Every year state legislators debate a wide variety of boating bills that can significantly impact our enjoyment of the water. Unfortunately, these topics don’t make headlines like the Kardashians do, so we’re here to check out some of the new and upcoming legislation that will affect boaters and fishermen in the HeartLand Boating coverage area. Happily, the news is better than we expected.
For the past few years the question uppermost in most boater’s minds was “will my state get mandatory boater education?” Unless you live in Arizona, Alaska, South Dakota or Wyoming, the answer is “yes,” with Illinois boating laws getting stricter in 2016 with the requirement that all boaters operating a boat with a 10-horsepower engine or higher and born after January 1, 1998, have a boating safety certificate approved by the state Department of Natural Resources prior to getting behind the helm. While the law technically took effect on January 1, 2015, the actual curriculum will not be available until 2016. The law will allow for a boater-education exemption for those who rent a boat or who aren’t in the state long.
Think this is the pretty much the end of the subject? Definitely not, as four Greenwich, Conn., lawmakers are making national news as they push for boating licensing requirements to be more in line with driving a motor vehicle, in what may lead to the next nationwide trend. Even if things don’t go that far, the subject of boater education will continue to be a hot topic in many states, according to BoatUS, especially in those states with outdated laws and/or no boater safety certificate requirements.
To wear or not to wear? That’s once again the question. Mandatory wearing of personal flotation devices (PFDs) is once under consideration. Florida has the matter on the 2015 session agenda. If passed, the bill would require PFD use on boats and personal watercraft, as well as while waterskiing, parasailing or similar activities.
Electric Shock Drowning
Something that may not be part of our daily consciousness, but is a critical matter on the legislative agenda of several states, is the prevention electric shock drowning (ESD) at marinas. Tennessee’s solution, which recently passed, is to require marinas to have annual inspections to make sure they meet or exceed the newly established codes, with up to $50,000 for non-complying marinas.
Kentucky had an ESD bill as well prohibiting swimming within 50 yards of a boat dock or marina where boats receive shore power. It did not pass but is expected to be reintroduced.
Water Access & Fees
Those who look to limit our water access are lobbying strong, but after extensive research, we have found no notable bills currently on any local legislative floors proposing significant restrictions to boating or fishing in our area. The fees to fish on those waters is another matter entirely.
While many states are increasing fishing permit fees to generate additional revenue and occasionally as a “disincentive,” Sen. Brian Munzlinger of Missouri has proposed a dramatic reduction Missouri Department of Conservation fees for fishing, hunting and other permits. The bill limits charges to service fees, customer convenience fees or replacement fees, each capped at $2 for Missouri residents. “We already pay a sales tax to conservation,” Sen. Munzlinger said. “But when we want to partake in one of the outdoor sports, we have to pay again.”
The Ohio Department of Veterans Services is also looking to reduce the cost of fishing with House Bill 47, which would give veterans free fishing and hunting licenses.
It’s not all discounts in the fishing news, however. At the other end of the fee scale, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is proposing an average 22-percent increase in fishing, hunting and related licenses.
Uniform Boat Titling
BoatUS, which had a strong influence on the passing of mandatory boater education, is now focused on Uniform Boat Titling. So far they have been successful in helping get bills passed in Virginia in 2013 and Connecticut and Washington D.C. in 2014. The model law drafted by the Uniform Law Commission is under varying levels of consideration in all 50 states, with the idea that it will make selling boats, especially across state lines, a more straightforward process. Presently, some states have no certificate of title requirements for undocumented vessels, and for the states that do require a title, the laws governing it can vary wildly.
Interstate Boating Violator Compact
Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia is also thinking on a national scale. In a quest to make the waters across the country safer, he has formed the Interstate Boating Violator Compact. Based on the highly successful Wildlife Violator Compact currently in place in 42 states, the boating version would allow law enforcement to share interstate information that would allow Georgia (and other states as they join) to suspend the boating privedges, as applicable, of those who have violations elsewhere. The matter is currently under heated discussion in many states.
Towing, Drinking & Invasive Species
While the legislative horizon is busy, the past few years have been even more so, resulting in plenty of new laws going into effect this past January 1. You now have to use a minimum 12-inch bright orange flag when towing a person in Illinois. Also starting in 2015, the Illinois police can seize the vessel of an intoxicated boater under certain circumstance. More and more states are making it illegal to pick up invasive species in one body of water and transport the boat to another. The solution? A thorough boat cleaning.
These are just a few examples. Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse. We strongly advise you to check out the websites of applicable law enforcement and department of natural resources divisions in your state to find out what’s been put on the books while we were all off enjoying a day on the water.