By Samantha Hogan
The Maine Monitor
AUGUSTA – Most boaters under the age of 25 will need to pass an education and safety course by January 2024 to operate on Maine’s lakes and rivers due to a bill passed by the state legislature this year .
Maine is an exception among states in not currently requiring a boating license. The law requires operators of powerboats and jet skis to be informed of state boating laws, wildlife and environmental impacts, or face fines and criminal charges. case of non-compliance.
Optional boater education courses are already offered online and in person. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recognizes four online courses and boaters will need to successfully complete one to be certified under the law. A six-hour in-person class is also offered in Portland.
The law is expected to come into force on January 1, 2024 and apply to anyone born in 1999 or later.
“Sometimes the best way to teach adults new things is to make sure young people understand what we’re trying to learn,” said Rep. Jessica Fay (D-Raymond), who sponsored the project. law that has won the support of lake associations, environmental and wildlife groups and shoreline property owners.
Spending her summers at her family camp on Sebago Lake, Fay learned to drive a boat from her father and grandfather. Over the years, she has seen more and more boaters come to Maine and operate in dangerous ways – sometimes hitting loons and rocking smaller craft.
“For much of my adult life, it made me cringe that people could be so oblivious to what safe navigation looks like,” Fay said.
She concluded that the paths to improving boating safety came down to knowledge and education.
Under Maine law, anyone born in 1999 or later must pass a boater’s training course before operating a boat of 25 horsepower or more or operating a personal watercraft — such as a jet ski — on inland waters. The state’s minimum age to operate a jet ski will remain at 16.
Boaters who violate the new law would be fined $100 to $500 per violation, and those who commit three or more violations over a five-year period could be charged with a Class E felony.
According to national data collected by the Coast Guard, those under the age of 25 are not among the demographic group of boaters who have the most accidents or cause the most deaths.
By applying the law to children and young adults first, they can teach their parents safe boating practices, Fay said. Similar to how recycling was taught in schools and children’s behavior was reflected at home, she said.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which enforces boating laws in the state’s inland waters, considers the legislation a significant change. The department initially sought to have all boaters in the state complete a training course by 2027, regardless of age, but accepted the compromise lawmakers reached to start with boaters born in 1999 and after.
A sports group’s denial of public access to legislative debate and lawmakers’ concerns about requiring high school dropouts to take and pass an exam were factors in the decision to limit the bill to young boaters.
The law will only apply to inland waters. A stakeholder group comprised of recreational sports, marine industries, and the Department of Marine Resources that oversees Maine’s coastal waters will also be formed, by law, to make recommendations to the Legislative Assembly on how to potentially enforce the Tidal Waters Act.
Lawmakers intend to revisit the task force’s recommendations next year.
The Department of Marine Resources was not ready to answer questions about the possibility of expanding the law to include tidal waters at this time.
“We look forward to participating in the stakeholder group to ensure that all issues are considered before a legal mandate for boater safety training for coastal waters is established,” a spokesperson for the board wrote. department in an email.
The House voted 91 to 39 in favor of the bill on March 31 and gave final approval on April 7. Senators passed it unanimously on April 5.
It became law without the governor’s signature on April 23.
This story was originally posted by The Maine Monitor. The Maine Monitor is a local journalism product published by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic news organization.