Learning the rules of the water

Published 9:49 pm Tuesday, June 30, 2009

For an area so rich in water resources, the commonwealth’s move toward full certification of nearly all boaters should be considered great news.

Starting today, operators of personal watercraft such as Waverunners and SkiDoos who are 14 to 20 years of age must be certified as having passed a boating safety class approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and accepted by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

During the next seven years, that requirement will be expanded a little at a time until anyone who wishes to operate a boat with a motor larger than 10 horsepower on Virginia’s waterways must have the certification.

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The statistics about boat safety provide ample evidence for the need of such a program. According to the American Boating Association, there were 685 deaths and 3,673 injuries from 5,191 boating accidents across the nation in 2007. What’s eye-opening about this is the fact that only 14 percent of those deaths involved someone on a vessel whose operator had received safe-boating instruction.

Suffolk is blessed with abundant lakes and rivers where its residents can both work and play. And summertime sees those bodies of water packed with fishing boats, ski boats, personal watercraft, party barges, canoes, kayaks and work boats.

With all that traffic, it’s not too much to ask that the drivers of the fast vehicles be licensed. A special card won’t guarantee that they’ll never do anything stupid — even regular drivers’ licenses don’t have that effect — but it can help assure that boat operators have a pretty good understanding of just what kind of behavior really is unadvisable and worthy of avoiding.

Knowing the rules of the road is a basic requirement for safe driving. Similarly, knowing the “rules of the water” is a basic requirement for safe boating. Don’t wait for the class to be mandatory for your age group and class of boat. Find one and take it this summer. The life you save could be your own.