Will proposed boater safety law help protect Californians?

A new boater education bill could address California’s high rate of boating accidents, which are often attributed to operator inexperience or inattention.

For many people in San Francisco, nothing compares to a day on the water sailing, fishing, skiing or cruising. Sadly, boating comes with inherent safety risks that may be worsened by California’s current laws, which don’t require people to complete education or safety courses before operating a boat. Fortunately, a bill that recently passed the state Senate may remedy this issue and help reduce California’s high rate of boating accidents.

Operator errors

California’s boating accident rate is enough to alarm any state resident who enjoys water-based recreation. From 2007 to 2012, California had roughly 2,775 boating accidents, a figure only exceeded by Florida, according to NBC Bay Area. Other states with high accident rates, such as Texas, New York and Michigan, experienced less than half the number of accidents that California did during the same time period.

California’s current laws may contribute to the issue. Anyone over age 12 is allowed to operate a boat without taking any kind of instructional or safety course. Only four other states allow people to operate boats without any form of education. A California Department of Boating and Waterways report summarizing 2012 accident statistics suggests that this lapse leads to numerous accidents:

  • Operator inattention was the top accident cause, playing a role in over 35 percent of accidents.
  • Operator inexperience was the second most common issue, causing over 21 percent of all accidents.
  • Other errors stemming from limited education or experience, including speeding, careless operation, improper loading, sharp turning and lack of appropriate boat lights, caused over one-quarter of accidents.
  • The issue of operator inexperience cannot be mainly attributed to people who rarely drive boats; just 30 percent of boats involved in accidents were rented or borrowed, while 45 percent were owner-operated.

Surprisingly, the number of California boating accidents involving intoxication is small next to the number of accidents involving driver errors. Although stricter boater education requirements will not prevent every bad decision, freak accident or personal injury, the CDBW figures suggest that increasing driver awareness and knowledge could help save lives.

Proposed changes

The new bill would require every new boater to provide proof of passing an approved boater’s education class before receiving a boat driver’s license, according to NBC Bay Area. If Gov. Brown signs the bill into law, it will be implemented in two phases. By 2018, boat operators under age 21 will need to complete boater’s education courses; by 2025, education will be mandatory for operators of all ages.

With this staggered start, unfortunately, Californians may still face a high risk of boating accidents over the next several years. Sadly, the effects of these accidents can be devastating, as the setting introduces a risk of drowning as well as personal injury. Anyone who has been hurt or lost a loved one in a boating accident should talk to an attorney about seeking compensation.