If you were born after Jan. 1, 1998, and you want to drive a watercraft, you're going to need to take a boating safety class.
A new law passed in 2013 goes into effect on July 1. The legislation was passed following a summer that included the death of Usher Raymond's son at Lake Lanier.
Completing a course in boating safety approved by the Department of Natural Resources will provide the individual a certificate. That certificate must be with them when they are operating a watercraft.
Larry Cook, an instructor of an approved course and volunteer member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, says this is a step in the right direction for making our waterways safer.
Still, because the age of those required to take the course and obtain certification is in the mid-teens, it will likely take a generation, if not more, before we see significant improvement in the number of violations on the water, if we see any change at all.
The course they will be required to complete will run anywhere from at least three hours, according to the free online option, to eight hours if you want to learn in a classroom setting from an experienced boater like Cook. Cook's course, through the Coast Guard Auxiliary, costs $20.
There is currently no requirement to become recertified. Unlike a driver's license, once you have completed the course a single time your certification is valid for life.
Begging the question, how well will people remember the rules and regulations if they never brush up on them from time to time?
Guilherme Costa, 22, took his boating safety course online when he was 14.
In the eight years since, he still recalls much of what was taught and almost all of the common sense things. Costa says it's like driving. Costa claims he operates the watercraft with the rules running in his subconscious, and does not need to think much about them because they are so ingrained.
Still Costa is not infallible. He was stopped by the DNR while jumping the wake of his father's boat with a personal watercraft. The DNR said he was too close to the larger vessel and was jumping the wake the wrong direction.
It was a dangerous situation that could have turned out badly. After learning Costa had taken a boating safety course, which was not required at the time, they let him off with a warning. Costa says he is much more cognizant of the direction he is going and the distance to his family's boat when he jumps its wake today.
Despite having taken a course, Costa still made a bad decision.
As the years pass we will see if the requirement to be certified will stop other people from making bad decisions, or if they will simply make them without thinking about the consequences first.
Regardless of if the new law is successful in reducing problems on the water, one thing will be certain moving forward.
If the operator of a watercraft with a certification does cause an accident, and is found at fault, at least you'll be able to say, "You should have known better." Right now, in Georgia, you can't really do that because certification is not mandatory for the majority of boaters.
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