While the law primarily affects teen boaters, other age groups are under its influence, too.
"This is the first time the boating education law applies to someone besides the operator," said Bob Cushing, AGFC boating education coordinator. Indeed, boat operators between 12 and 15 years of age may operate a personal watercraft only when accompanied by an individual at least 18 years old who was born before 1986 or has a valid boating education certificate. Additionally, the accompanying person must be in position to take immediate control of the vessel.
Boat operators under age 12 may operate a personal watercraft only if accompanied by an individual at least 21 years old who was born before 1986 or has a valid boating education certificate. Again, this accompanying individual must lawfully be in position to take immediate control of the personal watercraft.
By law, all Arkansas boat operators born after Jan. 1, 1986 must complete an approved AGFC boating education course. A course may be completed in any of the following ways: in an instructor-led course free of charge, online for $15, or, for a limited time, via a home study course which includes a DVD or video available for purchase online. For more information about boating courses, visit www.agfc.com/boating and click on "Boating Education," or call (877) 493-6424.
Though a boating education course is mandatory for many young boaters, the information is valuable for everyone.
"We encourage the parents to also take the course with their children," said Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, AGFC boating law administrator. "It has information for all people, not just the young people."
Additionally, the boating education course will undergo changes starting Jan. 1, 2010: boat operators will no longer be able to take non-proctored (unsupervised) final tests when taking the online course, among other changes that are being developed.
As the Fourth of July holiday nears, Weatherington said boaters should exercise extreme caution when operating vessels, especially during firework displays.
"Reduced visibility, increased boat traffic, and alcohol can create a deadly combination," said Weatherington.
In addition to being careful, boaters are urged to wear life jackets-at all times-when boating. "We've had 12 fatalities [this year], and 11 of the 12 drowned because they were not wearing a life jacket or their life jacket was not properly fitted," said Cushing. "We strongly encourage all boaters to wear properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets, regardless of age and regardless of swimming abilities."