Craig P. Tiller, Esq. PLLC

Who has to take a boating safety course in Virginia?

Individuals across the commonwealth of Virginia enjoy taking personal watercraft or motorboats onto lakes and rivers. From fishing expeditions to recreational activities such as wake boarding, boating is a common enjoyment among many during warmer months. To help keep Virginia waterways safe, the General Assembly passed some boater safety requirements into law in 2007.

The 2007 law was structured so that boater safety education requirements would be phased in through 2016. As of July 1, 2014, the law requires individuals who are 14 years old or older to attend boater safety classes before they can operate a personal watercraft. Personal watercraft are things such as Wave Runners and jet skis. Individuals who are 45 years old or younger must take the classes before they can operate a motorboat. Children age 13 and younger may not operate personal watercraft.

The safety education requirements do have some exemptions, related mostly to individuals who are professionally licensed to operate vessels in some manner. Individuals who are licensed as Master, Mate or Captains don't have to take the classes, though they do have to carry their license any time they are operating a vessel. This is true even if they are operating a recreational vessel. Likewise, individuals who are Virginia Registered Commercial Fisherman don't have to take the classes.

Another exemption is for individuals who are enlisted as or formerly served as surface warfare specialists or officers in the Navy. Those individuals must have a copy of a Command certification or their DD-214 when operating a vehicle. At any time, authorities with the Department of Game and Inland Fishers or other agencies can stop boats and ask to see licenses or proof of education.

While these measures do increase safety awareness on lakes and rivers, individuals who are operating a vessel according to safety protocols can still be involved in a boating accident caused by someone who is not. In such cases, a personal injury claim may be the way to hold the at-fault operator responsible for resulting injury or damages.

Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, "Boating Safety Education Requirement" Aug. 29, 2014

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