LITTLE ROCK - New boating regulations will take effect this summer, including a change in current law that will raise the minimum age for operating a motorized water craft from 14 to 16.
Act 693 of 2009 is known as "Rachel's Law," in memory of Rachel Rutherford, a 15-year-old who was killed while riding a personal watercraft on Lake Hamilton in 2007.
The new act specifically includes personal watercraft, such as wave runners, in the definition of motor boats. It clarifies that people born in 1986 or later must complete a training course on boat safety before they operate a motor boat or a personal watercraft.
The act will become effective in August. The state Game and Fish Commission offers the boater education classes you must take in order to legally operate a motor boat or personal water craft. As of next year, the boater safety classes will include more detailed instruction in personal watercraft.
Under Act 693, children from age 12 through 15 may operate a personal watercraft if someone 18 or older is on the craft as well, and in a position to take control of it. Children under 12 may operate a personal watercraft, but only if someone aged 21 or older is on the vessel and prepared to take control of it. The older passengers must have a valid boating certificate if they were born in 1986 or later.
There are a couple of ways to get a boating certificate from the Game and Fish Commission. One is to take a class from an instructor. That means attending class for a couple of hours every evening for three or four evenings. You can also complete the classes by going all day Saturday.
You can also take the boater safety courses online, or you can order a DVD or video from the Game and Fish Commission. After studying the video or the online course, you can take a test online. It costs $15. A practice test is free.
The boater education course teaches what to do in emergencies and how to safely react when you come across other boats and skiers. They teach what to do if a boat capsizes, what to do when the weather turns bad and how best to respond to emergencies.
The Game and Fish website has brochures you can download with boating regulations and helpful tips. Part of the education program explains the meanings of navigation markers and buoys.
Here is the Game and Fish Commission's Internet address for boating education certificates: www.agfc.com/boating/boating-education2.aspx
Act 693 strengthens the law on alcohol and drug testing in the event of a fatal boating accident. The operators of all vessels involved in the accident shall submit to drug tests to determine whether they were under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating drugs.
Sometimes the operator of a motor boat must submit to a drug test whether or not there has been a fatality. Law enforcement officers can require a drug test if they have reasonable cause to believe that the operator of a vessel was under the influence of intoxicants to the extent that he or she could not operate it safely.
There are other regulations governing canoes, kayaks and inner tubes. Many are about the proper disposal of litter. If you're floating in a canoe, kayak or inner tube you must bring along a mesh litter bag for your trash, and it must be affixed to the boat or inner tube. Also, no glass containers are allowed in canoes, inner tubes and kayaks.