By Linnea Foote
In Massachusetts, few laws exist on how old one must be to legally operate a boat. To many, boating is a recreational past time that should not require the same laws as land vehicles. However, fatalities in the water have people like Captain David E. Cox urging that legislation be passed that requires limiting privileges for boaters, and educational courses based on the driver’s age.
A bill in the legislature, the David Hanson Act, would mandate certifications for 12 to 17 year olds who want to operate a water vessel. Although Cox said that “the biggest problems (with boating) are alcohol and education.”, the act has repeatedly failed to make it through the state legislature.
William Gossard, who spent 30 years with the National Transportation Safety Board, states that while “Massachusetts does have some education, it is fairly weak. If you want to operate a boat in Massachusetts by yourself between the ages of 12 to 15 years, you have to complete a mandatory educational course. Then you can boat without your parents supervising you.” For 16 to 17 year olds who want to operate a personal watercraft, such as a jet-ski, there is a mandatory course. However, laws that limit how many people a teen can have in a boat, and/or how late they can stay out, are nonexistent.
At the Boston Harbor piers, an employee of the Boston Harbor Cruises, Erin Haley, said she feels it to be “a pretty chill crowd here” with few accidents involving boaters of all ages. As a native of the city, she began boating when she was 12 years old without certification. She said, “it’s probably a good idea, to take a class, but I don’t think it should be a law, like a big course.”
Jack Cannon, a local dockhand, has been a boater since he was 12 years old. Although he did not take a course for boating, he said, “our whole family grew up on boats, and I learned from my family.” For the people who lack experience, Cannon says educational boating classes should be in place, and would make him feel safer on the water. However, in the accidents Cannon has seen, one involving trained captains, he does not believe that age is always a factor in the mishaps on Massachusetts waters.
The dangers of boating are becoming more evident within recent years, as “waters are becoming more and more congested and full out there” said Ron Walsh, an officer for the U.S Coast Guard Auxiliary. However, legislation that limits the inexperienced or young based on age is still absent.
Educational boating companies like the Boatsafe Massachusetts Private Boating Education Company do exist, however the current laws still enable a certified 12 year old to operate a vessel in the same manner an adult can without certification; an unsettling fact to most.