If you're 25 or younger and haven't taken a boater safety course to steer that boat you enjoy, now would be the time to do so.
A state law that takes effect May 1 requires everyone under age 26 to have passed a certified boater education course to operate a vessel with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater on N.C. waterways.
The General Assembly passed the legislation last year.
Boaters under 26 who don't have a card proving they've passed a boater education course face an infraction carrying court costs if they're stopped behind the wheel.
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"We will be enforcing it, without a doubt," Deputy John Isaacks of the Lincoln County sheriff's lake patrol told the Lake Norman Marine Commission last week.
Isaacks said he hopes officers who patrol Lake Norman can meet soon with N.C. wildlife officials for guidance on enforcing the law.
Paul Mrzlak, the commission's executive director, said he expects many more boaters to register for classes in coming months than in years past.
"We expect demand is going to skyrocket," he said. "It should be a banner year for boater education."
Various agencies on Lake Norman offer the eight-hour course, including the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Lake Norman Sail and Power Squadron and Lighthouse Marine Service. The course can also be completed online.
Most charge a fee. Classes offered by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are free.
Students learn such safety basics as what those green and red lights on the lake mean.
"If you had 10 people in a class last year, it'll be 50 this year," said longtime Lake Norman fishing guide Gus Gustafson, who keeps tabs on the lake's navigational aids for the commission. "The great thing about it is the waterways are going to be a safer place for it."
The boating public requested the state look into such a law, said Geoff Cantrell, spokesman for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission .
Former Lake Norman Marine Commission chairman Sam Ausband spoke of the need for greater regulation to the state legislative committee that considered mandatory boater safety education, Cantrell said. So did such groups as the Lake Gaston Water Safety Council, he said.
Lake Norman has too many boats now for boaters not to have to know the rules of the water, Gustafson said.
"You could buy a boat right now and drive it tonight and not know what you're doing," Gustafson said. "You can be the captain, but it doesn't mean you know what you're doing."