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Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Saturday, October 23, 1999


Why not license
boat operators?

WHILE watching a rather inept boat owner attempt to bring his vessel up to a dock last week, a couple of friends and I got into a reoccurring discussion about the need for boat operator licenses.

"If everyone was required to have a license, like car drivers, I'll bet boating would be a lot safer," one of them said. "As it is now, you buy a boat, they toss you the keys, and poof, you're a skipper."

Coincidentally, I had recently been in California, where I had noted that the state's legislature had studied the problem and had concluded the same thing.

Using statistics from 1998, a new California Boating Safety Report had pointed out that inexperienced boaters there accounted for 41 percent of all boating accidents. Conversely, it also concluded that nearly all boating accidents could be avoided with proper boater education.

That report apparently gave impetus to the state's legislature last month, when it passed the California Boating Safety Act of 1999, after 11 years of effort by the City of San Diego to establish statewide mandatory boater education.

The bill needed to be signed by California's governor by Oct. 10 to become law. Unfortunately, as I see it, it was not.

The act provided for a boating safety program that included mandatory testing and certification for motorboat operators. But it also allowed for the law to take effect in incremental steps.

On Sept. 1, 2002, anyone under the age of 21 would have been required to pass a written test on boating safety and pollution rules and obtain a state certificate to operate vessels on state waters powered by motors over 15 horsepower.

Beginning June 1, 2003, the requirements would have applied to persons under the age of 31, and a year later, it would have applied to all under the age of 41.

THE law would have given boaters a choice of taking a state-approved preparation course or challenging the exam if they felt they could pass it without formal education. The certificate awarded would have been valid for the life of the boater.

Visiting boaters from other states would have been exempt, providing they had passed a similar course in their home state. And anyone renting a boat or personal water craft could have obtained a temporary certificate after passing a short test given by the rental agent.

Why California's governor chose not to sign this legislation is a mystery to me. A similar mandatory boater education bill was signed into law in Oregon last August, and that state has less than a quarter of the registered boats of its southerly neighbor.

In fact, I have been told Oregon was the first state in the west to establish such a program and is one of 20 states nationwide to require some level of boater education.

I would tend to doubt Hawaii's lawmakers would spend time on creating a boater education and licensing bill any time soon. Just deciding who would enforce such a law, or how to decipher our present laws would certainly stop its passage.

Besides, the boater education problem only arises here when there is a fatality or serious injury. And once the headlines have disappeared, so does the apparent need for related laws, education and enforcement.

As an alternative, may I suggest to anyone even considering buying a boat to register for one of the fine boating safety courses offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadron. You'll be doing yourself -- and us all -- a big favor.


Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at raypen@compuserve.com.



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