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RALEIGH, N.C. (Aug. 31) — Wildlife enforcement officers will be out in force this Labor Day weekend to keep the state’s waterways safe for boating.
Labor Day, the traditional end of summer, also marks the season’s end of recreational boating. With so many boats on the water for summer’s send-off, the potential for boating accidents increases.
“During the big holiday weekends, when a lot of people are on the lakes or the Intracoastal Waterway, you see factors like excessive speed or improper lookout play a really big part in accidents,” said Capt. Chris Huebner, hunter and boating safety coordinator for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
Inattention was a key factor in a boating fatality last weekend, in which teenagers on personal watercraft collided on Lake Gaston. A recent change in North Carolina boating law, addressing boater inexperience, raises the minimum age for operating a personal watercraft from 12 to 14.
The new law, which takes effect Nov. 1, requires operators of Jet-Skis, Sea-Doos or similar craft who are age 14 or 15 to have passed a boater safety course or to ride with someone age 18 or older. A provision in the law, which the General Assembly passed in June, allows 12- or 13-year-olds to operate a personal watercraft provided they turn 12 by Nov. 1, 2005, and have completed a boater safety course.
Besides slowing down and keeping a sharp lookout, Huebner advised boaters to keep their wits — especially by remaining sober. In a boat, that can be harder than it sounds.
“There is research that shows it takes one-third the alcohol on water to be impaired as on land,” Huebner said, citing such factors as heat, sun, vibrations from the motor and fatigue.
As with automobile drivers, boaters in North Carolina with a blood alcohol content of .08 or more are considered impaired. The law also provides a charge of operating while impaired, or OWI, if the operator is “appreciably impaired” — even when blood alcohol level is under .08.
Across the state, the Wildlife Commission has cracked down on impaired boating. Just through Aug. 26, officers statewide had made 443 arrests for OWI — compared to 177 and 319 for all 2003 and 2004, respectively.
For more boater safety information, or to find a schedule of free boater safety courses offered by the Wildlife Commission, log onto www.ncwildlife.org, or call the Division of Wildlife Enforcement at (919) 733-7191.
 
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