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DNR gears up to enforce boating education rules

POSTED: February 24, 2014 1:38 a.m.
 

For the past two weeks, testimony in Hall County Superior Court has described a July 6, 2012, boating crash caused by negligence and recklessness.

A jury agreed, and Jeffrey Hubbard’s homicide by vessel conviction brought some comfort to the family of 11-year-old Kile Glover, his stepmother, Marsha Glover, said.

Now, the Department of Natural Resources is gearing up to promote and enforce the boating safety law named after Kile, with the goal of preventing deaths and injuries on the lake.

Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, assistant director of the DNR’s law enforcement division, is the chief administrator of Georgia’s Boating Education Law, or “Kile’s Law,” as it’s now known.

“Safety, equipment, rules of navigation, safe operating procedures, some laws, when you need your lights, when you don’t, where you can ski,” Weaver listed as areas the soon-to-be-required course covers.

Under Kile’s Law, all vessel operators born on and after Jan. 1, 1998, are required to take and pass a boater safety education class. Every year, more people will be included in the requirement until, in theory, all of Georgia’s boat operators, young and old, have the certification.

In its efforts to promote and enforce compliance with the provision, which takes effect July 1, the DNR provides a list of courses that fit the law’s criteria.

“Basically, we go by the (National Association of State Boating Law Administrators) rules,” Weaver said. “That’s kind of the nationwide governing body of boating safety laws for the states, so we look for their approval, their seal, and all the courses we offer online (have) the NASBLA accreditation.”

Some of the courses are in person, classroom based, and others can be done online. The DNR lists all approved courses known to it on its website, gadnr.org, Weaver said.

“(Courses) reach out to us, say we’re approved by NASBLA, we look at it, and if it meets our criteria, we list them on online,” he said. “We want (boaters) to have as many different ways to obtain the information as possible ... as opposed to some states that only allow one course.”

Having more than one option, he said, reflects legislators’ goal that the requirement be easy to access. The requirement was put into code on April 23 with Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.

Lake safety advocates beyond the DNR are interested in how the law affects lake incidents, including John Breakfield, a Gainesville attorney and a member of the board for Safe Kids Gainesville/Hall County.

Breakfield noted some of the local agencies that offer boating safety courses, including the DNR and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, a local volunteer branch of the Coast Guard, and said he feels a boating safety course is a good idea, regardless of age.

“I have personally taken the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary course and found it to be very helpful in learning the safety rules and best practices for the water,” Breakfield said.

Another law modified the blood-alcohol limit for boaters. Enacted last summer, the legal limit for boating under the influence was lowered to 0.08 from 0.10.

The provision was named in honor of Jake Prince, 9, and Griffin Prince, 13, who died when the pontoon boat they were riding on collided with a fishing boat driven by Paul Bennett. Law enforcement authorities said Bennett was impaired by alcohol.

He was acquitted in November on homicide charges, but convicted of boating less safely due to alcohol impairment.

Looking at last summer, with factors like heavy weekend rain affecting the number of lake visitors, it’s difficult and early to gauge what effect the BUI change had, Weaver said.

“We did have a lot of rain, and we also had a lot of media attention to that 0.08 change,” Weaver said. “We didn’t see a lot more (BUIs) in the 0.08 to 0.10 range. There were really only 10 to 15 made in that 0.08 to .1 range.”

Another provision enacted in 2013 was a more strict life jacket requirement for kids ages 13 and under, higher than the previous base age of 10.

Breakfield said it was a good idea, regardless of age, to wear a life jacket as a role model to kids and personal safety measure.

“Many people do not wear a life jacket because they consider themselves to be a strong swimmer,” he said. “However if someone is knocked overboard and dies, the cause of death is almost always drowning due to the fact that an unconscious person is unable to swim.”

Like last year, the DNR plans to heavily promote the education requirement through mass communication.

“There’s been a lot of media outreach last summer, because we were a year out, we were trying to get people to think about it,” Weaver said. “We’ll continue to blitz that through the media.”

And as they encounter boaters out on the waterways, DNR rangers will be checking that 16-year-olds falling under the law are in compliance, he said.

An analogy to the roadway, where one obvious violation, such as speeding, leads to the less- visible citation of not wearing a seat belt is a fair way to help illustrate the DNR’s enforcement strategy, Weaver said. Rangers will have less of an eye toward punitive actions and more of a mindset toward instilling awareness in boaters.

“Of course, we’ll again give time for the word to get out this summer,” Weaver said. “We’re not just going to (go) out and start being very aggressive with charging folks. We want them to become aware of this.”

Although Memorial Day is 92 days away, Weaver said teens should use the next three months to get in compliance before July 1. It never hurts, he added, for adult boat operators to take education courses, offering some final advice.

“We encourage everyone to wear their life jackets. Stay safe. Slow down. Look out for each other.”

 

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