Prompted at least in part by recent tragedies on Lake Lanier, a marine patrol volunteer has stated what should be obvious: Georgia boaters need to be educated and licensed.”[It] has gotten to the point that people are not aware of basic common-sense rules and laws,” Capt. Harry Chapman of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office Reserve Unit told the Gainesville Times. He’s not recommending anything drastic, just a license test “about some basic knowledge that they just simply don’t take the time otherwise to look for.”
In other words, there are too many people operating high-power, high-speed watercraft who have no business doing so. Some will be astonished, and perhaps appalled, by the fact that there is no licensing requirement for Georgia boaters already. And boating has become more dangerous, Chapman said, “just because of sheer volume.”
A recent boat collision killed two Buford brothers, 9 and 11; in another incident, a man driving a jet ski ran over an 11-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl on an inner tube. Last year 17 people died on Lake Lanier; this year has already seen five fatalities after less than a month of summer.
Of course, Lake Lanier holds no monopoly on boating hazards. West Point Lake, Harding, Goat Rock, Oliver and Eufaula/George are all popular area sites for water recreation, especially in the heat of summer. And boating tragedies in the middle and lower Chattahoochee have been all too familiar over the years.
Last month Gov. Nathan Deal recommended state legislation to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for boaters and hunters to the same 0.08 standard required of drivers. “As a state, we need to have one level across the board,” he said.
Absolutely. It’s absurd that the limit was higher to begin with. But it shouldn’t stop with drinking: If “one level across the board” makes sense (and it does) for alcohol, it makes at least as much sense in terms of some reasonable basic standard of operator competence.
State Rep. Emory Dunahoo of Flowery Branch suggests something like a two-hour boating rules and safety course, and perhaps a safety card certifying that the holder is qualified to operate a vessel. Dunahoo also suggested that veteran boaters be grandfathered in — a provision that makes sense only if the operator in question doesn’t have a record of safety violations.
We require tests and licenses to operate motor vehicles; even so, there are more than enough bad drivers on our roads. A carte blanche for virtually anybody to tear around on the water has never made any sense, common or otherwise.