel.
“The U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t regulate this type of vessel unless it’s in commercial service or for hire, aka paying passengers/consideration involved,” USCG San Diego Sector External Affairs Officer Lieutenant Liesl Olson told The Log in an email.
He went on to say the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles does all boat/vessel registrations and would be in charge of any local requirements for safety and registration. The DMV requires any boat/vessel with a motor no matter the size, to be registered with DMV in order to legally operate it on California waterways.
“This would apply to surfboards, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards that have a motor attached,” Nicholas Filipas, a Public Information Officer with the California DMV, said in an email.
More information about registering a vessel with the DMV can be found at https://bit.ly/3gnKOcU.
A similar issue was raised when the paddleboard industry began to boom. In 2008, USCG made the determination paddleboards used outside a swimming or surfing area are “vessels.” The designation requires paddleboarders to have a life jacket, a whistle to warn other boaters if necessary or in an emergency, a navigation light after sunset and to know and follow the Navigation Rules.