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Boating education mandatory starting 2008

Boating safety will be a top priority on the waters of Washington next year with the statewide implementation of mandatory boating safety education.

Beginning in January 2008, boaters 20 years old and younger will be required to undergo a short boating education course and obtain a card which must be carried with them whenever operating a boat. Each year thereafter, one more age group will be required to obtain the card. Boat operators 25 years old and younger will be required to carry the card beginning 2009; 30 years old and younger in 2010; 35 and younger in 2011; 40 and younger in 2012, etc. By 2014, all boat operators 12 and older will be required to carry a card. There are a few exemptions to the law including those who were born before Jan. 1, 1955 are not required to carry the card.

“Not many boaters are aware of this, but we’re trying to make them more aware,” said Dona Wolfe, boating education vspecialist with Washington State Parks’ boating programs.

The education card is a one-time requirement with no expiration date and can’t be taken away.

“It’s good for life,” Wolfe said. “It’s not a license.”

Those who operate a boat with 15 horsepower or more will be required to obtain the $10 card as well as those operating personal watercraft. The course can be taken in the form of a class, online or home study. An equivalency exam, although not yet offered, will be an option as well.

The boating education program covers basic operation and boat handling as well as navigation, what’s required on boats and what’s recommended, environmental issues, how to handle boat accidents and more.

The new regulations were signed into law in 2005 by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“Washington is consistently in the Top 10 states in boating fatalities each year,” Wolfe explained. “We don’t have the largest number of boats — New York, Florida, Texas and California have more. We have less boats, but more fatalities.”

Although the law doesn’t go into effect until 2008, boater education cards have been available since 2006. More than 5,000 cards have already been issued statewide.

“I think the majority of boaters are quite open to this,” Wolfe said. “In the past two years, I’ve had two complaints and they were both on the same day. Most boaters think we really need this.

“We’ve had a very positive reaction to this,” she said. “It will make boaters safer in Washington. I think it will make a difference.”

The new law will be enforced by local law enforcement, according to Wolfe. Washington is one of 36 states to have some sort of boating education requirements. Our state’s law was modeled after similar legislation in Oregon, Wolfe said.

“It will reduce fatalities and accidents,” Wolfe added. “There will still be accidents, but we would like the number of accidents cut down and the severity of accidents cut down.”

There are more than 260,000 boats registered in Washington state.

For more information on mandatory boater education or to sign up for a course, visit www.parks.wa.gov/boating/ or call Wolfe at (360) 586-6599.

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