DEEP: DEP Emphasizes Need For Boating Enthusiasts To Wear Personal Flotation Devices

September 24, 2008

DEP Emphasizes Need for
Boating Enthusiasts to Wear
Personal Flotation Devices

New state laws effective Oct. 1 will also heighten boating safety

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today urged state residents to make certain they are safe on the water and wear life jackets when in boats, especially smaller motor boats and paddlecraft. Boating accident statistics show that 80% of the fatal accidents in the last five years occurred on boats smaller than 20 feet.

"In the past few weeks there have been boating accidents in our state that have resulted in tragedies and we are all deeply saddened by these drownings," DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy said. "While the investigations into these accidents have not yet determined if everyone was wearing a life jacket, it is clear that life jackets, like the seatbelts we all use in the car, can go a long way toward preventing boating fatalities. As we approach the cold water months, wearing a life jacket is one of the most prudent decisions you can make to protect yourself and your loved ones while on the water. With the new light weight life jackets now on the market, there is no excuse not to wear one."

Commissioner McCarthy said, "We have been encouraging people to get outside and enjoy the outdoors through the state’s ‘No Child Left Inside’ initiative. We want people to be safe and use good judgment when they are outdoors and on our waterways enjoying this great fall weather – and that starts with wearing life jackets when boating. "

The Commissioner reminded boaters in manually propelled boats – such as canoes, row boats and kayaks – that life jackets are required to be worn after October 1.

She also noted that Connecticut is implementing significant new boating laws effective October 1 that all boaters need to be aware of and observe. 

The new laws include:

  • Life Jacket Requirements for Kids to Increase by One Year

As of October 1, children 12 or younger will be required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while a vessel is underway, unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin. Previously, children 11 or under were subject to this requirement. The increase in age from 11 to 12 brings Connecticut in line with U.S. Coast Guard rules for the wearing of life jackets by youths.

Also, as a result of this new law, DEP was formally recognized by the National Transportation Safety Board for successfully completing the recommended Recreational Boating Safety Actions by a state to enhance boating safety.

  • Changes to Rules and Requirements Regarding Youth Operation of Vessels and Personal Watercraft

In an effort to address complaints by parents who have stated the difficulty of getting children interested in boating without letting them get the feel of the wheel or tiller, children under the age of 16 will be permitted to operate a boat, other than a personal watercraft (PWC), without a boating certificate as long as they are directly supervised by a person at least 18 years of age who has held a boating certificate for more than 2 years.

This exemption does not apply to the operation of PWC. All PWC operators, regardless of age, must possess a Certificate of Personal Watercraft Operation (CPWO). Boaters are reminded that those under 16 years of age may not operate a PWC alone. However, youth under the age of 16 may, with a CPWO, operate a PWC if they are under the onboard supervision of a person at least 18 years of age who possesses a CPWO.

New amendments to boating laws also hold boat owners, including PWC owners, responsible for allowing children under 16 to operate their vessels without a boating certificate, if one is needed. These changes shift accountability for permitting the operation of a vessel by an unqualified or underage child away from the juvenile operator to the adult owner.

  • Other Changes

  • The DEP has adopted by reference, the federal US Coast Guard equipment carriage and navigation lighting requirements. This means that required on-board safety equipment and light requirements will be the same for boaters on both coastal and inland waters. Besides the increase in age to 12 for kids to wear a life jacket, the biggest benefit will be the relief of being required to carry a bell on boats 26 feet and greater. Now only boats 65 feet and larger will be required to carry a bell.
  • The new law enables a person enrolled in a safe boating course that leads to certification, to operate a vessel, other than PWC, without a safe boating certificate when under the direct on-board supervision of a boating instructor that holds a valid instructor number issued by the DEP. Relaxing this requirement encourages on-water boating education.
  • At the request of local boat dealers, the temporary boating certificate, which allows non-certified boaters to operate without a boating certificate after registering a boat new to them, has been reduced from six months to three months. Boat dealers said they were uncomfortable selling boats to people knowing they didn’t need to take a boating safety course for six months. This request reinforces the importance placed on boating safety education in Connecticut.
  • New laws apply to boat liveries. The livery is now liable for renting a boat to a person without a boating certificate, if one is needed. The livery must provide anyone renting a boat a signed copy of the rental agreement that includes the length of time the boat is being rented, the identity of the person renting the vessel and the vessel number, if the boat is required to be registered. The document must be carried on the boat.

  • More Information

Boaters and other interested parties are urged to visit the DEP website for the full legislation. The 2009 Boater’s Guide, available in late January 2009, will reflect the changes.

In addition, boaters are reminded that approved boating safety courses are available throughout the State, some are free. Successful completion of an approved safe boating course, or successful passing of a DEP Equivalency Exam, is required in order to obtain a Safe Boating Certificate (SBC) or a CPWO. For more information about boating safety courses, see the above website.