Introduction & History

The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club has been running canoeing and kayaking programs in the New York City Harbor since Spring of 1999. Originally Dredgers programs used Canoes in the Gowanus Canal, but over the years the Dredgers have formed Activity Committees to expand services throughout the New York City and New Jersey Harbor.

All of the Dredgers Activity Committees (AC) throughout New York are focused on offering free human powered recreational boating. A variety of equipment, activities are currently offered by the various Activity Committees at different locations, but the common thread is that services are open to the general public and members of the 501c3, at no or minimal cost, and we guarantee participants have fun when they learn or contribute.

Organization & Operational Structure

Activity Committees operate under the Dredgers’ 501c3 Bylaws and our equipment, volunteers and facilities may be allocated as needed to support each Activity Committee. Throughout the Dredger literature, external promotional venues like websites, and internal communications the term program and Activity Committee may be used interchangeably.

This structure allows the Activity Committees to leverage organizational resources including but not limited to equipment, finances, grant funding, and insurance coverage, while operating in different geographic locations with local personnel devoted to the particular Activity Committee and aware or the challenges facing that portion of our harbor. Some services offered by the Dredgers are run by a single Activity Committee while others involve collaboration between Activity Committees.

This organizational format allows each Activity Committee to offer their particular services fairly independently. Activity Committees are operated by a Chair, who may or may not serve as a Board Member to the 501c3. Each Activity Committee shall propose a candidate to be a Chair, the Board must approve the Chair. At its discretion the Board may also appoint a Chair of its own choosing.

The Chair is empowered by the Board to conduct AC services including but not limited to:

  • Request for 501c3 funds and resources to be allocated to the AC
  • Establish sub-committees to advise the Chair on direction of the AC
  • Direct communications regarding the AC among participants and the press
  • Establish operations, including who, what, where, when of the program
  • Such operations may include safety protocols, hours and dates of services, and prerequisites for equipment use
  • Decide who may participate in the program at the discretion of the Chair

Currently the Dredgers sponsor and run the following Activity Committees:

  • The Gowanus Dredgers – Gowanus Canal
  • Kayak Staten Island – South Beach Staten Island
  • Long Island City Community Boathouse – Long Island City
  • Red Hook Boaters – Red Hook Brooklyn
  • New York Community Kayak – Riverbank State Park Upper Manhattan

Summary & Purpose

These safety protocols govern all of the programs that operate under the Dredgers 501c3. Each Activity Committee may develop a more detailed set of standards for their particular program, but in all cases the protocols in this document are adhered to by each individual committee as the minimum standard.

This document is organized as a set of topics that address a particular area of safety. The Gowanus Dredgers By-Laws describe the organization and governance procedures for the organization as a whole, these safety protocols, when accepted by the Dredgers Board of Directors are a supplement to the By-Laws. In case of any discrepancy between this document and By-Laws the By-Laws should be considered the definitive rules for the organization.

The term program is used throughout this document to mean any on-water activity that uses any Dredger owned equipment, or a boat that is stored in, and launched from a Dredger facility. The term public program is a program that involves participants as described in the 501c3 Bylaws and includes members of the public in addition to Volunteers.

User Classification


The Dredger programs may be staffed and run by Volunteers, and some volunteers may receive a small stipend for their services. Individual Activity Committees may establish additional levels of classifications for their Volunteers depending on the Volunteer’s level of commitment and training. A few sample classifications are listed below:

  • Paid Member – some Activity Committees offer equipment use or other considerations for members who make a financial commitment or other contribution to the organization.  The Gowanus Membership structure is an example of how the Activity Committee at that location is operating.
  • Steering Committee Member – some Activity Committees identify a group of experienced Volunteers who make recommendations to the Chair and such members may be empowered by the Chair to represent the ACs interests.
  • Key Holder – most of the Activity Committees restrict the number of Volunteers who have access to equipment and facilities with some type of key to the physical facilities.
  • Trip Leader – some Activity Committees conduct guided trips, and these trips may be supervised by a trip leader who is appointed at the discretion of the Chair as having the necessary skills to run the trip.

The types of classifications of Volunteers, if any, for a particular Activity Committee may be set and controlled by the Chair of the Activity Committee according needs.  Each Chair may determine who is recognized as a Volunteer. It may be a formal process, or it may be an informal agreement.


Activity Committees may serve the general public for free but donations to the 501c3 may be solicited.. Participants are allowed to use the Dredgers equipment on the water in a controlled manner. These members of the public may be described as Participants in this document.

The particulars of the how Participants engage with Activity Committees may be set by the Activity Committee in accordance with the By Laws of the 501c3, and protocols described in this document.


The rules in this section cover all equipment used in any program of the 501c3. The rules apply to equipment owned by the 501c3, as well as equipment owned by Volunteers and Participants, that are used by a program, or stored in a facility of the 501c3.

Personal Flotation Devices

All people engaging in any on-water activity are directed to properly wear a personal flotation device (aka PFD, or lifejacket), at all times when in a boat on the water. Absolutely no exceptions are permitted to this rule.

All PFD’s must be U.S. Coast Guard Approved and carry a certification label and an approval number printed on the PFD testifying to the fact that the device is approved.


All Boats and equipment owned by the 501c3, or stored in AC facilities are non-motorized and human powered.

Motors of any type including jet or propeller driven are not to be used in Dredger programs by volunteers or participants. Motors of any type may not be attached to any Dredger owned boats. If approved by the Board a motorized safety vessel operated by a licensed operator may be used for a specific event. Dredger ACs may also participate in events where motorized vessels provide safety and support. Water craft where the primary method of propulsion is the wind are prohibited from all programs.

All Boats shall float even if swamped or submerged.

All kayaks shall either be “sit on top” self-bailing models, or shall feature sealed bulkheads or installed working inflated airbags.


All paddles used in programs must float.


Most Dredger programs shall operate in warm dry weather where the participants shall be comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt. The protocols in this section cover Dredger programs that are run in the outdoors. Indoor or swimming pool based programs are exempt from the rules in this section.


No programs are to be started if there is visible lightning, audible thunder, or a reasonable threat of lightning. If a program is underway, either in a protected embayment near a AC facility or on the open water, and lightning is observed, or thunder can be heard all Volunteers and Participants in the program are to exit the water immediately and return equipment to storage if time allows.

The objective when terminating a program or activity because of lightning is to exit the water, and leave the shoreline for cover as quickly as possible. If the activity is not taking place near an ACs storage facility, volunteers and participants should exit the water at the earliest opportunity, and if possible secure the equipment where it may be retrieved after the storm has passed.

Since Rain leads to contaminated water due to CSO overflow in New York Harbor, volunteers and participants should take caution at all times when exposed to New York Harbor Water and avoid ingesting water. Volunteers and participants should thoroughly clean hands immediately following every outing. Public programs may be cancelled by the Volunteers running the program if the Volunteers feel there is excessive contamination.

Cold Weather

On water public programs for non-volunteers either based on walk-ups or by appointment on an individual basis or through a group are conducted during the warm water paddling season from April 1st to October 31st. Activity Committees may further restrict their season based on local conditions. For example, programs using sit on top kayaks may end before October 31st but that decision is at the discretion of the Chair of the Activity Committee.

Volunteers may continue to conduct non-public outings between November 1st and April 30th provided appropriate cold water exposure clothing is worn by all participants going on the water. The exposure clothing may be provided by the Volunteers or the Activity Committee. Each Activity Committee may define what types of exposure clothing is appropriate for the particular activities being undertaken.


Volunteers and participants of programs are to conduct themselves in a safe, courteous and respectful manner when interacting with Participants and Volunteers of AC’s programs. Volunteers and participants must be in good standing with the 501c3 and the 501c3 as determined by the Board. A Participant can be restricted from participation at the discretion of the trip leader or dock steward.


Volunteers and Participants should not harass other Volunteers or Participants.

Drugs and Alcohol

Volunteers and Participants are never to consume alcohol or drugs that impair ability to safely operate boats during or up to two hours before on-water activities or in any support work for on water activities including but not limited to handling waivers or dock and shoreline supervision to launch Participants and Volunteers on the water.

This prohibition on drugs and alcohol use includes any activities that use Dredger equipment, including portage or other transport to or from a launch site.

Volunteers who are injured, or using prescription medication will use their own judgment before engaging in any on-water activities.


Theft or borrowing without permission of equipment or funds of the 501c3 is prohibited.


Formal Certification

Volunteers in the various Activity Committees, especially those who lead trips and conduct training may pursue formal kayaking or canoeing certifications for either individual achievement, or leadership. The most popular certification program is from the American Canoe Association.

Such certifications are valuable and encouraged by the 501c3but are not mandatory across all Activity Committees. A particular Activity Committee may require certification, but certification is not a requirement for these safety protocols that govern all Activity Committees. Each Activity Committee Chair may enact a policy requiring certification for certain activities and with Board Approval, may offer financial incentives in the form of individual grants or tuition reimbursement to volunteers and participants that obtain certification.


Dredger owned equipment should be used on by Participants only after the departure is supervised by a Dredger Volunteer. The exact rules for supervision levels and use of equipment will be set by each Activity Committee Chair.

Commercial Activities

Dredger owned equipment or facilities will only be used for activities for which a fee is charged when 100% of the gross revenue from the activities is turned over to the Dredgers. Volunteers do not receive money in exchange for services using Dredger equipment, facilities or from participation with the AC or the 501c3 that is not remanded to the Dredgers. Should a volunteer or participant incur expenses as a result of volunteering for a program, the individual may be reimbursed from funds of the 501c3.

Board Member Compensation

All Board Members make an annual financial contribution to the Organization, a contribution intended to empower them as vested board members, who collectively define the direction of the Not For Profit Corporation. Board members shall not receive any compensation for their services, including tuition reimbursement or financial grants and shall strive to maintain current annual membership dues. Should a Board Member incur expenses as a result of volunteering for a program, they may be reimbursed from funds of the 501c3.

Health and Fitness

All Participants will be asked by a Volunteer verbally or in writing about their general state of health and fitness, and will attest to being adequately prepared before engaging in any program.

All Volunteers will be in good general health and a state of physical fitness that is appropriate to their participation in the activity they are undertaking. The exact level of physical fitness is to be set by the Volunteers themselves and the Activity Committee.

Insurance Coverage and Waivers

The Dredgers maintain up to date liability and director’s insurance at all times, and all Volunteers will ensure that all Volunteers and Participants sign a liability waiver before engaging in any on-water activity. A new waiver must be signed, each day, for each person who goes on the water that day regardless of the person’s qualifications or affiliations. Vehicle use by volunteers and participants shall be operated by a person with a valid license, shall carry insurance coverage by statute, shall be driven in a safe and conservative fashion. The driver will be responsible to ensure equipment is tied down and an oversized load flag is attached when appropriate.

VHF Radios/Cellular Phones

Radios are a powerful safety tool that many Activity Committees find useful on trips and other programs to communicate with other Volunteers, the authorities, or other watercraft. Volunteers are encouraged to use and the ACs should make VHF radios available during all on-water programming, but the equipment not required unless as determined by the AC.

Some form of emergency communication, either a cellular phone or a VHF radio is required to be available whenever Dredger equipment or facilities are used in any on-water capacity.

Other Safety Equipment

A waterproof whistle or other waterproof audible signal device should be attached to each vessel. A white signal light is required when equipment is used after sunset and before dawn. Waivers are to be read and signed and some ACs may require a trip log to be completed prior to departure. Youth (under 16) may participate if accompanied by an adult and youth under 18 must have waivers completed by parent or legal guardian. To the greatest extent possible, all laws and regulations of the local municipality to the USCG should be followed and in the event of a difference in regulations, the most conservative regulation should be followed.

Enclosed Cockpit Kayak Rules

All Activity Committees shall ensure that whenever closed cockpit kayaks fitted with spray skirts or spray decks are used by Volunteers or Participants that the user is trained in the removal of the spray skirt in case of a capsize. All Volunteers or Participants using a spray skirt is to practice a capsize and exit from a kayak the involves removing the spray skirt underwater, under close supervision of at least one experienced qualified volunteer before using a spray skirt.