Following three fatalities over the July 4 weekend on local lakes, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Tuesday urged all boaters to get at least some safety training before they pilot a boat, and to never drink and drive.
State law requires safety training only for boat drivers born in 1988 or later. The law also forbids local governments from enacting their own ordinances.
“We understand people eventually will be required to have training no matter what their age,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Deputy Police Chief Jeff Estes said at a news conference Tuesday morning at the Neck Road boat access area on Mountain Island Lake.
“For us, though, time is of the essence,” Estes said. “Any time we’re asked to move forward legislation, to require some level of training, whatever that might be, we support that in the name of safety.”
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Sheyenne Marshall, 17, of Concord, was knee-boarding on Lake Norman when a pontoon boat hit her Saturday night. Pontoon driver Keith Owen Cerven, 49, of Mooresville was charged with boating while intoxicated.
A few hours later, on Mountain Island Lake, a boat carrying four people hit rocks. Daniel Schmidt, 60, of Charlotte and Jennifer Schmidt, 29, died at the scene and two other people were hospitalized.
There have been 21 boating-related deaths in North Carolina this year, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. The U.S. Coast Guard says the state had 26 deaths last year, fourth-highest nationally, among states reporting figures to the Coast Guard.
North Carolina is one of 26 states that require boating courses only for people born after a certain date. No training was required until 2009.
The Lake Norman Marine Commission has said training should be required for all boat drivers, regardless of age, and Tuesday, CMPD reemphasized the need.
“We’re well above the fatality rate across the state from last year,” Estes said, calling last weekend’s deaths “a tragedy, senseless and 100 percent preventable.”
Police called Tuesday’s news conference to raise awareness of boating’s potential dangers.
“Boating can be fun, but it also can be a dangerous endeavor, not one you mix alcohol, inattention and inexperience with,” Estes said.
L.D. Turner, a CMPD lake enforcement officer, urged boaters to make sure all of their navigational lights are working properly, that they know where they are on the water and how to get back.
“One problem we see is that people at night use their docking lights for what we call headlights, and they are only visible, at the most, 10 feet in front of your boat.”
Police also warned that boaters can be impaired even if they don’t reach the .08 legal limit for operating a car or a boat. Summer heat and wave action can worsen the effects of any alcohol consumed by someone piloting a boat, police said.