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Boat rental companies think new water safety laws will hit more next year

POSTED: May 26, 2013 12:07 a.m.

Boaters ride a personal watercraft recently on Lake Lanier. Under a new law, everyone under age 13 must wear a life jacket on an open or moving boat.

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After tragedies hit Lake Lanier last summer, many longtime lake residents voiced concerns about boaters who didn’t know the rules.

Legislators tackled that issue last session, and mandatory educational classes take effect in July 2014.\

But education already is an issue for some boat rental companies.

Curtis Frampton, owner of Aqua Sports Adventures, said he doesn’t let vessel operators drink and drive. Frampton said he doesn’t think new laws will have much impact on his business because he doesn’t allow people younger than 21 to rent a vessel and those younger than 18 to drive a boat or personal watercraft.

“We screen our people before they come in,” he said. “We’ve rejected a lot of renters. Just last week, somebody wanted to rent two WaveRunners, and we saw them getting off a boat and both had a beer in their hands. Sorry, you know.”

The reforms already taking effect include changing boating under the influence laws to mirror driving under the influence laws; stricter life jacket requirements for children; and clarifying the ages, types of boats and watercraft that teenagers and children younger than 12 may operate.

The laws were inspired by two highly publicized boating accidents on Lake Lanier that killed three children. They lower the legal limit of blood alcohol for someone operating a water vessel to 0.08 from 0.1. Lake Lanier statistics from DNR show that 60 people were cited for BUI in 2012 and 32 in 2011.

Laws changing next year include requiring education for anyone renting a vessel as well as for people born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, who want to operate a vessel. The boating safety course must be approved by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

DNR Capt. Mike England said the agency’s patrol officers are concerned renters have less experience than those who own their own boats or personal watercraft. Using an airplane analogy, England said those who invest in the vessels take the time to learn more about them and how to operate them.

Rented houseboats pose a particular problem, he said.

“They get out there and the wind catches them and they don’t know how to maneuver them around,” England said. “And we’ve had one boat just hit and damage several other ski boats all anchored out there out at Sunset Cove because they don’t know how to drive it.”

Brian Teeters, rentals manager for Paradise Rental Boats at Port Royale Marina, said the company will have to stock larger life jackets for older children as a result of the reforms taking effect this year.

Under the new law, children younger than 13 must wear a life jacket when in the open on a moving boat. The age limit before was 10.

“We’re more than happy to do that if that means everybody’s going to be safe on the boat,” Teeters said.

Paradise Rental has conducted a safety briefing for years. The staff also gives a written multiple choice test for personal watercraft rentals, requiring renters to grade at least an 80 percent.

With additional testing requirements taking effect next year, Teeters said the company has taken a proactive approach. Starting in 2012, the company began developing a website with a portion dedicated just to safety. It will have safety training videos specific to the boat type being rented and a “Captain’s test” over the information in the video. The website is expected to go live in the next several weeks even though it’s not clear if changes are needed to meet DNR requirements.

Teeters said his shop has made a large investment in it.

“... Adding all the safety information, developing the videos, the content, everything that goes on there — it’s very expensive to do that and to implement all this and put it live and then them come back and say, ‘Well, that’s not going to work, you’ve got to do this and start over again.’ That’s kind of what we’re waiting on,” Teeters said.

England said those who pass the approved courses will get a certification card that has the DNR logo and the logo of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, a national nonprofit organization that works to develop public policy for recreational boating safety. Approved courses are listed on the department’s website, including some online and in person through DNR, the Coast Guard and nonprofit groups. Some are free and some have a fee.

Most companies do some kind of safety briefing, likely because their insurance company wants to limit liability and encourage due diligence, England said. Starting next summer, DNR will regulate it.

“You’re getting that same education course,” England said.


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