New law requires safety course for young boaters

New law requires safety course for young boaters

lfabian@macon.comJune 29, 2014 

Kade Perry is ready to hit the books in the middle of the summer.

The 12-year-old from Hampton just found out that if he passes a boating education safety course, he can legally operate a personal watercraft by himself.

Sitting behind his father on the back of the family Sea Doo on Lake Tobesofkee, Kade was already flipping through the Georgia Department of Natural Resource’s handbook of Georgia boating laws and responsibilities.

“I know what he can do this weekend -- start studying,” said Adam Perry, his father.

Of course, his parents and grandparents will make the final decision on whether they will permit him to go solo on the family Sea Doo.

Dad has already been drilling Kade and his two sisters on water safety.

“Stay to the right of the boat and get out of the way,” Adam Perry has told them.

Beginning July 1, Georgia law will require all people born after Jan. 1, 1998, to complete the course before operating any motorized vessel on state waters. The regulation does not apply on private lakes and ponds.

In 2013, the Georgia Legislature passed the Kile Glover Boat Education Law in memory of the former stepson of the singer Usher, who sustained a fatal injury when he was floating on a raft in Lake Lanier and was hit by a personal water craft in 2012.

The law, Senate Bill 136, also reduced the legal blood alcohol limit from .10 to .08 for Georgia boaters, and it increased penalties for hunting or boating under the influence.

Those provisions went into effect last summer in honor of 9-year old Jake Prince and his 13-year-old brother Griffin. The Gwinnett County boys were killed in June 2012 when their pontoon boat was hit by a man later convicted of boating under the influence on Lake Lanier.

BUI is a misdemeanor for the first and second offense, but a third conviction becomes a high and aggravated misdemeanor. If it happens four or more times, it’s a felony.

DNR conservation Sgt. Tony Fox said BUI cases are rare on Lake Tobesofkee, which prohibits alcohol in recreation areas.

“Probably the biggest thing that we stress is wear the life vest, or the P.F.D., personal flotation device,” Fox said. “It will float, you won’t. It can very well save your life.”

Boaters also need to realize they must lower the throttle to idle within 100 feet of any vessel which is moored, anchored or adrift outside normal traffic channels. The same is true when traveling near a dock, pier, piling, bridge or person in the water.

Personal watercraft operators also must not jump the wake of another vessel within 100 feet.

Young boaters will need to learn all these rules to pass the required course, which is offered in the classroom through local DNR offices and online at www.goboat georgia.com.

A variety of courses are offered, including one free online option.

For others, payment is not due until the boater makes a passing grade.

Graduates must keep the card proving that they passed the course with them on the water.

Everyone 16 and older also must have identification with them, Fox said.

There are no age restrictions for nonmotorized boats under 16 feet, but children ages 12-15 can operate a personal watercraft.

If they have not taken a course, they must have a competent adult with them.

The state requires the companion adult to be at least 18, and he or she cannot be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Those under 12 also can operate a small boat powered by a motor of 30 horsepower of lower, if they have a qualifying adult with them.

Eager young people like Kade might be able to complete the course and hit the water in time for the Fourth of July weekend, which Fox expects to be busy.

“We want everyone to come out. We want them to have fun, but we want them to do it safely,” he said. “Be aware of laws, be familiar with them.”

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