New Boating Safety Laws Take Effect

Alabama's boating laws get stricter on Tuesday, January first. The age for driving a boat is going up and the level of intoxication for boaters is going down. Newly licensed boat drivers will have to turn 14 before they can drive a boat or personal watercraft alone, and the drunken driving level will decline from .10% blood-alcohol level to .08% -- the same as for vehicles.

The Legislature approved both changes last spring but, because the 2001 boating season had already begun, delayed the implementation until the start of the year. The state Conservation Department and the Alabama Marine and Motorcycle Dealers Association pushed for both changes.

Association executive director Byron McCain says a safer boating environment is the goal. McCain says the boating industry feels that if families feel safe on the water, boating will continue to be a popular activity.

Starting Tuesday, youngsters 12 and 13 can still get licensed to drive a boat and personal watercraft, but they can no longer drive alone. They must be accompanied by a licensed adult at least 21 years old until they turn 14. Anyone 12 or 13 who already has a license is grand fathered in under the old law and can continue to drive unsupervised. Alabama has 431,240 licensed boat drivers -- a number that keeps increasing each year.