Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Boater Education Saves Lives

No Gravatar

Frankfort, Ky. – Summer brings thousands of boaters to Kentucky’s waterways. Boating in Kentucky is a growing attraction for tourists, as well as a popular way for families to enjoy vacation time together. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources encourages every boater to stay safe on the water. The department’s boater education program is a great place to start.

“Boater education is a one-time opportunity to go in there and learn the basic do’s and don’ts,” said Sgt. John Anderson, boating education coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “It gives people the information they need to boat safely, to have the fun they’re going after and to live safely to tell about it.”

Kentucky law requires boaters ages 12 to 17 to take an approved boater education course before they can operate any boat greater than 10 horsepower. But taking the course is a good idea even if you are not required to do so.

“Boats can be a whole lot bigger and faster than they used to be,” said Anderson. “We have a lot more of them now – but we have the same amount of water.”

The result is challenging conditions for boaters – congested areas around marinas, other boaters zipping by at high speed, and inexperienced operators driving more powerful boats. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s law enforcement division handles nearly 100 boating accident investigations each year. On average, 13 of these incidents involve boating fatalities. Boater education is proven to lower those numbers.

According to U.S. Coast Guard and National Association of State Boating Law Administrators reports, states with the longest history of boater education have the lowest average fatality rates. Kentucky’s alcohol-related boating fatality rate, however, is twice the national average. Kentucky ranks 28th in the nation for number of registered boats, with 186,000 in 2007. Yet the state ranks 8th in the nation for boating fatalities. To make Kentucky boaters safer, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife began phasing in mandatory boater education in 1998.

“Since 1998, we’ve trained about 2,000 young boaters a year,” said Anderson. “Knowledge is power – and this can be the power of life over death. That’s something parents can understand.”

Boating safety courses cover boat identification, safe boat operation, the importance of personal floatation devices and other safety equipment, Kentucky boating regulations and more. Statistically, boaters who take the course are less likely to have an accident than uneducated boaters.

“We know that uneducated boaters are by far more dangerous than educated boaters,” said Anderson. Seventy percent of boat fatalities involve an operator who had not received boater education.

Even if you have spent years on the water, don’t assume you know everything about boating safety. “Education and experience are not necessarily synonymous,” said Anderson.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife introduced legislation this year that would have made boater education mandatory for all boaters born on or after January 1, 1990. The legislation did not pass the Kentucky General Assembly. However, a provision that would require mandatory boater education in all states recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives. If the U.S. Senate passes the bill and it is signed into law, Kentucky will be required to comply.

A schedule of free classroom boater education courses is available at Online courses are also available for a $15 fee.