Categorized | Sports

BLNR approves mandatory boater safety course


The Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) has approved a new boating rule that requires boat operators to complete a boating safety course to operate a power driven vessel in state waters.

Testimony in support of the rule was received from long-time boaters as well as from boating safety instructors from the Hawaii Sail and Power Squadron. They emphasized the need for better informed boaters in Hawaii to prevent accidents and fatalities as population and congestion on the ocean increases, and the importance of understanding how to behave around protected marine species.

“There are more of us in the ocean today,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR chairman. “It is increasingly more crowded as people are diving and paddling farther from shore. We are experiencing more and more fatal accidents in our waters.

“It’s the right time to raise awareness about the growth of the number of people using our waters to recreate and make sure everyone operating a vessel understands the rules of the road. The department is working diligently to create an education requirement that improves safety for the entire ocean-user community yet is simple and reasonable for all boaters to comply with.”

Seasoned boaters will be able to take equivalency exams if they feel they already understand the standard rules of the road. For new boaters, an online course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) takes just 3-4 hours of instruction to complete. Costs for these courses vary; however, one free course is currently available that would satisfy the proposed requirement.

Persons wanting more detailed instruction can take a classroom course from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the local U.S. Power Squadron organizations.

These classes require, on average, a 12-hour commitment but provide the student with much more practical knowledge that can make a difference in emergency situations.

A NASBLA-approved boating safety course, especially a formal classroom course, can provide the student with a wealth of practical information that would take years for the average boater to gain from experience, but in a very short period of time. Statistics have shown that mandatory boating safety education has greatly reduced recreational boating fatality rates in states that have had the requirement the longest.

Aila added: “Nationally, many states have experienced that boating education not only save lives, it also reduces accidents. And if fewer vessels run aground, that’s less we expend to remove them from our nearshore areas.”

The Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) has paid out in excess of $860,000 in the last 10 years to remove boats that ran aground or sank in state waters.

“This does not include the damage to our coral reefs from vessels running aground and the littering of our shorelines with the debris from battered boats,” Aila said. “Completion of a safety education course benefits everybody because it means improved safety, and less marine debris and hazardous materials in our waters and marine life.”

The new rule will:

* Require a vessel operator to successfully complete a NASBLA and state approved boating safety course to legally operate a motor vessel

* Require anyone operating a motor vessel who is under 16 years old to be accompanied and supervised by an adult 21 years or older who holds the required boater safety education certificate

* Establish a fine between $50 and $1,000 for violators;-exempt those possessing a valid license to operate a vessel issued for maritime personnel by the U.S. Coast Guard

* Exempt operators of vessels in Hawaii’s waters who voyage here from outside the state and remain in state waters less than 60 calendar days

* Exempt vessel renters (for the contract period) who receive a safety briefing from the boat livery operator that is approved (for content) by the state

* Go into effect 24 months after the rule is signed by the governor

There is an exemption for vessels powered with motors under 10 horsepower and rental boats as long as the operator receives a safety briefing approved by the state.

The new rule, as Title 13, Section13-244-15.5, HAR, Operation of Power Driven Vessels, gives DOBOR two years to develop and prepare NASBLA- and state-approved boating safety courses before it takes effect.

Although one online course is already available, the division’s goal is to foster development of numerous fully approved on-line and classroom courses as well as a home-study course within a year’s time so the public will have choices and ample time to comply with the rule.

Facts about boater safety education courses

DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation goal is to reduce recreational boating fatalities and accidents, groundings and subsequent vessel abandonment by pursuing a requirement for all operators of recreational vessels in Hawaii to complete a boating safety course that combines elements of the NASBLA course with Hawaii-specific rules and regulations.

In Hawaii today, an individual of any age and any skill level with the means to purchase a boat can buy and operate one. Presently boaters are not required to obtain any training or licensing as car drivers are. But unlike our city streets, the ocean is vast and unforgiving.

Completing a boating safety course makes boat owners eligible for insurance discounts.

Boaters will have two full years following approval to complete a course before the rule is implemented.

DOBOR has been asked to consider an exemption for motorized vessels under 8-10 HP, an exemption for boat rental services that will offer a boating safety orientation to their renters that is approved by the state and a reduction in the minimum age for unsupervised operation of a vessel.

More education equates with better safety

DOBOR cites U.S. Coast Guard data on 10 years of recreational boating accidents, to show how important mandatory education is, and that an educated boater is a safer boater.

A study released in 2007 by NASBLA showed that states with the longest history of mandatory education had the lowest boating fatality rates. For most of the boating safety community, the study was conclusive evidence that mandatory boating education saves lives.

Fatality rates were given in a figure referred to as fatalities per one hundred thousand vessels, and the best track records belonged to Michigan (40 years), Minnesota and Wisconsin (32 years each), Illinois (29 years) and North Dakota (22 years). These five states had a fatality rate of 3.89 persons per 100,000 vessels at the time.

Fifteen states had boating education requirements in place for 10-19 years and their fatality rate was 5.52 per 100,000 vessels. The fewer years a state had mandatory education, the higher their fatality rate.

Hawai‘i is mentioned in the study as a state that has some form of mandatory education (for all thrill craft operators only) with a fatality rate of 10.46 per 100,000 vessels. Hawaii ranked fifth on the list of highest fatality rates.

Hawai‘i has a seemingly low annual recreational boating fatality count (since 1995 there has been an average of 2.88 fatalities per year). Highly publicized boating related fatalities in Hawai‘i have inspired bills to require boater safety education training but none have gained the needed momentum to move through the Legislature to establish a statute and this has prompted DOBOR to propose a new Hawaii Administrative Rule to achieve mandatory boating education.

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