By ALEX MITCHELL
Capitol News Service
LANSING—Michigan waterways may soon be safer due to a package of bills that would define operating requirements for drivers under 12.
Michigan allows children under 12 to operate a motorboat between 6 and 34 horsepower if they are supervised by someone 16 or older. It is the only state to allow this except for the mostly landlocked states that have no boating restrictions such as Wyoming and South Dakota.
Under Michigan law, There are no restrictions to driving a boat under 6 horsepower and under no circumstance can someone under 12 operate a boat with 35 horsepower or more. The proposed bills would require boaters 12 and under to receive a boating safety certificate approved by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Drivers 12 to 15 must have a safety certificate or be accompanied by someone 16 or older; there are no restrictions for a boater 16 or older.
“My bill is part of a larger package which helps to greater protect our boaters as they enjoy this recreational opportunity,” said Rep. Frank Foster, R-Pellston, who is sponsoring legislation.
The U. S. Coast Guard reported 4,604 boating accidents in 2010 nationally. Of the 363 deaths that occurred when the driver’s level of instruction could be determined, 84 percent were caused by someone with no official training. Another 298 deaths occurred involving drivers whose level of instruction could not be determined. The number of drivers whose instruction could not be determined, along with those who had no instruction, account for 602 of the 672, or 89 percent, of the deaths in 2010. Drivers 12 and under accounted for 28 accidents, 5 deaths and 24 injuries.
Michigan had 132 accidents, 27 deaths and 90 injuries.
Obtaining a safety certificate trains people for safe recreational boating at an early age, Foster said. He is also looking to make obtaining a certificate easier than the current process.
“We will have a smarter, more aware, and more informed boating community because of these changes, and because we will now be allowing education and testing to be completed online, we are making the process easier than ever.”
However, some boaters are wary of having someone under 12 operating a boat on their lakes, regardless of supervision or their level of training.
It helps to get boaters educated at a young age, but boaters under 12 shouldn’t be driving a motorboat period, said Jordan Streby, whose family owns property on Round Lake in Hillsdale County, and Devil’s Lake in Lenawee County.
“I never drove my family’s boat when I was that age,” Streby said. “My parents were way too strict.”
Streby said when he was 14 he took a boating safety course to receive his certificate so that he could operate a jet ski. The course took about 8 hours, and he got an 80 percent on his final exam, which was good enough to pass.
“It helped me get the knowledge I needed to get out on the water by myself,” Streby said.
Michigan boating organizations are still considering the bill’s potential effects.
“Right now we are in a neutral position on this, but we are bringing it to the board to determine a position on Dec.1,” said John Ropp, president of the Michigan Boating Industries Association. Ropp said he couldn’t comment on specific concerns of the bill until that date.
The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators supports legislation that requires mandatory boating education for recreational boat operators. The National Boating Federation also supports such legislation, but is against requiring a license for boaters.
Foster said protecting waterways is vital for Michigan.
“Our lakes and waterways here in Michigan are not only an amazing natural resource, but also a recreational asset as we continue to promote tourism and outdoor recreation here in our great state.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By ALEX MITCHELL