Safety courses are law in North Carolina

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Training required as of May 1 in North Carolina

Effective May 1, boaters in North Carolina under the age of 26 who operate a vessel with a 10-hp motor or greater will be required to take a boating safety course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. The law was passed July 10, 2009, by the North Carolina General Assembly and is the first of its kind in the state.

The law came into effect through a grassroots effort from state residents who wanted safer waters, says Chris Huebner, captain of the enforcement division and educational coordinator for the state Wildlife Resources Commission.

"People don't operate cars without a license, but you have people spending $100,000 on a new powerboat that can go 70 miles an hour and operating it with no training," says Huebner. "It didn't make sense."

The law also states that youths younger than 16 cannot operate a personal watercraft in North Carolina unless they are accompanied by a person who is at least 18 and who has obtained a boating safety certification card. No one under 14 can operate a personal watercraft.

In 2008, the most recent statistics on record for the state, there were 157 boating accidents and 18 fatalities that resulted from those accidents. Huebner says there wasn't much controversy over the bill proposal.

"I think the law could definitely be stronger," says Richard Todd, education officer for the Lake Norman Sail and Power Squadron in Lake Norman, N.C. "But it is a step in the right direction. We've never had anything like that in North Carolina."

Todd says he lives on Lake Norman and, on a hot summer day, people of all ages will be out in powerboats and personal watercraft.

"It's clear some of them don't know what they are doing," says Todd. "They think it's just a matter of turning the key and then going as fast as they can. It can be very dangerous."

Since the law was passed, Todd has seen a definite increase in attendance for the one-day NASBLA-approved boating classes offered by his squadron. The classes are held once a month from February through September and are $45, which includes lunch, a final multiple-choice exam and the 280-page America's Boating Course manual.

"We have everyone from families to older people that are first-time boaters. It's a very good thing," says Todd.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission offer safety courses as well, says Todd. "Maybe this law will make a few people wake up."

Huebner says the Wildlife Resources Commission also offers NASBLA-approved boating safety classes throughout the year for no fee in various parts of the state. For information, visit http://ncpaws.org/boatingsafety/course search.asp.

This article originally appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Home Waters Section of the May 2010 issue.