New Call for California Boater Education Requirement

California is one of only five states that allows boaters on the water with no training, no education and no certification

One of California’s key lawmakers is calling for new legislation that would require safety education for first-time boaters. This comes after an NBC Bay Area investigation revealed that California has the second highest rate of boating accidents in the nation, the majority of which were caused by operators who were distracted or inexperienced.

While the idea of mandatory education may be new to California boaters, it’s already required in nearly every other part of the country. California is one of only five states (Alaska, Arizona, South Dakota and Wyoming are the others) that allows inexperienced boaters out on the water with no training, no education and no certification.

Current California law requires only that a boater be 16 years of age -- and can even be as young as 12 if accompanied by an adult.

It’s a comparison that state Senator Mark DeSaulnier, who represents Walnut Creek, told NBC Bay Area he was surprised to learn.

“Your investigation brought to light a pretty alarming difference between us and 45 other states,” DeSaulnier said.

At least two attempts have been made to pass similar legislation that would have put California in line with other states, first in 1999 and again in 2007. Both attempts failed to pass. 

Why has this bill been difficult to pass?

“In the six and half years I have been in the legislature, I haven't heard a lot of discussion. Your investigation is probably the strongest conversation I've heard about it,” DeSaulnier said.

But for Redding residents Mary Ann and Jason Hale boater safety is an issue that lawmakers cannot continue to ignore.

“I think they would feel differently if it was their own. Nothing happens until it’s your own,” Mary Ann Hale said.

Earlier this month, the family shared their story, how they lost their 12-year-old daughter, Trevienne, in a boating accident. She was struck in the head by another boat. Her parents say the operator who struck their daughter’s boat wasn't paying attention.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit found that inattention and inexperience cause the majority of boating accidents in California. Only a fraction are fueled by alcohol use.

According to a study by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, states that require boater education have a lower rate of fatal accidents than states with no requirements.

“I think it’s a problem that really has to be addressed, and has to be addressed legislatively,” DeSaulnier said.

The state senator says he and his staff are exploring the idea of introducing legislation that would require operators to complete a boating education course before they get on the water.

DeSaulnier said he hopes to introduce a bill that would be revenue neutral in 2014.

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Elyce Kirchner can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @ElyceK or on Facebook.

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