LAKE WYLIE -- After almost five months of discussion, North Carolina legislators gave final approval last week to a new mandatory boater education bill, which was ratified the following day. Yet a last-minute change means fewer boaters actually will be subject to the new requirement.
"The important thing is it passed," said Sandy DuPuy, chairman of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission. "We know there were some changes made that maybe weren't what safe boating advocates would have wished for, but it's better than not having a law at all."
The original bill, filed Feb. 3 as HB39 in the House and SB43 in the Senate, called for anyone operating a boat of at least 10 hp on North Carolina waters to complete a certified safe boating course, with a $100 fine for violations. The proposed bill would require anyone aged 20 or younger to be certified effective July 11, 2011. The age requirement would bump up 10 years each subsequent July 11 until all boaters would be included by summer 2016.
The House and Senate then changed the rules to require education only for boaters born on or after Jan. 1, 1984, and nixed the $100 fine, saying violators would be responsible for paying court costs.
During final vote June 29, however, another change was made. Lawmakers set a fixed age of 25 effective May 1, 2010.
"If you can show proof that you're 26 then you're OK," said Charles "Bo" Ibach, former Lake Wylie Marine Commissioner and Charlotte Power Squadron boating safety instructor.
Scott Spivey, a licensed U.S. Coast Guard master captain who heads Lighthouse Marine Service on Lake Wylie, also teaches boating safety courses likes the ones required by the new law. When the age requirement initially changed from a fast phase-in to one that would grow one year at a time, Spivey still felt "the new law will make a difference, but it will take much longer to show that difference."
"At least all new, young boaters will be educated and over a period of years, all North Carolina boaters will eventually have the class," Spivey said at the time.
Now, he's looking a little harder for the silver lining.
"At least all boaters younger than 26 will be educated fairly soon," he said last week. "That is better than nothing. It's a start."
Ibach says despite the final law being "watered down," it still holds merit.
"What it will do is to make people who are close (to the age requirement) take some proof of identity, which they really haven't had to do before now," he said.
DuPuy echoed the thoughts of original bill sponsor N.C. Rep. Michael Wray saying the new law is just a beginning.
"It's actually easier to change a law than it is to pass a law to begin with, so this can be a good start," DuPuy said. "I think we can be glad it didn't change any more than it did.
"It can only do good things for the lake and safety on the lake," she said.
The marine commission encourages classroom, proctored courses for boating safety, although online versions are available. Locally groups such as the Power Squadron, Lighthouse, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources all offer approved courses.
"At Lighthouse Marine Service we are prepared to offer as many classes as necessary to cater to the boating public," Spivey said. "Anything we can do to save a life on the water, we want to do it."
Want to know more?
For more information about boating safety classes, contact one of the following groups:
• Charlotte Power Squadron: 704-365-5508; usps.org/localusps/charlotte
• Lighthouse Marine Service: 704-587-7054; lmservice.org
• N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission: 919-733-7192; ncwildlife.org
• S.C. Department of Natural Resources: 800-277-4301; dnr.sc.gov
• U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Lake Wylie Flotilla: 704-663-3333; cgalakewylie.org
• U.S. Power Squadron: 704-364-5678; usps.org
Look for boating safety class listings every week on page 3B in the Lake Wylie Pilot.