Thomas E. Dawson
In the October issue of this magazine editor Jim Griffiths started his monthly comments with these thoughts. “There’s a new bill requiring Florida boaters to pass a boating safety course. The bill is known officially as SB 30 and was filed last month by Senator Ileana Garcia of Miami. It would probably save lives, but it’s been tried many times. Good luck….” Griffiths is right, getting this passed will be a challenge. Here is some more information on the new bill and background on past efforts.
The bill that Senator Ileana Garcia introduced, SB 30: Boating Safety, is proposing several changes including requiring all boat operators in Florida to obtain a Boating Safety Education ID Card. In addition, the Senator proposes that proof of obtaining the card would be an endorsement added to the driver’s license. In fact, there are a lot of endorsements she is proposing moved to the driver’s license to lessen the number of I.D. cards residents need to carry.
With regards to who needs a Boating Safety Education ID card, the Senator proposes, “Effective July 1, 2026, a person operating a vessel powered by a motor of 10 horsepower or greater must have in his or her possession aboard the vessel the documents required….” Meaning every boat operator in the state must take a boating safety course by July 1, 2026. https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2024/30
The effort to change the age requirement in Florida has been tried many times before. Last year, in the 2023 Florida legislative session, HB 261 was filed 1/18/23, to change the age requirement from “individuals born on or after January 1, 1988” to “on or after January 1, 1968”. The bill went through several changes as it made its way through committees.
By 4/13/23 the change to the age requirement was dropped, and the bill was amended to read, “The commission (FWC) shall develop and publish on its website an educational pamphlet that relates to the importance of boating safety education and promotes voluntary enrollment in a boating safety educational course.” The House bill passed on 4/28/2023 and moved to the Senate, where on 5/5/5/2023 it “Died in Rules.”
Is it a good idea to require everyone to take and pass a basic boating class? If you frequent our waters, I am sure you might agree. Unfortunately, many of our current boaters think it is the other guy who need the class, not them.
Florida has more registered vessels than any other state. In 2022 Florida had 1,029,993 registered vessels. This does not include paddle craft and vessels that have motors with less than 10 HP engines.
The next 5 states, according to the Coast Guard, are:
#2 - Minnesota - 822,450
#3 - Michigan - 809,750
#4 - California - 626,642
#5 - Ohio - 652,808
#6 - Wisconsin - 607,994
The National Association of Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) sets the education standards for basic boat operator education courses and tracks the education requirements for each state. You can find that summary data on their website. https://idash.nasbla.net/idashboards/viewer/?guestuser=guest&dashID=139&c=0.
According to NASBLA,
24 states/territories have “born on or after” requirements,
11 states/territories have “all powerboat operators’ requirements, some with horsepower limits
9 states/territories require all Personal Water Craft operators to take a course
12 states/territories have varying age requirements
6 states/territories have no requirement
So, what do the states mentioned above require for education?
Three of them “have on or after” requirements, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Minnesota requires persons 12 to 17 to take a class. California is phasing in the education requirement for all boaters. California started the process in 2019 and by 2025 all operators in the state will need to take a class.
Some boaters ask, why should Florida change the current age requirement? After all, under current Florida regulations by 2038 anyone 85 or under will be required to take a class. Can we really wait that long?
Southwest Florida is a magnet for retirees who have never boated or only boated on inland bodies of water. Many of these retirees have boating experience but have never taken a boating safety course. Don’t just take my word for it, in their annual accident report FWC states, “…the boat operator most likely to be involved in a boating accident is a middle-age or older male who has boating experience yet has never learned the most important safety considerations by having taken a boating safety course.”
Bills in the past to change the age requirement have failed because of the many parties that benefit from tourism in the state. This bill will likely fail if it tries to make boating education mandatory for all staring immediately. If the state would follow California’s led and phase in the age requirement over five years starting in 2024 or 2025 it would allow current residents time to take the course.
There are two other items that would be worthy of consideration. The first is the “Temporary Certificate” loop hole for visitors. Under current Florida law a livery service is required to make sure that all renters, who are required by current Florida law, to have a boater education ID card. This can be a Florida card or from any other state, territory or country that offers an approved course.
Under this “Temporary Certificate” program if the visitor does not have the required card, they can get a “Temporary Certificate” good for 90 days. The process is simple as there are three approved online providers that have a very short course. After completing the on-line course, they must correctly answer 25 questions.
Currently there is no limit on the number of times a visitor can be issued “Temporary Certificate.” Perhaps this should be made a one-time certificate for visitors.
The other item that should also be addressed is the 10-horsepower limit. Persons operating a vessel with an engine with less than 10-horsepower do not need to have proof that they took a boating safety course. Manufacturers have found a way around this and sell 9.9-horsepower motors. Many other states have caught on and have lowered the limit to less than 6-horsepower.
In summary, here are the changes I would propose Senator Garcia consider. These proposed changes might help make the bill acceptable to the tourism industry and the livery operators:
Phase in the age requirement over five years starting in 2024 or 2025. This would allow current residents time to take the course.
Limit the Temporary Certificate to one-time use only, regular visitors would have to take the full Florida course or one where they reside before their next visit.
Lower the engine size to 6-horsepower or less.
The bill is beginning to move through committees, on 10/10/23 it was referred to Environment and Natural Resources; Transportation; and Fiscal Policy. If you are so inclined, consider lobbying your state representatives. You can find your Senator and Representative at, https://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/Find.
Another contact to consider lobbying is the current Florida Wildlife Commission State Boating Law Administrator as they will likely have input on the bill during committee review. Capt. Rachel Bryant, State Boating Law Administrator, can be reached at the Tallahassee headquarters for FWC.
Finally, if you are one of those who has not yet taken a safe boating course and earned your Florida Boating Education I.D. Card please consider doing so. There is a chance you might learn a few things, and you might also have a lot to share with the students new to our waters, helping to make them better boaters.
Stay safe on the water.
Thomas E. Dawson
Thomas E. Dawson is a volunteer instructor at the Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron, http://www.ccsaps.org/. Dawson is also the author of two boating books. Safe Boating in Southwest Florida, which is a guide book to the waterways stretching from Bokeelia to W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam. And Barret Bonden’s Thoughts on Boating Safely both available from Amazon.
Amazon Bio HERE