Boaters facing a less lenient patrol

The boating law, in its second year, requires boaters to earn official certification.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mark Beck, owner of Columbia Power Sports, gets a lot of inquiries about the watercraft he sells. But he doesn’t hear much from customers when it comes to the laws and regulations for operating boats and personal watercraft. “People don’t come in asking those questions,” Beck said.

One question operators of motorized watercraft should ask themselves this season is whether they need to have a certificate that shows they’ve passed a state-approved boating safety course.

A state law passed in 2003 requires that anyone born after Jan. 1, 1984, must take the course and pass a boating exam to operate a motorized watercraft, including personal watercraft and sailboats with motors. The law does not apply to rowboats and canoes.

During the 2005 boating season, the Missouri State Water Patrol handed out warnings and educated boaters on the new requirements. This year, water patrol officers won’t be as lenient.

“They will be a little bit harder on Missouri residents because they have had over a year to comply, and if they haven’t taken action yet, they may be ignoring it,” Sgt. Ralph Bledsoe of the water patrol said.

People who ignore the law will be given a warning or receive a ticket, he said, which will be done at the discretion of individual patrol officers. Fines range from $50 to $100 plus court costs, depending on the county where the violation occurs, Bledsoe said. Minors will be referred to juvenile court.

“Leading up to Memorial Day weekend, we were swamped with people wanting to know about the law and inquiring about everything that they were supposed to have,” Bledsoe said. Bledsoe noticed that accidents during the holiday weeekend that involved personal watercrafts such as Jet Skis decreased from the previous years. “I think the operators are better-educated,” Bledsoe said.

The law did not take effect for out-of-state residents until the beginning of this year, and Bledsoe said education will be the focus for out-of-state operators. “We still want to educate guests in the state, and we don’t want to scare them off,” he said.

Missouri residents can take the course online for $15 or through courses offered by the water patrol. Once residents pass the online test, they can print out a 60-day temporary permit. To complete the process, residents must order a permanent certification and will be charged an additional $15.

Operators of motorized watercraft and personal watercraft who are 14 or under must have the safety certification and have a parent, guardian or other person 16 years of age or older onboard the vessel.

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