Results of a recent SCDNR survey on boating safety show that boater education is the top boating issue on the minds of the public. Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that people should not be allowed to operate a boat without first completing a boating education course. The survey was conducted through public meetings and through on online forum.

The agency was instructed to hold these meetings by the South Carolina Senate after Senator Kevin Johnson of Manning called for the survey after a personal watercraft (PWC) accident which left a 19-year-old woman dead in May of 2014.

The meetings were approximately two-hours long, and the topics of most concern to attendees were boater safety education, funding, boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, wake zones, private and SCDNR buoys, nighttime speed restrictions, and vessel lighting.

The top issue among participants was boater education, and participants widely agreed that if boaters were required to take a formal education course before being allowed to operate a boat, a positive impact would be felt on the other issues.

A key to each meeting was testimony from family members who have lost loved ones to boating accidents in recent years. Four people testified, and among the four, they called for all operators in a boating accident to undergo a breathalyzer test, make it unlawful to break no wake-idle speed on certain bodies of water after sunset, improve boat lighting, and make the wearing of PFDs mandatory for boaters.

The survey questions could be answered on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), and when all surveys were combined for all of the meetings, the comment that “boating education should be required for an individual to operate a boat” brought a total score of 4.29, the highest among all statements.

During discussions at the meetings, numerous folks admitted that requiring education for anyone operating a boat would be met with stiff opposition. Some participants suggested phasing in the requirement beginning with boaters born after a certain year, which would grandfather current adult boaters in much the same way that mandatory hunter education courses did.

Another suggestion that was met with widespread support at the meetings included increasing the no wake zone from 50-feet to 100-feet or more. This no wake zone currently stipulates that boaters slow to no wake speed anytime they are within 50-feet of an anchored vessel, a wharf, dock, or person in the water. 

Many meeting attendees agreed that boat operators should be required to complete an education course and be issued a license before being able to legally operate a boat. They also agreed the license could be taken away if the operator commits certain violations.

Funding for education was a major concern, as was the question of how to get my SCDNR officers on the water to patrol. Suggestions included increasing sales tax on new boats, increasing property tax on boats, and increasing the boater registration fee. The increases would be funneled to the SCDNR to fund more officers.