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Virginia Keeps Boating Safety Law Intact

March 10, 2015

By Sarah Drury
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Boating safety advocates are relieved that the General Assembly defeated a proposal to exempt older Virginians from taking a state-mandated course before operating a motorboat.

Patrick Massa, who chairs the Smith Mountain Lake Water Safety Council, said Virginia’s boating safety requirement has been effective in reducing accidents, and he doesn’t want to see it watered down.

Senate Bill 996, introduced by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, sought to exempt Virginians born before 1972 from having to take the course, which is offered in person and online by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

During the final week of the recently concluded legislative session, the House rejected the bill on a vote of 38-61. Last year, a similar measure by Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Kinsale, made it through the General Assembly but was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“It is very disheartening to see it coming up again,” Massa said. “Four people were killed in night boating accidents in Smith Mountain Lake last year. There were two collisions of boats running into each other, all of them ages 45 or older.”

Massa said statistics show that Virginia’s boating safety requirements, which the General Assembly approved eight years ago, have been effective. The number of boating accidents in the state dropped from 146 in 2007 to 65 in 2013.

This year, Massa said, there have been 15 boating accidents – and 10 of them involved people 45 and older.

Stuart, who represents the Northern Neck area, has argued that experienced boaters are less likely to need safety training.

“In the part of the world I represent, I think people are pretty upset about having to do it, especially older folks who have been boating all their lives,” Stuart has said.

“This is just trying to bring some common sense into this thing. The truth is if, you’re 50 years old and you’ve been driving a boat, you probably don’t need to take this education course. The idea should be to educate the younger folks who don’t have experience in boating.”

SB 996 cleared the Senate, 21-16, on Feb. 10. The House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources amended the bill so that it applied only to waters east of Interstate 95 and then voted 12-10 to endorse the proposal.

The 2007 law establishing the boating education program was sponsored by Del. Kathy Byron, R-Lynchburg. During a debate on the House floor, she argued that Stuart’s bill would “effectively gut the minimum and sensible boating safety measures.”

Byron offered a compromise that would have exempted from the boating course people who hold a state license to catch seafood or harvest clams or oysters. But the House rejected that as well.

Virginia has more than 250,000 registered motorboats, including about 30,000 jet skis and personal watercraft. The boating safety requirement applies to motorboats and personal watercraft with motors of 10 horsepower or greater.

The state has been phasing in the requirement. Beginning this July 1, it will apply to all motorboat operators age 50 and younger. Beginning July 1, 2016, all motorboat operators, regardless of age, must meet the requirement.

The law exempts some people, such as commercial fishermen, from the training requirement.

Last month, the General Assembly voted unanimously to add an exemption for motorboat operators who have served in or qualified for certain positions in the U.S. military. Under House Bill 1324, for instance, someone who has been a boat or watercraft operator in the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard would not have to take the state boating safety course.

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How They Voted:

Here is how the House voted on Feb. 24 on SB 996 (“Boating safety education; exemption for motorboat operators born prior to July 1, 1972”).

Floor: 02/24/15 House: VOTE: DEFEATED (38-Y 61-N)

YEAS – Anderson, Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Campbell, Cole, Edmunds, Fariss, Gilbert, Helsel, Hodges, Hugo, Ingram, Joannou, Knight, Krupicka, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Mason, Massie, Miller, Morefield, Morris, O’Bannon, Pillion, Ramadan, Ransone, Scott, Stolle, Taylor, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Yancey, Yost, Mr. Speaker – 38.

NAYS – Adams, Albo, Austin, BaCote, Bell, Richard P., Berg, Bulova, Byron, Cline, Cox, Davis, DeSteph, Farrell, Filler-Corn, Fowler, Futrell, Garrett, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Herring, Hester, Hope, James, Jones, Keam, Kilgore, Kory, Landes, LaRock, Lindsey, Lopez, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., McClellan, McQuinn, Minchew, Morrissey, Murphy, O’Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Plum, Pogge, Poindexter, Preston, Rasoul, Robinson, Rush, Rust, Sickles, Simon, Spruill, Sullivan, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts, Wright – 61.

NOT VOTING – Carr – 1.

Delegate Carr was recorded as not voting. Intended to vote nay.