Boater education moves are confusing

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Should boater education be federalized? Does it belong to the states? Should it be mandatory? How far should requirements go? Confused about boater education? You’re not alone. It doesn’t appear anyone has a solid handle on the subject and lots of groups, including the Coast Guard, NTSB, National Recreation Boating Safety Coalition and NASBLA are all scrambling to find one, if such is even possible.

The Coast Guard, for example, recently took a well-deserved public blasting when it said it wanted authority to establish requirements for pleasure boat operator proficiency along with required boater identification on our waterways. So, you’d think logic would lead the Coast Guard to back off an idea apparently nobody agrees with. Not so.

The Coast Guard just convened the National Boating Safety Advisory Committee’s Boating Education Task Force to redevelop legislation that will result in a new Coast Guard education proposal. 

Fortunately, NMMA’s Washington staff has been monitoring and attempting to provide industry input at every opportunity. As an industry we should have a reasonable, understandable position on boater education. How about this for a solid handle:
• First, boater education and any boater I.D. requirements proposed in the name of maritime security do not belong in the same discussion. We should oppose any requirement that boaters must have a separate I.D. just because they’re boaters!
• As to education, a boater with basic knowledge will be more confident in his or her abilities and, therefore, will enjoy boating more. Accordingly, we should advocate basic safe boating education. But it should be under the jurisdiction of the states to require all boaters to complete a NASBLA-certified course or any equivalent course such as the popular web-based course of BoatUS or courses like Boater 101 given by qualified boat dealers. The idea is to make it easy for boaters to become educated, not make it difficult to get to education!
• Boaters with experience should always be allowed to “test out.”
• There should always be a new boat buyer’s grace period to allow time to complete an education course.
• Boat rental instruction at the point of rental should be accepted and valid only during the the rental. This would allow non-boaters to quickly get educated and rent a boat.
• Reciprocity among the states is a must so boaters can easily travel from one state to another. Greater uniformity in state education laws is most desirable.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Coast Guard attempt to create a new plan, it’s reported as many as 15 states are expected to seek some education legislation next year. There’s no question, as an industry, we all need to be singing from one songbook and if you’re in a state considering legislation, you should be attentive to what’s in any proposal.

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