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Hawaii Considers Boat Operator Licensing
HONOLULU -- The Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) at its next regular meeting on Friday, July 27, will consider adoption of a proposed new boating rule that would require boat operators to complete a boating safety course to operate a power driven vessel in state waters. The public is invited to sign up to present testimony at the meeting, which starts at 9 a.m. in Land Board conference room 132, Kalanimoku State Office building, 1151 Punchbowl St.

"Our oceans are no longer the wide open spaces we remember," said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson. "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 diligently 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 of the road. For new boaters, an online course approved by the National Association of Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) takes just 3-4 hours of instruction to complete. Costs for these courses vary; however, one course currently available that would satisfy the proposed requirement is completely free.

Persons wanting more detailed instruction can take a classroom course from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the local U.S. Power Squadron organizations. These classes require, on average, a 12-hour commitment but provide the student with much more practical knowledge which can make a difference in emergency situations.

A NASBLA-approved boating safety course, especially a formal classroom course, can provide the student with a wealth of practical information that would take years for the average boater to gain from experience, but in a very short period of time. Statistics have shown 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 save 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 (DOBOR) has paid out in excess of $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 Hawai'i'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 (for content) 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 and rental boats as long as the operator receives a safety briefing approved by the state.

When adopted under Title 13, Section13-244-15.5, HAR, Operation of Power Driven Vessels, DOBOR will have two years to develop and prepare NASBLA- and state-approved boating safety courses before it takes effect. Although one online course is already available, the division's goal is to foster development of numerous fully approved on-line 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.

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