PA 08-26—sHB 5806

Environment Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING BOATING SAFETY

SUMMARY: This act replaces state boating safety rules and regulations with federal standards, as amended periodically, in several boating categories. It also:

1. makes minor changes to laws governing the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)-approved boating safety courses that are required for the necessary vessel and personal watercraft operator licenses;

2. prohibits owners from allowing unlicensed youth under age 16 to operate vessels and personal watercraft in most instances;

3. prohibits (a) boating safety courses not approved by the commissioner and (b) DEP employees from profiting from DEP safe boating or personal watercraft operation materials, with violations subject to fines between $60 and $250;

4. regulates boat and personal watercraft rental businesses; and

5. makes several conforming and technical changes to the environmental statutes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2008

FEDERAL SAFE BOATING RULES AND REGULATIONS

The act replaces state boating safety rules and regulations regarding equipment with federal standards. These safety rules and regulations relate to:

1. personal flotation devices, including requirements regarding the use of personal flotation devices by children;

2. venting for gasoline engines, backfire flame controls, and fire extinguishers;

3. signal sound appliances;

4. visual distress signals;

5. navigation lights;

6. light visibility;

7. anchor lights when a vessel is at anchor or aground; and

8. flashing blue lights and flashing red and yellow signal lights.

These federal rules and regulations are similar to the prior Connecticut laws, but there are some minor differences. For example, Connecticut boating safety laws required one personal flotation device (PFD) for each passenger on board, while federal rules require one PFD per passenger and one extra PFD, and Connecticut law exempted vessels less than 26 feet long from signal sound appliance requirements, while federal law exempts vessels less than 12 meters (or approximately 40 feet) from these requirements. The act also extends the applicability of requirements regarding visual distress signals to all state and federal waters, rather than just Long Island and Fishers Island Sounds.

Under the act, violations of these rules and regulations are infractions.

The act also prohibits the DEP commissioner from suspending or modifying the federal rules and regulations adopted in the above areas, unless (1) necessary to meet uniquely hazardous conditions or circumstances, (2) the Coast Guard issued a statutory exemption or withholds disapproval of the modification or suspension, or (3) a federal regulation exempts the state from preemption. The commissioner retains the right to suspend or modify other Connecticut boating requirements when she determines that they are burdensome, inconvenient, or do not aid boating safety.

SAFE BOATING CERTIFICATES AND PERSONAL WATERCRAFT OPERATION LICENSES

The law requires operators of registered or numbered vessels and personal watercraft in Connecticut and federal waters to have either (1) a valid vessel operator license issued by the Coast Guard or (2) a safe boating certificate or a personal watercraft operation license issued by the DEP commissioner. Applicants for the safe boating certificate must also successfully complete a course in boating safety approved by the commissioner or pass an equivalency examination testing knowledge of boating safety administered by the commissioner.

Under the act, applicants for the personal watercraft operation certificate must successfully complete a combined course of personal watercraft and boating safety approved by the commissioner, have a boating safety certificate, and successfully complete a personal watercraft operation course approved by the commissioner, or pass an equivalency examination approved by the commissioner.

The act also prohibits (1) teaching courses for the certificate or license, if the commissioner has not approved such a course, and (2) agents or employees of the DEP from profiting from DEP safe boating or personal watercraft operation materials. Violators are subject to fines between $60 and $250.

The act prohibits owners from allowing youth under age 16 to operate a vessel or personal watercraft on Connecticut waters, unless they (1) have a safe boating certificate or personal watercraft operation license or (2) are under the direct supervision of a person who (a) is at least 18 years old, (b) possesses a safe boating certificate or personal watercraft operation license, and (c) has had such certificate or license for at least two years. Violators are subject to fines between $60 and $250.

The act allows people enrolled in a safe boating operation course to operate a vessel without a safe boating certificate if they are under the direct supervision of a boating instructor holding a valid DEP instructor number. The act reduces from six to three months the period that temporary safe boating certificates or personal watercraft operation licenses, issued to any person who purchases a new or used vessel or watercraft upon registration, are valid.

BOAT LIVERY OPERATION

The act defines a boat livery as a business that is engaged in the commercial rental of vessels, and explicitly includes personal watercraft. The law, unchanged by the act, defines a vessel as any watercraft used for transportation, but excludes seaplanes and watercraft used primarily for commercial cargo. The act requires operators of vessels rented from a boat livery to carry the rental agreement on board and make it available upon request. The owner or agent of the boat livery and the person renting the vessel must sign the rental agreement. The agreement must also state the length of time for which the vessel is being rented, the name of the person renting the vessel, and the vessel number if vessel registration is required.

The act prohibits owners and agents of boat liveries from permitting a vessel to leave the boat livery unless the vessel is properly registered with the state as both a vessel and a boat livery vessel. If the vessel is required to be registered and numbered as a livery boat, the certificate number must be carried aboard and made available for inspection. The owners or agents of boat liveries must also ensure that operators of rented vessels possess a safe boating certificate or personal watercraft operation license, if necessary. By law, those renting vessels for 14 days or less do not need certificates, but must be given DEP literature on safety and navigation rules.

As under prior law, violations are infractions and subject to fines.

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