Lack of enforcement bad for boating

MAPLE GROVE, Minn. – As the busy summer boating season kicked off this past weekend, many boating communities across the nation found themselves lacking in on-water law enforcement.

With state-funding shortages, law enforcement for what is in many places a seasonal activity has become a common problem – one with serious consequences for individual boaters and the industry.

On Georgia’s Lake Allatoona, for example, there are only six Department of Natural Resources officers spread over a 13,000-acre body of water, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. On summer weekends, the Army Corps of Engineers expect about 5,000 boats, the newspaper reported.

Up north, in the Lakes Region of Maine, there are only two wardens covering the popular boating area that includes Naples, Raymond and Casco, according to the Portland Press Herald. Statewide, there are only between 30 and 40 wardens.

“In all honestly, we don’t have the manpower to adequately patrol like we should,” Lt. Matt Berry of the Maine Warden Service told the newspaper for an article today.

Path to legislation?

The cliché that a few bad eggs can ruin it for everyone applies here. Not only can a few speeding, drunk or uneducated boaters pose a huge safety risk to their passengers and the boaters around them, they can easily give boating a bad name with loud, discourteous behavior that affects everyone around them – on water and on shore. That bad name more and more is leading to legislation – often the kind that bans or limits boaters’ access to bodies of water.

In Michigan, for example, there is a proposal that would take the Department of Natural Resources’ authority to limit the number of boats allowed on public waterways and extend it to township police, who could then ticket boaters who access a public lake once it has reached capacity.

While some supporters argue that the proposed bill would improve boating safety, a recent opinion columnist pointed out that injuries due to boating accidents are down within the state.

“We don’t believe we need any more laws,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, in an e-mail interview today. “Enforcement of existing laws is all that is needed to promote a safe and enjoyable boating experience for everyone. Additional laws that go un-enforced will do nothing.”

Paying the price

In Missouri, a different kind of legislation is on the table – a bill that would dramatically increase boat registration fees to pay for what some would say is a good cause. The almost $5 million that would be generated annually if the bill passed would go to the Missouri State Water Patrol, which ultimately would benefit boaters, according to an Associated Press article on today.

Boat owners currently pay $10 to $40 for registration every three years. Under the proposed legislation – passed by the legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature – small boat owners’ fees would increase to $25 and boats over 40 feet in length would pay $150, the AP reported.

While another addition to the cost of boating is nothing to celebrate, perhaps in this case it’s worth it.

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