How To Make Boating Safer?

Upstate Outdoors
June 22, 2018 - 4:09 pm

Phillip Gentry

Last week, Larry Rottmann, a contributor to the local Springfield, Missouri newspaper, the Springfield News-Leader, penned an opinion piece suggesting it was time to ban bass boats from public waters. The article was full of rhetoric based on an incident where a large bass fishing tournament interrupted the author’s day on the lake. 

One can only presume part of the motive for the article was to push the buttons of probably the largest populace of bass boat owners and fans in the country who coincidentally reside in the same city as the headquarters of Bass Pro Shops. It’s widely known that Bass Pro Shops affiliate companies and CEO Johnny Morris own several of the largest bass boat manufacturing companies in the country as well as being the leader in bass boats retail sales through Bass Pro Shops stores and online.

Despite Rottmann’s  obviously biased opinion of boating issues on Missouri’s waterways, he does bring a couple of valid points to light that also apply here in South Carolina. The first is that there are no statewide boat/motor size restrictions on our public waterways and the second is that there are no speed limits other than posted or situational no-wake zones.

It is not only conceivable, but probable that a 10 foot plastic, paddle propelled watercraft like a kayak that weighs maybe 80 pounds with a top speed of maybe 4 miles per hour would be sharing the same water with a 10,000 pound cabin cruiser with 600 horsepower engine or a powerboat capable of achieving 70 – 80 mile per hour speeds. 

This is a problem that is only going to get worse as more and more people inhabit our state and seek to enjoy our waterways. But what can be done to protect boaters from each other?

A couple weeks back, I made the seat belt/life jacket comparison in this column pointing out that wearing a life jacket is not mandatory except for children under 12 and operators of personal watercraft. 

If we continue the comparison, operators of a motor vehicle on public roads are required to maintain a driver’s license. Boaters are encouraged to take a safe boating course, but other than a requirement of a Captain’s license when offering boats-for-hire, there is no licensing requirement for personal operation of a watercraft for adults over the age of 16. 

Secondarily, outside of some locally mandated boat/motor size restrictions, the majority of public waterways in South Carolina, ie the state’s major reservoirs and rivers, have no vessel size or motor restriction.

To illustrate this point, a 17 year old could walk into any marine dealership and purchase any number of high speed, high end horse power rated water craft without ever having to prove he had ever stepped foot inside a boat before.

South Carolina does provide and enforce an established set of Boating Laws and Regulations which are published in the handbook which is the basis for the Boater Education Class. Classes in boater safety are frequently offered online and at larger marine retail organizations. Again, the class is highly encouraged, but not mandatory to operate a watercraft in the state.


Phillip Gentry is the host of "Upstate Outdoors," broadcast noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. The show can also be heard online at live or via podcast.


Despite an established set of rules and regulations regarding operation of a watercraft, South Carolina does not require persons over the age of 16 to be licensed or otherwise educated to drive a boat. Photo courtesy SCDNR. 




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