Louisiana Lawmaker Wants to Regulate Volunteer Rescue Boats

The Cajun Navy helped save thousands of lives in last week's flooding disaster as they worked with local knowledge and ingenuity. Now they may be required to get licensed in order to rescue their friends and neighbors.

By Anika Smith Published on August 24, 2016

Louisianans banded together in a loose collective of boats, including some canoes and kayaks, to save neighbors trapped by devastating floodwaters. It’s a tribute to their courage and ingenuity that so few people died in one of the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history, where in some places as much as 31 inches of rain fell in only 15 hours. More than 60,000 homes have been damaged, and 13 people were killed.

More than 20,000 residents were rescued from the flood.

Let that number sink in. 20,000. That’s more people than live in many towns in America. It was an effort that required the National Guard and the Coast Guard, but the flood was worse than anything government expected — and Louisianans knew they had to help themselves and help their own.

So the volunteer, private Cajun Navy, which formed during Hurricane Katrina ten years ago, went to work, delivering stranded families and even pets trapped by the floodwaters.

And now they may face new licensing requirements.

The New Requirements

Republican state senator Jonathan Perry has proposed legislation that would require training, certificates and a permit fee for volunteer rescuers to bypass law enforcement and reach disaster areas, according to a report from WWL-TV.

Perry defended his legislation on Facebook Tuesday evening, explaining the logistics of his proposed legislation, which he said is meant to empower the Cajun Navy and keep them from facing legal consequences for their unauthorized heroism.

Cajun Navy member Dustin Clouatre, whose rescue work on his pleasure skiff helped save entire neighborhoods under water, said he doesn’t understand why the volunteer force is facing regulations.

“How can you regulate people helping people? That doesn’t make sense to me,” Clouatre told WWL-TV.

Clouatre argued citizens like the Cajun Navy may know the flooded areas better than official rescuers who come in from out of town to help. Clouatre said they often did things officials would not have been allowed to do.

“For the most part, these people are not going to wait for assistance,” Clouatre said. “They’re doers.”

Some in Louisiana argue that the unofficial nature of the rescue movement was the key to its success. According to Scott McKay at The Hayride, “the fact the rescue effort was basically an unorganized mess was actually a great thing; if it was an organized, systematic effort you probably wouldn’t have had quite so many opportunities for folks to get on a boat after initially figuring they’d ride out the flood.”

Cajun Navy supporters are concerned that the proposed laws will hamper future volunteer efforts:

When you start to pass laws governing the Cajun Navy, even if your intentions are to make it easier for the Cajun Navy to operate, it is more or less guaranteed you will get fewer Cajun Navy people showing up to rescue flood victims. They’re not going to be interested in paying $25 to get a boat rescue certification, or going through the time to take some course, or have continuing education for another $25 fee, or any of that.

So far it appears that no Cajun Navy members have faced suit or arrest for saving their communities.

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