The Board of Land and Natural Resources will consider adoption of a new rule that would require boat operators to complete a boating safety course to operate a power-driven vessel in state waters.
The action will be taken at its next regular meeting on Friday.
Nearly 90 Big Island residents opposed the proposed rule during a Department of Land and Natural Resources hearing in May at the Hawaii Big Game Fishing Club at Honokohau Small Boat Harbor. Then no one testified in favor of the proposal.
Anyone unable to attend Friday’s meeting may submit testimony to the BLNR via fax to 587-0390 or mail to Department of Land and Natural Resources, 115 Punchbowl St., Room 130, Honolulu, HI 96813. Comments may also be emailed to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. All testimony should include Attn: Board Members and must be received by Thursday, said DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward.
“Our oceans are no longer the wide open spaces we remember,” said DLNR chairman William Aila Jr. “It is increasingly more crowded as people are diving and paddling farther from shore. We are experiencing more and more fatal accidents in our waters.
“It’s the right time to raise awareness about the growth of the number of people using our waters to recreate and make sure everyone operating a vessel understands the rules of the road. The department is working to create an education requirement that improves safety for the entire ocean-user community yet is simple and reasonable for all boaters to comply with.”
Seasoned boaters will be able to take equivalency exams if they feel they already understand the standard rules. For new boaters, an online course approved by the National Association of Boating Law Administrators generally takes three to four hours to complete. Costs for these courses vary; however, one course currently available that would satisfy the proposed requirement is free.
Persons wanting more detailed instruction can take a classroom course from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or a local U.S. Power Squadron. These classes require, on average, a 12-hour commitment but provide the student with practical knowledge that can make a difference in emergency situations.
A NASBLA-approved boating safety course can provide the student practical information that would take years for the average boater to gain from experience. State officials say statistics show that mandatory boating safety education has greatly reduced recreational boating fatality rates in states that have had the requirement the longest.
Aila added: “Nationally, the experience many states have had is that boating education not only saves lives, it also reduces accidents. And if fewer vessels run aground that’s less we expend to remove them from our nearshore areas.”
The Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation has paid more than $860,000 in the last 10 years to remove boats that ran aground or sank in state waters.
“This does not even take into account the damage to our coral reefs that would be avoided if these vessels had not run aground and the littering of our shorelines with the debris from battered boats,” Aila said. “Completion of a safety education course benefits everybody because it means improved safety, and less marine debris and hazardous materials in our waters and marine life.”
The proposed new rule would:
- require a vessel operator to successfully complete a NASBLA- and state-approved boating safety course to legally operate a motor vessel;
- set a minimum age for operating a vessel unsupervised;
- establish a fine between $50 and $1,000 for violators;
- exempt those possessing a valid license to operate a vessel issued for maritime personnel by the U.S. Coast Guard;
- exempt operators of vessels in Hawaii’s waters who voyage here from outside the state and remain in state waters less than 60 calendar days;
- exempt vessel renters for the contract period who receive a safety briefing from the boat livery operator that is approved by the state; and
- go into effect 24 months after the rule is signed by the governor.
Based on comments received in public hearings, DOBOR is proposing an exemption for vessels powered with motors under 10 horsepower.
If adopted, DOBOR would have two years to develop and prepare boating safety courses before it takes effect. Although one online course is already available, the division’s goal is to foster development of numerous approved online and classroom courses as well as a home-study course within a year’s time so the public will have choices and ample time to comply with the rule.