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Stricter boating laws take effect today

Staff report

For some people, today will mean sleeping in after ringing in the new year. Others will just consider it a day off from work.

But, those who will be on Alabama waterways are being reminded Jan. 1 brings with it some different rules.

Beginning today, the state’s boating laws on the age of drivers and driving while intoxicated will change.

The new age for boaters is 14, which is older than the 12-year-old minimum in previous years.

Anyone getting a new boating license must be 14 to drive alone. Those 12 and 13 can still drive watercraft, but they must be accompanied by a licensed adult who is at least 21 years old.

Some 12- and 13-year-olds may already have licenses and they will be grandfathered in under the old law and can continue to drive alone.

For those visiting Alabama, the new law does have exceptions. They must have a boating safety lesson before renting a boat or personal watercraft and taking it on the water.

Boaters who choose to drink and drive may want to think again because the blood-alcohol level is dropping from .10 percent to .08 percent, the same limit for motorists on Alabama’s highways and byways.

It was alcohol-related deaths on waterways that helped state leaders make the boating law changes.

At this time, the state has more than 431,000 licensed boaters with the numbers rising each year.

With changes in laws, officials hope the trend of fewer fatalities will continue in the same direction.

Prior to the state setting limits on boaters, about 30 people died on lakes and rivers. Only 17 fatalities were recorded in 2001.

Alabama lawmakers approved both changes last spring. Implementation of the law was delayed until Jan. 1, 2002, since the boating season had already started.