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GUEST EDITORIAL: Two groups of private citizens help enact new Boater Education Law

Lake Murray, SC 06/13/2023 (Randall Smith) - This story takes an in-depth look at the new Boating Safety and Education Law and tells how two groups of private citizens helped change South Carolina’s boating laws. Safe The Lake was formed by the Kiser family after Stan Kiser died and his wife lost a leg in a boating crash on Lake Murray in 2019. Boating Safety South Carolina is the group I formed. My eleven-year-old son Drew was killed in a boating crash on Lake Murray in 1997. In both incidents, the people responsible were impaired. As South Carolinians, we have always taken immense pride in our independence. After being born a southerner and growing up in South Carolina since age five, this is something I learned many years ago. This belief is what sets us apart from the rest. However, when it comes to boating safety, that independence has hurt us. George Bernard Shaw said, “Those who can’t change their minds can’t change anything.” In a historic move this week, South Carolina joined forty-six other states that have a boater education course requirement for certain age groups in order to operate a boat or jet ski. WHY According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), boating fatalities are second only to highway fatalities. The United State Coast Guard (USCG) states that over 75% of recreational boat operators involved in fatal boating accidents have not taken any type of boater education course. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) says boating-related accidents and fatalities in the state over the last five years are on the rise. TIMELINE The new Boating Safety and Education legislation, Bill S.96, passed the South Carolina State House on Wednesday June 7th by a vote of 97 to 7. Yesterday, June 6th, was my son Drew’s birthday. The legislation’s primary sponsor, Senator Chip Campsen (Charleston), first introduced the legislation in January 2021. After languishing in the House of Representatives for two years, this year the Bill finally made it out of a House Committee and was approved by the House on May 3rd by a vote of 110 to 8. After a tug of war between the two chambers that lasted six weeks, with both sides adding and removing amendments as if they were playing a game of chicken, a compromise was reached by a Conference Committee. The Bill has now been sent to the Governor for his signature. A formal signing date for the Bill has not been announced by the Governor’s Office as of now. THE NEW LAW

If you were born after July 1, 2007, you are now required to complete a Boater Education course approved by SCDNR in order to operate a boat or jet ski powered by a motor of ten horsepower or greater. Everyone that was born on or before July 1, 2007, is exempted. Other exemptions include anyone that has a United States Coast Guard issued license regardless of its expiration date, any nonresident that has in their possession a boating safety certificate issued by another state and if you are accompanied by a person born after July 1, 2009, that has taken an SCDNR approved boating safety course or if you are accompanied by a person born before July 1, 2007.

The standard on-line training course will take 3 to 4 hours to complete depending on your experience and there is no requirement to renew. SCDNR offers a free classroom instruction course and BoatUS offers a free on-line approved course. Also, if you take the course, you might just save money on your boat insurance. A shorter boating safety course for boat and jet ski rentals is offered. The rental course will take approximately 1 hour to complete and is valid for 30 days.

OPPOSITION AT THE STATE HOUSE A small but vocal group of House Representatives opposed the legislation. They attempted to stop the legislation by adding amendments to the Bill in an effort to weaken it. In the end, they did not succeed. Unrelenting opposition by one stood out from all of the others. Representative Phillip D. Lowe (Florence) added an amendment to exempt all hunters and fishermen from taking the safety course, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of hunters and fishermen support this legislation. But that did not stop him. The next thing that happened was a conference committee was appointed and tasked with reaching a comprise between the two chambers. The committee removed Rep. Lowe’s amendment. Rep. Lowe then filibustered the legislation. In the end, Rep. Lowe’s attempt to kill the legislation failed. After put up such a ruckus Rep. Lowe was absent Wednesday for the final vote. HOW PRIVATE CITIZENS CHANGED BOATING LAWS During my attempt to change our state boating laws in 1999, one of the things we asked for was increased boater education. We were not successful then because the public identified boater education requirement with boat licensing. The timing then was just not right. Now today, after two years of watching the legislation go nowhere, Boating Safety South Carolina took a different approach. This year we put together a coalition of over 110 elected officials, business leaders, state and national boating organizations and countless number of boaters from all over our state. We spent many hours at the State House and even more behind the scenes, writing letters and providing our general assembly members with facts about why boater education is important. We published six booklets and sent them to all 170 members of the House and Senate along with hundreds of letters. Because of this new law, South Carolina’s waterways will be safer. Many good people have worked diligently to get this legislation passed. No one person can take credit for the passage of this legislation. It was truly a group effort. What happened proved that everyday citizens can make a difference. Special thanks to Senator Chip Campsen and Representative Chis Wooten who worked tirelessly on the legislation for three years. On behalf of everyone that helped get this law passed, and especially the families that lost loved ones in boating crashes, THANK YOU.

Randall Smith has been a supporter of boating safety issues in South Carolina for over 25 years. He is no stranger to politics in our state. He wrote the Boating Safety and Reform Act of 1999, also known as Drew's Law, which is still the state's boating law today. He is the Founder and Chairman of Boating Safety South Carolina and a founding board member of the South Carolina Crime Victims' Council.

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