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Readers Weigh in on Boater ID Law

In an April ‘Lectronic Latitude, we asked our readers to comment on a new Boater Identification law set to take effect in 2018, when California will begin to gradually roll out a requirement for certain motorized marine vessels — including sailboats with motors — to carry proof that they’ve taken a safety course.

On January 1 2018, Senate Bill 941 will require boaters aged 20 or younger to carry the official California Boater Education Card. Each subsequent new year, another age group will be added until 2025, when all persons (regardless of age) will be subject to the requirement.

"The California Boater Card will show that its holder has successfully taken and passed a state approved boater safety education examination," said the California Department of Parks and Recreation Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW), who will issue the cards for a fee of "approximately $10." Once issued, the cards are valid for life. Until the law takes effect in 2018, California is one of only a handful of states that does not require mandatory boater education.

Latitude waded into this debate in 2015, when SB 941 was first introduced by Governor Jerry Brown. One of our readers’ (and the Wanderer’s) primary concerns is that the new law does not sufficiently target those whom they see as the most dangerous boaters on the water: personal watercraft (PWC), and specifically rental PWCs. Under the law, renters will be exempt from carrying the Boater Card.

DBW told Latitude it is not involved with any specific training program with rental companies, and "has no governance on what type of safety training someone renting a personal watercraft must have before they can go out in the water," a spokesperson said, adding that DBW considers any person who does not have experience operating any type of recreational vessel a risk.

"This is why it is important for boaters to have some type of education," the spokesperson said. "DBW offers many resources to new and experienced boaters — for example, the division offers a complimentary personal watercraft education course and an entire chapter of our home study course deals solely with operation and safety issues associated with this type of vessel."

Citing the 2016 California Recreational Boating Accident Statistics, DBW said about 70,000 of the nearly 697,500 registered vessels in California were PWCs, or about 10% of the boating population. "There were 588 total causes of accidents in 2016, with 100 of them being by a PWC (approximately 17%)," a DBW spokesperson told us. "Forty of 145 ownership status of vessels involved in an accident were operated by a renter (approximately 28%)." Out of the 49 boating fatalities in 2016, six involved PWCs.

Here’s what some of our readers said with regard to the coming Boater ID law (these views do not necessarily reflect Latitude’s opinion or position. We’d like to thank everyone who wrote in — we were originally hoping to put these comments in the June issue, but, you know, show business):

"We do not need the government creating these kinds of regulations. I am against it," said Chris Cunningham, who is also concerned about rental PWCs. "The rental boat industry in Lake Tahoe, where I live, is where there’s a problem. But laws pertaining to instruction or training for people renting boats would doom the industry.

"I have owned many boats and to tell you the truth I have seen our local seasonal sheriff patrol boat perform dangerous boating moves. Very cocky attitudes. The government should [not implement] more regulations. It never stops once it begins and new fees and more regulation will occur."

Glenn Twitchell also worried about personal watercraft. "All this new law is about is the appearance of doing something while increasing the ranks of bureaucracy as well as expanding the nanny state. If they really wanted to cut down on boating accidents and fatalities they would not have exempted the renters of PWCs where the lion’s share of incidents take place."

Brian Richards summed up the burden of most regulations: "Well you and I don’t need it, but all those other guys sure do. PS: I may take the test anyway just to see how well I do."

Linda Newland explained that Washington is now on the other side of its implementation of a boater safety law: "In Washington State, the Boaters Education requirement has been fully implemented over an eight-year period. As a local US Power Squadron education officer during most of that period, I’ve been teaching the America’s Boating Course which — once passed — allows someone to apply for a lifetime card."

Sally Diane asked what took California so long to implement boater safety: "Way up north here in British Columbia, we have the Pleasure Craft Operator’s Certificate. It’s been in place for about five years now, and the Coast Guard checks boaters for the cert when doing their rounds."

Have more to say about the Boater ID? Please let us know

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