Governor signs bill to save lives at sea

Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2000

A bill sponsored by Juneau Republican Rep. Bill Hudson floated the governor's boat.

Gov. Tony Knowles signed House Bill 108 into law this morning at a Harris Harbor ceremony, and Alaska joined every other U.S. state and territory by taking on boating safety enforcement and education from the U.S. Coast Guard.

``This was a bill I felt I was born to deliver,'' said Hudson. ``This will save lives.''

For a while, it looked as if Hudson's efforts would result in a stillborn product. After passing the state House, it sat in the Senate as this year's legislative session wound down.

``It became a hostage,'' Hudson said. The bill had a lot of support in the House, he said, so some senators decided to use it as leverage to promote other legislation.

Come 2001, Alaskans will have to register their motorized boats with the state rather than the Coast Guard. Unlike the Coast Guard's program, non-motorized boats - kayaks and canoes - more than 10 feet long will also need to be registered.

Alaska's recreational fleet of boats, about 100,000 strong, will be required to carry specific safety equipment, and children younger than 13 will be required to wear life jackets under the new law.

Boating safety will come with a price. The new law means that motorized boat owners will pay a $24 registration fee every three years, which is no increase from what they currently pay the Coast Guard. Boats without motors will cost $10 to register over the same time period.

Hudson said the registration requirement will kick in on Jan. 1, and the process should be as easy as registering a car.

Coast Guard Capt. Ed Page said the Coast Guard's ability to enforce boating safety has been limited by its reach, which ends at the coast. Under the new law, the troopers can enforce boating safety in the lakes and rivers of Alaska's interior. However, he said, enforcement really isn't the focus of the law.

``In a lot of regions here, the Coast Guard isn't there,'' Page said. ``This is not going to be a hard-policing sort of thing. It'll be mostly education.''

The primary purpose of the legislation is for the state to take over the federal program, thus becoming eligible for another $600,000 in federal funding this year, according to Hudson, and more than $1 million in 2002.

Half of the money will be used for educational programs, Hudson said, which will lead to fewer deaths in Alaska waters. There were 67 such deaths in the last two years, according to the Coast Guard.

Alaska's boating death rate is close to 10 times the national average, according to Hudson.

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