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Friday, February 01, 2013

Life jacket legislation tabled

A proposed bill that would require children 12 years of age or younger to wear a properly fitting life jacket while riding on recreational vessels has been tabled in committee.

"This was the 13th time since 1997 that a mandatory life jacket bill has failed to be enacted in Virginia, and we expect it to be considered again in the 2014 session," said Bruce Dungan, chairman of the Virginia Safe Boating Alliance. "Virginia is one of only two states in the U.S. that doesn't have some form of mandatory life jacket usage for children."

The bill was introduced in the House of Delegates by Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, to apply to all vessels manufactured or operated for leisure or recreational purpose, including motorboats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks and rowboats (Occupants of PWCs, regardless of age, are legally required to wear life jackets when under way).

The proposed legislation did not apply to surfboards, paddleboards, wakeboards, body boards, inflatable tubes or toys, swimming rafts, or similar devices routinely used as water toys or swimming aids and was written to exclude children on vessels that are moored or anchored or who are below deck in an enclosed cabin of a vessel that is under way.

Drafted to become effective in January 2014, the bill called for a civil penalty of $100 to apply to all violations, with the fine waived for any person who completes an approved boating safety education course subsequent to, but not later than, six months from the date of the violation. All penalties collected would be paid into the Motorboat and Water Safety Fund of the Game Protection Fund.

"The Smith Mountain Water Safety Council recommends that all children, as well as adults, wear properly fitting life jackets while aboard recreational vessels," said Pete Lewis, a member of the SML Water Safety Council who also serves on the Virginia Safe Boating Alliance. "And we support such state legislation as a way to encourage more boaters to comply with this common-sense practice.

"Legislation aside, the most effective way to get children to wear life jackets is for them to see the adults they respect wearing them, as well," Lewis added.

Federal legislation requiring children younger than 13 to wear life jackets already is in place for vessels operating on federally controlled water, which includes SML. Virginia Conservation Officers do not enforce the federal law, but SML boaters who are stopped by U.S. Coast Guard boats that occasionally patrol Smith Mountain Lake are subject to citation for non-compliance with the federal life jacket requirement for children.