April 2015 Myths

Boating Laws Myths
-contributed by P/C SEO Chuck Gresham, JN

Given the demographics of our Squadron, most of us have our children and grandchildren who visit us during the summer, primarily to play on the lake and secondarily to visit with us. Of course our main concern is the safety of the grandchildren while out on boats but also we want to operate within the boating laws of South Carolina and Georgia. The use of personal flotation devices (PFDs) is the first safety concern that comes to mind and that is the focus of this article.

Contrary to myth, the boating regulations concerning the wearing of PFDs are not the same for South Carolina and Georgia. In South Carolina, the law states ‘any person under twelve years of age must wear a US Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD when on board a class “A” (less than 16 ft. long) boat.’ In Georgia waters, ‘all children under 13 years of age (must) wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD while on board any moving vessel. This law does not apply when the child is in a fully enclosed cabin.’ Just as important as wearing a PFD, make sure the PFD is the correct size for the child as indicated by weigh range on the PFD, and that the PFD is firmly (not tightly) worn. An easy test of this is picking the child up by the PFD, if the child slips out, then the straps are not firm enough and the child might come out of the PFD if they were thrown overboard.

For example, during the Independence Day Boat Parade last year, one of the boats in the parade was a 25’ pontoon boat with two adults and several children aboard. Nobody was wearing a PFD. Was there any violation of boating laws? As indicated in the paragraph above, if the boat was in South Carolina waters, the answer is no, because the boat was longer that 16’. If the boat ventured into Georgia waters during the cruise from Dorn Landing to Plum Branch Yacht Club or from the Yacht Club to Marina Beach, then the boat was in violation because some children were less that 13 years old and were not in a fully enclosed cabin.

Another boating law affecting children concerns their operating motor boats without an adult in the boat also. Again, the South Carolina and Georgia boating laws are different. In South Carolina, any child can operate a motor boat alone, as long as the motor is less than 15 h. p. and the child has completed an approved boating course. SCDNR offers such a course and the USPS America’s Boating Course is approved for this requirement. In Georgia, children under 12 years of age may legally operate any non-motorized boat less than 16’ long, may operate boats less than 16’ long with a 30 h. p. motor or less if accompanied by a competent adult, and may not operate a boat longer than 16’. In Georgia, children 12 through 15 years of age may not operate a boat 16’ or longer, but may operate a personal watercraft or boat less than 16’ long if they have passed a Georgia DNR approved course and is accompanied by a competent adult. Again, our America’s Boating Course is approved for this.

Finally, children of any age, including adults, must wear a PDF while being towed behind a boat. Most people wear a ski vest because of the maneuverability it offers, but any Type I, II, or III PFD is permissible. When tubing, wake boarding, or skiing, make sure the PFD is on firmly and the person will not come out of it when they fall. An improperly fitted PFD is worse than none at all because with an improperly fitted PFD you think you are protected, but actually are not.