When I was a chubby 13-year-old boy, I won the Maine Soap Box Derby race in Brewer. First prize was a chance to race my derby, “The Ole Lucky 7,” in Akron, Ohio. A spanking new 12-foot aluminum boat and 5-hp Scott-Atwater outboard motor was also presented to me. For a kid who loved to fish, this was a dream come true. Imagine! A new boat and motor of my very own!
During my teen years, I enjoyed many wonderful fishing moments in that special boat, sometimes alone and sometimes with a buddy.
There weren’t that many boating regulations in those days. My father coached me in the safe and proper operation of the outboard before I was allowed to “solo.” Later on, as a father I, too, taught my sons the finer points of safe boating practices. Both boys took turns delivering the Bangor Daily News by boat at Branch Lake when they were 11 to 12 years old. Some mornings, in heavy morning fog, I would watch them head across the lake with a load of newspapers. To my knowledge, they never got lost in the fog, never hit a rock and never had a problem operating the outboard — a 15-hp Evinrude.
Today, under the present law, my sons would be operating that boat on the margins of legality. If a mandatory boating education law, LD 1663, now being debated had been the law my boys would have been operating illegally. As their parent, I would have been subjected to a $500 fine.
LD 1663, which the Maine Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to support, will create a mandatory boating education requirement in Maine. Here is the summary statement of LD 1663:
“This bill creates a mandatory boating safety course requirement for individuals born after January 1, 2002, for the operation of motorboats propelled by machinery over 10 horsepower on Maine waters beginning January 1, 2023. The bill establishes a minimum age of 16 for operation of a motorboat propelled by machinery over 10 horsepower and requires the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to establish a program for boating safety education certification. This bill also requires a mandatory boating safety course for an individual born after January 1, 2002, who operates a personal watercraft.”
The support argument for this bill is that states with mandatory boating education experience lower boating fatalities than states without the requirement.
I am not sure where I stand on this one. These are changing times, I concede. And I lament the passing of those days when parents mentored their youngsters and held them accountable. We do have an ATV regulation that requires kids 10-16 years to pass a safety course for solo ATV operation.
Snowsledders, however, operate under no similar regulatory restraints. All of the snowmobile safety courses are strictly voluntary. If the mandatory boating education law passes, the same youngster who must be state-certified to operate an outboard motor would be legal to operate a high-powered snowsled without any required state certification.
Does this make sense?
There is a freedom-erosion issue as well. In our modern frenzy to create a zero-risk society we give away a little more of our personal freedom to state government.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]