I have been an avid boater my entire life. Few things bring me more joy than a day out on the water disconnected from phones, jobs and the business of life. Until this past weekend, I considered myself well equipped and knowledgeable on Louisiana boating laws. An encounter with Wildlife and Fisheries during a boat safety check proved me wrong. I was aware some things had changed since my childhood days on the water; however, I embarrassingly admit to never taking the time to read the fine print.
Below are a few surprising things I learned from the agents who stopped our boat. These facts are being shared under the assumption the Wildlife and Fisheries agents provided correct information.
Legal Driving Age
In Louisiana, anyone age 10 or older who has passed the boater education course is eligible to operate a boat independently. Yes, your TEN year old child is eligible to go out on a boat alone. I was shocked by this one. I do not know many ten year old children ready and able to handle the responsibility of boating unassisted. The legal age to operate a jet ski independently is sixteen.
I was not able to verify this law as I did not find any specific age for operating a boat independently on the Wildlife and Fisheries website. The agent stated children are encouraged to begin learning to drive a boat as young as possible. He did not specify a particular age for driving with a parent on board. Want to let your three old sit on your lap and drive the boat? According to the information we received, this would be completely legal and encouraged.
Boater Education Course
This category is complex because of a grandfather clause that exists in our state. Anyone born after January 1, 1984 must complete a mandatory boater education course before being eligible to operate a boat independently. Those of us born before this date are not required to take the boater education course. I was driving the boat during our encounter with wildlife and fisheries, and they did verify my date of birth by asking for my driver’s license. Be sure to always have your driver’s license while operating a boat, that is if you have one! Those born after January 1, 1984 are required to carry proof of completion of the boater education course.
Did I lose you yet? One more thing worth noting is regarding kids like mine who are in training to captain the boat. Because I fall under the clause of not needing the boater education course, my kids can drive the boat with me on board without taking the course.
Drinking and Driving
This is the one that really left me baffled. Anyone living in Louisiana knows drinking and boating often go hand and hand. However, I was never aware that DRINKING and DRIVING IS LEGAL while operating a motorboat. Yes, you read that correctly! You may drink alcohol while driving a boat without penalty. The stipulation is you may not have a blood alcohol content of over 0.08. I imagine there are two sides to this law: 1. Those who absolutely love being able to legally drink, party and boat all day long 2. Those of you who, like me, are terrified for the safety of your family!
You may wonder if Wildlife and Fisheries agents are patrolling the waters with a breathalyzer on board? When I asked, the answer to that was NO. They are not capable of administering a breathalyzer test on the water. If a driver appears to be highly intoxicated, they must be brought into the local jail to have their blood alcohol tested.
Last but not least is the topic of life jackets, and this is the one where they got me! Remember I mentioned being the driver of the boat when we were stopped? This means I was the one responsible for any law infraction. My fifteen year old was not wearing her life jacket. I was admittedly in the wrong on this one as the law states children SIXTEEN and younger must wear a life jacket at all times while boating. This law changed ten years ago and I irresponsibly failed to make myself aware of the change. We were issued a ticket which carries with it a $50 fine.
All in all our encounter with the Wildlife and Fisheries agents was very informative but not incredibly reassuring. Amazing how perspectives change as we age. As a kid, I loved every second of my time on the water. During the summer months, my friends and I could be found skiing, swimming, and cruising around the lake without fear. As a parent, I relish in watching my children develop a love for water sports. However, I have a hard time relaxing knowing the chances of intoxicated boat drivers runs high in Louisiana waters.
If you plan to be out on the water this summer, be aware of your surroundings and protect those kids! Please do not be the boat following too closely and always be aware of skiers in the water. Teach your kids to hold the ski / kneeboard / wakeboard high in the water when they fall off. This may be the only defense they have while in the water!