Living here in California is a boater’s paradise. In the southern part of state, we enjoy recreational boating year around. Moreover, we have 3.5 million recreational boat owners here in California, second only to Michigan. That’s a lot of people driving boats without any licenses. Yes, that’s right, you do not need to have a license to drive a boat in the state of California, but that may be changing soon.
Assemblyman Michael Duvall, R-Brea introduced new legislation this year. AB 1458, which stalled last year in the legislator, is now resurfacing this year due to many reasons; one is increasing accidents rates among boat owners. We at Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie, have also noted a significant increase in personal injury cases due to boating accidents in the last 5 years. Please see our web site for more information at http://www.allenflatt.com.
The bill would require operators of motorized vessels to pass an examination and obtain a life-time certificate before they operate a vehicle. Currently there are safety courses available but they are taken on a voluntary basis. California also rates second in accidents and fatalities. There were 39 fatalities and 569 accidents in California during the year 2006. This was the second consecutive year of accident increases.
A recent high profile case that involves an 11 year old boy Darren McEntire, and he is lucky to be alive. He was enjoying his time at Shaver Lake with his family. He was riding a kneeboard and being pulled by a personal watercraft that was driven by his father. For no apparent reason, a powerboat being driven by Roger Guzman and Thomas Kirby ran over the boy. According to local news reports, witnesses have said the boat was speeding and the driver was under the influence of alcohol. (He had drunken 6 beers the day of the incident).
Darren suffered major head injuries from the boat’s propeller and underwent several surgeries. He is blind in one eye and had to learn to walk again. The two men driving the boat are facing charges of leaving the scene of an accident, not rendering aid to an accident victim and driving under the influence. They could be facing up to 5 years in jail.
Another high profile case occurred this month on Lake Sonoma and this time the victim was not so lucky. A 51 year old man jumped off the back of the ski boat while the motor was running. He died of slash wounds. The driver of the boat, Will Dawson is facing misdemeanor charges, including operating a vessel while intoxicated. In fact, alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boat accidents. Would having a boater’s license change these two cases? Probably not, but stiffer charges are now hopefully deterring drivers from drinking and driving with (boats).
Some of the major factors contributing to boating accidents are operator inattention, reckless operation, excessive speed and alcohol use. Many accidents involve more than one cause. Over 40% of serious incidences with boats involve collisions with other boats. The one major factor that will save lives in boating accidents is the life jacket or personal flotation device (pfd). Two-thirds of all boating accident victims drowned and 90% of them did not wear life jackets. A good rule of thumb is to have a safety jacket for each person aboard your boat. As the owner of a boat, as is similar to owning a car, you are responsible for the well-being of your passengers.
The California Department of Boating and Waterways publishes an excellent brochure entitled, “ABC’s of the California Boating law”. It is freely available from the website http://www.dbw.ca.gov/pubs/abc/. In addition, they offer a free home study course called, California Boating Safety. Call 916-263-1331 for more information.
There are also many free courses on boating safety as well being offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Call 800-368-5647 for further information.