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Contact: June Iljana
(916) 651-5692
e-mail: pubinfo.dbw.ca.gov

July 21, 2006

Boating Experts Focus on Mandatory Boat Operator Safety Education

Los Angeles --  The Department of Boating and Waterways (DBW) yesterday hosted the first of two stakeholder workshops to discuss potential legislation to require safety education for vessel operators. The second meeting, which will build on information gathered in Los Angeles, is scheduled for August 17, 2006 at the Clarion Hotel, Terrace Room, 700 16th Street, Sacramento.

“There is no question that California’s boating accidents and fatalities are too high. That’s a problem for anyone who cares about boating and about public safety,” said DBW Director Raynor Tsuneyoshi in his opening statement. “The question we hope to answer today is: Should the State of California require boaters to receive boating safety training in order to operate a motorized vessel?”

Nearly 40 people participated in the all-day workshop including boaters, representatives of boating interest groups, boating accident victims, safety advocates and educators, marina operators, boating law enforcement personnel and government agencies. “The cooperation of so many different interests is incredibly valuable in effectively addressing what we all know is a problem,” Tsuneyoshi said.

Mandatory boater education has been gaining traction nationwide in recent years and 42 states now require some type of certification. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been a driving force behind the nationwide movement toward mandatory education. Mandatory Boat Operator Education is on the NTSB's list of Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements last year.

Bill Gossard, National Recreational Boating Program Manager and Senior Transportation Safety Advocate for the NTSB, spoke to the group about how mandatory education is working in other states. “If California is on board with mandatory boating education, a projected decrease in fatalities is expected at 10-15%, saving 6 to 10 people a year,” he said. “I can’t tell you what to do, but California needs to join the states that have taken this important step toward reducing recreational boating accidents and fatalities.”

“Recreational Boaters of California appreciates the effort that DBW is making to bring together all of the stakeholders for a comprehensive and productive discussion of actions that can be taken to enhance  boater safety and education,” said Jerry Desmond, Jr., Director of Government Relations for Recreational Boaters of California.

Harry Monihan, government relations director for the Southern California Marine Association, a boating industry group, spoke about the group’s historical opposition to mandatory boater education. “We’ve always taken the position that you can’t legislate good judgment, but now we are becoming more flexible because our members and customers are being subjected to risks of uneducated boaters on the water,” Monihan said.

More than one participant spoke from experience in describing the effects boating accidents can have. Pam Rudy’s son Kyle was killed last year when a rented pontoon boat he was vacationing on ran over him. She attended the meeting to express her belief that there is an urgent need for mandatory boater education in California. “I believe that education is urgent and necessary. California needs to do this now,” she said.

A boater education law passed the California Senate and Assembly in 1999 but was vetoed by Governor Gray Davis. At the time, Chris Brewster was Lifeguard Chief for the City of San Diego, which sponsored the bill. He is currently President of the United States Lifesaving Association.

Brewster began his remarks by apologizing to the victims present. “If we had been able to get that legislation passed in 1999, many of the injuries and deaths described today probably wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “If we continue saying if it’s not this way or that way, it’s unacceptable then there will just continue being more tragedies. Each day that we don’t have mandatory boater education, we are responsible  and there will be more tragedies. We must find a way to come to consensus and move this forward.”

The morning was spent reviewing and discussing material about accident statistics and existing boating education laws nationwide. Throughout the afternoon, participants had an opportunity to share their concerns and help outline the specific issues that need to be addressed in any proposed legislation. “The variations on structuring a boating education law include age, type of vessel, reciprocity with other states, penalties, administration, and dozens of others. Each detail is important to someone,” Tsuneyoshi said.

In an informal poll, about 75% of the meeting participants indicated conceptual support of pursuing a mandatory boater education law in California. “Now we have to find a way to satisfy objections that are related to structure and process, and we have to determine who might sponsor such legislation,” Tsuneyoshi said.

The next meeting will focus on discussing the various options and developing a framework for a law, although no group has come forward to lead the process yet. “The administration has been clear that it wants any boater education legislation to come from the boating community,” said David Johnson, Deputy Director of DBW. “The Department can provide technical assistance to any group that wants to sponsor, but DBW can’t be the sponsor.”

The Department of Boating and Waterways promotes on-the-water safety and helps develop convenient public access to the waterways through programs funded by vessel registration fees, boating fuel tax dollars and boating facility construction loan payments.

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If it’s your boat, it’s your responsibility. Take a boating safety course.