Before you’re allowed to venture onto the open road with other drivers, the law says that you must be licensed, and typically, to obtain such a license you must go through formal training, a probationary driving period and pass a written and on-the-road test. However, when it comes to boats, there’s often no licensing or training requirement.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a major deal. Although, with some thought it can cause worry. Sure, we’re not talking about navigating crowded freeways, but a busy lake on a holiday weekend or rowdy crowd boating the river can cause a serious potential for accidents when you load waterways with throngs of untrained operators – especially in a world where common sense doesn’t often seem so common.
Concerned with waterway safety, an increasing number of states are requiring mandatory boater education and licensing for individuals operating a watercraft. For example, the State of Ohio requires anyone born in 1982 or later and operating a boat with a motor over 10 HP to hold a current safety course certificate from the State. Locales like Alabama, Connecticut and Delaware have similar regulations.
On the flip side, California has no mandatory boater certification or education program in place. Which, if you live in California is a major surprise considering that it’s illegal to drive around here with your windshield wipers on and headlights off – but we can trust you with a boat and no experience.
While many public safety groups advocate for the mandatory courses, and like hunter safety courses, these state-regulated programs ensure that everyone on the water is operating with the same basic knowledge. However, some boaters feel that required certification processes are an infringement on their rights and just one more way for government to regulate the actions of citizens.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, the requirement of a certification or licensing program for boats is an interesting proposition as you can’t help but wonder if similar certifications may extend into other recreational activities – like ATV and dirt bike operation sometime in the future.
For now, whether or not your State has regulatory requirements for safety certification and licensing when it comes to water or off-road recreation, the best policy is always common sense and safety first. With a little effort we can all share the water and be safe in the midst of good times.