Washington may require boat safety classes

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2003

SPOKANE (AP) The state may require mandatory safety classes for people who operate power boats, according to the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission.

The commission's Boating Safety Advisory Council has recommended mandatory safety education as a result of a bill the Legislature approved last session, said Donna Wolf, education coordinator for the state Parks Department.

The bill directed the commission to find ways to reduce boating accidents, fatalities and near-misses.

As far as Jim Roeber is concerned, mandatory boater education is long overdue.

''There are so many dumb things people can do to get in trouble,'' said Roebler, a member of the Spokane chapter of the United States Power Squadrons, a nonprofit recreational boater education association.

His group teaches volunteer boater safety classes approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

''The effect of alcohol, the effect of glare is magnified on the water,'' Roebler said. ''The risk of carbon monoxide, the risk of hypothermia.''

He cited Coast Guard figures that show 700 people a year die in boating accidents nationwide.

''Most of these accidents are preventable,'' he said.

The Boating Safety Advisory Council analyzed accident reports for the past seven years from the Coast Guard.

In 2001, the most recent year for which statistics are available, Washington ranked fourth in the nation in the number of fatalities per 100,000 boats, according to the Coast Guard. Only Alaska, Wyoming and Louisiana ranked worse, Wolf said.

The state had 260,335 registered boats that year and 33 fatalities, for a rate of 12.7 fatalities per 100,000 boats.

Alaska had 41,110 boats and 21 fatalities, for a rate of 51.1 fatalities per 100,000 boats. Wyoming had eight fatalities and 27,221 boats, a rate of 13.3 per 100,000. Louisiana had 43 fatalities among 322,779 boats, a rate of 13.3 per 100,000.

The advisory council determined that education could lower accidents and fatalities in Washington.

It did not recommend licensing, Wolf said, but rather a one-time certification by taking a class and passing a test. Under the proposal, boaters could avoid taking the class by passing a proficiency test.

The state Parks and Recreation Commission will consider the recommendation at its Dec. 4 meeting in North Bend. If approved, the recommendation will be forwarded to the Legislature.



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