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License requirement sought for Georgia boaters

7:47 PM, Dec 18, 2012   |    comments
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In the summer, Lake Lanier is easily the most congested lake in the state. Anybody operating a boat here or at any other lake in Georgia can do so without training or without a license. Some boaters find that more than a little alarming.

"If they're better educated, especially in boating safety, maybe they wouldn't do some of the stupid things they do," said Dalton Vahla, who says he has boated for thirty years.

Vahla has company. Next year the General Assembly will consider legislation to require boaters to obtain operators licenses. It comes in light of images that emerge nearly every summer of horrific boating accidents often caused by reckless or drunk boaters.

"You can go out and buy a brand new boat and know absolutely nothing about boating laws and navigation laws and get on a major waterway like Lanier," said Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), who expects to introduce the legislation.

Sen. Unterman says she expects resistance to her bill. Some will come from boaters -- who are accustomed to boating without the need for a license. Some may come from her fellow conservatives, who don't want the government to overreach.

"That's one of the issues from the tea party, I guess, is 'no more regulations.' But you have to look at the safety," Unterman said.

Among southern states, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee require adult boat owners to pass a state exam to operate boats. South Carolina and Georgia don't, according to the Georgia Senate Research Office.

Unterman says she also expects legislation requiring children to wear life vests, and a bill tightening the boating-under-the-influence law.

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