License recreational boaters?

With the spring navigation season and the annual celebration of Safe Boating Week, I thought it would be timely to talk about boating safety.

Over the past several years, I have grown increasingly concerned by the lack of general boating knowledge by recreational boaters. The abuse of alcohol and other substances while operating recreational watercraft further complicates this growing problem.

As a mariner since 1970, I have witnessed incidents and avoided many others that involve recreational boaters and commercial vessels. Based on my experience, I believe that an untold number of accidents have been avoided because of the knowledge and proficiency of licensed mariners. At the same time, U.S. commercial vessel operators continue to attain high levels of safety through rigorous training and far-reaching government regulation.

So, shouldn’t recreational boaters also be held to a high standard of proficiency and knowledge?

For the good of the boating public nationwide, it would be a positive step forward if all recreational boaters were required to have some form of license or at a minimum carry proof that they have passed a training course which, among other things, covers the rules-of-the-road. While I recognize that this might be difficult to administer, it would be a positive step forward that would help to avoid future accidents.

Our nation has taken solid steps to regulate motor vehicles. States are responsible for testing and issuing licenses to citizens in order to operate motor vehicles. So, have we reached the point that the same should be done for recreational boaters? Should they be better educated and possibly regulated more stringently? I believe the U.S. has reached this point and it is necessary to begin discussing how we can most efficiently improve the proficiency of recreational boaters and, as a result, protect everyone who operates on the water.

Whether aboard a towboat, a commercial passenger vessel or a recreational vessel, our waterways are for everyone to use and enjoy. But we must make a national investment in safety by broadening the education and training of the recreational boating community.

About the author

Capt. Alan Bernstein

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or abernstein@bbriverboats.com.

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