Local lake officials have said that mandatory boater education should be a priority in North Carolina. Now, the N.C. General Assembly will examine the issue to see if it agrees.
The N.C. House passed a bill in July that directs a Legislative Research Commission to look into mandatory boater education for anyone operating a motorboat or personal watercraft. The results of that $25,000 study, including any legislative recommendations, could be presented to the legislature in the spring.
“It's a good thing to look into,” said Fred Harris, the chief deputy director of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “We've had voluntary boater education for a while, but our waterways are getting crowded and people ought to have some kind of training. The biggest question is how to implement it.”
Boater education has been a hot topic for several years.
A similar law fizzled in the N.C. General Assembly 10 years ago, and the Lake Norman Marine Commission unsuccessfully tried to pass mandatory boater education in 2003.
The Lake Norman commission also sent a letter to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission in February, urging the creation of a boater education law. In the letter, the commission said the need for such a program is “critical,” pointing out that Lake Norman has had more accidents and boating-related deaths than any other body of water in the state.
The marine commission is hoping the state will pass a law similar to one in force in Connecticut. In that state, boaters must take an eight-hour course and get certified before they can operate a boat on a public lake.
The N.C. Safe Boating Alliance held a conference call in June with lawmakers, boating authorities and other boating representatives from across the state.
But any law is still months away.
The N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission – which would likely administer the law – would be asked to recommend any proposed law.
“Right now, we don't have a position on it because we don't know the details of the proposed bill,” Harris said. “But I am sure once we know what sort of program it is and the cost involved, we will decide whether to move forward.”