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

Mandatory Boat Operator Safety Education Explored for California


Sacramento --  On August 17, the Department of Boating and Waterways (DBW) hosted the second of two stakeholder workshops to discuss potential legislation to require safety education for vessel operators. Information about the first meeting is available at www.dbw.ca.gov/BoaterEdReq.asp.

“The boating community has strongly endorsed the idea of mandatory education for boat operators and has provided a blueprint for how such a  law should be developed,” said DBW Director Raynor Tsuneyoshi. “Our next step is to develop a proposal for what legislative changes are necessary to make that happen.”

More than 50 people participated in the all-day workshop including boaters, industry and trade representatives, marina organizations, boating law enforcement personnel, educators and accident victims. An informal straw poll from the first meeting found that nearly 80 percent of participants favored mandatory boat operator education, so the focus of this meeting was discussion about the various options available to craft and implement a law.

Topics for discussion included:

  • who should be required to take a course and what vessel types should be covered
  • whether any boaters should be grandfathered (exempt from the requirement)
  • how the course should be offered and in what formats
  • whether a test should be included and how it should be administered
  • length of phase-in
  • whether and how the test and course might be challenged (take the exam without the course)
  • how courses taken previously might apply
  • whether and how certification from other states might be considered
  • what safety education certification should be required for vessel renters and new owners
  • what the penalties should be for operating a vessel without certification
  • what form proof of certification might take

Participants were given individual handheld electronic voting equipment to weigh in on each issue and their responses were tabulated to derive a picture of what participants wanted a law to be in general. Based on the votes, the majority of participants wanted:

  • a short phase-in period of four to six years not including the time necessary for DBW to prepare for implementation
  • to require a safety education course and an exam, but not an on-the-water proficiency exam for all vessel operators
  • vessels subject to the requirement to include all motorized vessels over 15 horsepower and sailboats over 8 feet
  • no grandfathering based on age of the operator
  • to allow boaters to take the exam without the course (challenge) if the operator can show proof that a course was previously taken
  • for renters, an abbreviated safety course and exam tailored to the specific boating type
  • out-of-state operators to be exempt from the certification requirement for up to 60 days
  • the penalty for operating a vessel without proof of certification to be an infraction (min. $50, max. $250 fine)
  • courts to allow waiver of the penalty if a course is taken within 60 days of the violation
  • to require a hands-on proficiency exam for operators convicted of major moving violations, boating under the influence, and reckless boating

DBW will now synthesize these requirements into proposed legislative changes that would implement mandatory boat operator safety education in California. A draft of legislative changes necessary will be posted on the DBW website at www.dbw.ca.gov/BoaterEdReq.asp for public review and comment. To request a hard copy of the draft legislative changes, contact Jared Zucker at Jared.Zucker@parks.ca.gov.

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.