Should boat renters take safety course?
by Staff Writer
by Mark Zenow
Dustin Keith, owner of Aquaventure Watercraft on Lake Norman, has been renting boats and jet skis for four years. And in that time he’s never had a customer involved in a wreck or
That’s partly because Keith takes safety seriously, educating and training renters before they leave his dock. He even has his website linked to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Rental Boat Safety website, where potential customers can watch a short video to prepare them to take the helm.
But not all rental boat companies are as stringent when it comes to safety classes, members of the Lake Norman Marine Commission said. That’s why they’ve started the rental boat committee, to discuss implementing new rules on rental boats, requiring renters to take training and safety lessons more seriously.
Keith said customers tell him the only instructions they received at other rental companies were to “bring it back with gas in it.”
That’s the situation Keith and others in the boating community are hoping to avoid with the formation of the board.
“It’s been talked about for a couple of years,” said Ron Shoultz, Chairman of the Lake Norman Marine Commission.
For his commission, the time is now.
“We always are very cautious in any kind of undertaking like this,” he said, explaining that he’s not in favor of any restrictions or regulations that will hamper anyone’s ability to enjoy the lake.
“I’m just trying to put the common sense factor into play and bring it to the forefront,” he said.
The renewed interest in the matter stems from a boating accident last summer when a 26-year-old woman lost her arm after a boat docked at a floating party backed over her.
Dennis Allen, the driver of the boat, told an investigating officer with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission that the extent of his boating experience was a quick lesson as he picked up the boat. He was charged with negligent operation of a motorboat, police have said.
Following that incident, Shoultz said a number of rental boat operators reached out to the commission, hoping to create a standard for how boats are rented on Lake Norman.
“You can’t put a person who has never driven a boat out during one of the busiest weekends on the lake,” Keith said. “That’s just not morally right.”
He feels it’s important for renters to be trained on general boating etiquette, as well as safety and basic operation training.
Keith explained that while there are ordinances in place requiring a minimal level of instruction before a renter leaves the dock, they are often ignored.
He believes it’s just a matter of reminding rental companies of the law and stressing the importance of putting safety first.
“We just need to come up with a way of regulating existing law, not necessarily creating new laws,” he said. “We’re just trying to make sure a few select people who are trying to bend the rules aren’t going to ruin it for a million plus people within a 50 mile radius who look to use the lake for summer fun.”
That’s where Shoultz hopes his commission’s committee can help.
“If we can get everyone on the same page about doing the same kind of things and making sure we’re doing everything in our power to stay on top of potentially hazardous situations, then we’re doing nothing but good,” he said.
The committee is not yet formed, but Shoultz expects it will be soon.
He’s looking for people who would be interested in serving on the committee.
If all goes according to plan, new regulations could be in place by the start of the 2013 marine season.
“The bottom line is that nothing is currently in place to restrict activity any time soon,” Shoultz explained. “This committee is dynamic, and we want the members to really work within themselves to come up with a plan of action.”
He said the committee will not have any authority to create or change regulations, only to make recommendations to the commission, who will in turn review the ideas with a legal team and ultimately present ideas to the general public through public hearings.
“Lake Norman is a magnificent resource,” Shoultz said, “and if we’re not careful it’s going to turn into something that’s nightmarish for a lot of folks, and we don’t want that to happen.”
Boating safety classes being offered
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary will teach several boating safety classes in the coming months.
• April 14, May 12, June 23 and July 21 at the from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. at Duke Energy Environmental Center, 12700 Hagers Ferry Road, Cornelius.
• April 21, May 19, June 16 and Aug. 11 from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Shepherd’s Volunteer Fire Department, 2014 Charlotte Hwy., Mooresville.
• May 24 and June 23 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Peninsula Yacht Club, 18501 Harbor Light Blvd., Cornelius.
All classes cost $45. For more information visit wow.uscgaux.info/?unit=
054-26-07 and click on “Boating Courses.”
Want to get involved?
To take part in the rental boat committee or for more information on the Lake Norman Marine Commission call 704-564-6333.