Law enforcement officers who patrol Lake Norman say they will issue mostly oral warnings this summer to boaters who've failed to comply with a new state law requiring those under age 26 to show proof they've taken a boating-safety course.
The law, which takes effect Saturday, requires such boaters 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.
Catawba County sheriff's Deputy Robert Pruette said it's typical, with such new laws, to give a season's leeway before issuing citations.
But officers could issue the citation when another charge is also at issue, such as boating while intoxicated, Pruette told the Lake Norman Marine Commission last week.
Law enforcement sees the first year of the new law more as a time to educate the boating public, Officer Doug Lambert of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department told the commission.
Geoff Cantrell, spokesman for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission in Raleigh, said last week it will be up to each officer's discretion whether to issue a citation if a boater under 26 can't show proof of having taken a safety course.
Cantrell said the commission has seen enrollment in its boater-education classes "go up incredibly" as Saturday nears.
The Lake Norman Marine Commission lists future lake-area boater education courses on its website, www.lnmc.org.
Paul Mrzlak, the commission's executive director, said the commission hasn't seen a sudden rush of callers wanting to take a course, but he expects more inquiries around the deadline.
Mrzlak urges boaters who took a course years ago but no longer have their certification card to get a replacement by contacting the agency from which they took the course.
The boating public asked the state to look into enacting the law to improve safety, Cantrell has said.
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.