Certification required for younger boaters

Those 21 and under and anyone convicted of certain boating-related crimes must now take a safety class.
Monday, August 11, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:58 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Hunters must carry proof of certification, and now some boaters will have to do it too.

Boating safety in Missouri was brought to the forefront this summer when Gov. Bob Holden signed Senate Bill 1 into law on June 26. The law is an effort to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on Missouri waters, such as the personal watercraft accident that killed a 14-year-old boy on July 31 at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Under the new law, certain boaters on Missouri lakes are required to take a boating safety education course that is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. The course is required for any boat operators age 21 and under, or those of any age who have been convicted of boating while intoxicated or reckless and negligent operation. The law will take effect Jan. 1, 2005. Missouri is the 34th state to implement such legislation.

In 2002, there were 167 accidents at the Lake of the Ozarks, including 80 injuries and two deaths.

Sgt. Paul Kennedy, Missouri State Water Patrol director of public information & safety education, said that the water safety course can prevent accidents such as the one on July 31. Sgt. Kennedy said that the two children involved in the accident were being reckless on the personal watercraft and one struck the other, throwing one boy into the water. He was pulled from the water and taken to a nearby dock where he could not be revived.

“We give examples of what can happen and show pictures of what has happened,” Kennedy said.

Even renters of watercraft will need to take a safety course. The course is four to six hours long and is offered at schools and online. Sgt. Kennedy said the state water patrol teaches the course at no cost except for the certification card. If it is taken online, there is a $15 fee. If it is taken as a home study course with a video and workbook, the cost is $24.95 plus shipping and handling.

“We’ve made it easy for them,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he can’t speculate about whether there will be any future laws that will require people of all ages to take a safety course. Missouri already has an age requirement of 14 to drive a watercraft.

Similar to hunters carrying their hunting safety certification, boaters will need to have a card onboard from the Missouri State Water Patrol, certifying that they have met the requirements set by the new law.

The state of Mississippi enacted a similar law on July 1, 1997. In 1996, there were 141 boating accidents in Mississippi. In 2002, five years after the boating safety law took effect, the number of accidents dropped to 78.

“We directly attribute this decrease to our boating education program,” said Lt. Lane Ball, boating coordinator for Mississippi District 5.

John Zeller, owner of Jamin Jet Ski Rental in Osage Beach, said he thinks the new law will cut into his business a little bit, but the law is a good thing.

“Anything to save a life,” Zeller said. “Everybody should have some kind of training, especially on this lake because it’s so busy.”

Zeller said he does not rent watercraft to anyone under 18, unless a parent accompanies them. He said about 40 percent of his business is from people 18 to 21. Zeller would have no problem, he said, turning away someone under 21 who has no safety certification.

“If they really want to go out, they’ll take the test,” Zeller said. “I don’t think I’ll lose too much business.”

He’s been renting for 10 years and said there have not been any fatalities with those using his watercraft. Zeller said the young drivers are the ones he worries about most because they “have no fear.”

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