Currently in Massachusetts, as well as many other states, adults do not require a license to operate a recreational boat. There are, however, registration requirements and educational requirements for minors. Based on these rules, any adult is free to buy a boat, transport it to a local lake, put it in the water, and start operating.
All without any legally required training, education, or examinations (both written and on water) for the adult operator.
Does this make sense? Although boats are commonly a means for pleasure and recreation, they are nevertheless inherently dangerous.
For those who are educated, trained, and have appropriate experience, boating can be done safely and responsibly. However, for the uneducated and untrained, boats can be very dangerous to the operator, his or her passengers, and the general boating public.
Why is Massachusetts so far behind the curve?
So, why is it not required that adults obtain a boat license in a way that is somewhat similar to how the state requires licenses for adult motor vehicle operators in Massachusetts?
For motor vehicles, the process is simple:
- Take a written test;
- Pass a field or road test conducted by the RMV.
Why can’t the same be done for boats?
After all, Massachusetts does have an administrative infrastructure for this, as the state has an Environmental Police Division and a Boat & Recreation Vehicle Safety Bureau, parts of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Furthermore, Massachusetts does have regulations relative to the condition and maintenance of boats, rules for operating boats, as well as some provisions for boating education for minors.
Recreational boating is a substantial part of the Massachusetts economy. Large numbers of Massachusetts residents own boats and many people travel to Massachusetts on vacation and engage in boating, especially on the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and hundreds of other lakes and rivers throughout the state.
We also know that every year many people are killed and seriously injured in Massachusetts and other states from recreational boating accidents.
The Massachusetts legislature would be wise to pass a law requiring adults to take a written exam and pass a boating test to demonstrate the competency required for boating safety. The costs of administration would be well worth it considering the likelihood of minimizing tragic and preventable accidents.
Also, in a bold move, the Massachusetts Legislature might even consider imposing minimum liability insurance requirements, similar to what is done for autos.
Currently, in Massachusetts, every auto requires at least liability insurance coverage of $20,000/$40,000. Boats should require the same coverage, if not higher.
The Statistics Call for Change
In a 2013 study, the US Coast Guard found that the most common cause of non-fatal injuries and accidents was operator inattention. The USCG also found that alcohol consumption was the highest cause of fatalities while boating. Testing for boating licenses would undoubtedly cut the number of deaths and injuries in the water each year.
A recent boating accident in Buzzards Bay hospitalized fifteen people. One of those people was an eight-year-old child, who was submerged under the capsized boat for twenty-four minutes. He has spent a week regaining strength in Boston Children’s Hospital. No individual has filed charges against the boat’s owner; however, in a similar situation, charges could be reasonably expected.
Be Smart Now To Have Fun Later
Until there is a law in place making our waters safer, take care in selecting adequate insurance. If you have questions about your insurance related to a boating accident call us at 508-755-7535 or contact us via email.