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Summer is here and our waterways are filled with people enjoying the wonders of fishing and boating in Pennsylvania. Recreational boating is a wholesome, enjoyable and, for the most part, safe sport. Each year, more and more Pennsylvanians take to the waters in motorboats, canoes and rowboats and, increasingly in recent years, personal watercraft.

More than two million Pennsylvanians boat on Pennsylvania waters each year. They enjoy the beauty of our waterways and watersheds, the fun of fishing and the excitement of waterskiing and other boating activities.

The popularity of boating, particularly with motorboats and personal watercraft, has resulted in some increase in user conflicts. Boaters who don't know the rules of the road and those who boat carelessly ruin the enjoyment of other water users. Although the number of boating fatalities and reportable boating accidents is relatively small and stable, there appears to be a noticeable increase in poor boating practices and a lack of common courtesy in some boaters.

The Fish and Boat Commission is very proud of the success of its voluntary boating safety education program. Over the years we have issued boating safety certificates to more than 60,000 Pennsylvanians. The success of this program is based on the hard work of many. The instructional materials prepared by the Commission's staff have earned widespread praise as effective teaching tools. Our partners in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadrons, as well as a dedicated cadre of volunteers, supplement the efforts of our officers and employees in teaching safe boating courses.

Even as we celebrate the many accomplishments of our voluntary boating safety education program and applaud those who help make it a success, we recognize that we need to do more to reach those who most need to take a boating safety course. The Fish and Boat Commission has endorsed the concept of mandatory boating safety education and is working with the boating community and the Pennsylvania General Assembly to make this concept a reality.

The last two years have witnessed a major shift in attitude and approach to mandatory boating safety education programs. When legislation for this program was introduced in the past, the Commission decided not to endorse it. Boating organizations, boat manufacturers and marine trade organizations lined up in staunch opposition. Now we see more and more support from legislators, industry and everyday boaters. Yes, some groups continue to have reservations about the concept, but more and more boaters are climbing on board to support this change.

On May 4, 1998, the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee, with broad bipartisan support, reported out an amended version of Senate Bill 304. This legislation provides that on or after January 1, 2001, it will be illegal for a person born on or after January 1, 1977, to operate a motorboat unless the person completes a boating safety course and receives a boating safety certificate. Boating safety certificates, good for a lifetime, will carry a $10 fee. The legislation provides for some exemptions from this requirement and provides the flexibility to deal with concerns about purchasers of new boats and other issues.

This bill, sponsored by Senator Richard Kasunic, represents a major step forward in seeking to ensure that operators of motorboats have completed a basic boating safety course and have a sound familiarity with the rules of the road of boating and safe boating practices. We applaud Senator Ed Helfrick, Chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee, and all the members of the Committee, for their foresight in moving this bill through the first steps of the legislative process. We also thank the Committee's staff, on both sides of the aisle, for their hard work in helping to fashion reasonable legislation to address this issue.

Even as the General Assembly considers legislation to require mandatory boating safety education for certain operators of all motorboats, the Fish and Boat Commission is considering a regulation to require that operators of personal watercraft complete a safe boating course. Personal watercraft have gained great popularity over the last few years. We have observed that they account for a disproportionate share of collision-type accidents, and their operators are involved in a disproportionate share of negligent operation cases. At one recent Commission meeting, four out of five cases considered for suspension or revocation of boating privileges for negligent operation involved operators of personal watercraft.

These exciting and fun watercraft seem to invite some operators to go to the edge, and, unfortunately, over the edge, of safe boating practices. The Commission has adopted several regulations on personal watercraft operation, and now our commissioners are considering requiring operators to complete a safe boating course and obtain a safe boating certificate. This regulation will, if adopted, take effect in the year 2000. After January 2000, the operators of all personal watercraft on Pennsylvania waters will need to complete a safe boating course.

The Fish and Boat Commission believes that moving forward with these new proposed elements of a comprehensive boating safety education program represents a great hope for the future. Not only will this help ensure that boat operators are aware of safe and courteous boating practices, but it will also make our waterways more enjoyable for all. Boating safety education is truly an idea whose time has come.

Peter A. Colangelo
Executive Director
Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission

July/August 1998 PA Angler & Boater

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