Life preserver rule proposed by GF&P The Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) Commission has proposed a rule that will improve the safety of small children while boating, and at the same time will prevent a more restrictive federal rule from taking effect.
"As proposed, the new rule would require that boat operators be responsible for everyone under the age of seven who is not within a cabin or below deck to be wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket anytime the boat is under power and moving faster than 'no wake' speed," said GFP Boating Safety Specialist Bill Shattuck. "Failure to do so will be a Class 2 misdemeanor. The proposed rule will also require that life jackets be in serviceable condition and of an appropriate size for the person for whom it is intended."
A federal rule proposed by the U.S. Coast Guard, which would require every person under the age of 13 years aboard a recreational boat "under way" to wear an approved life jacket, will soon take effect in much of the United States.
"'Under way' is defined as anytime the boat on the water is not anchored, tied to a dock or slip or made fast to the shore," Shattuck said.
The federal regulation will not supercede existing child life jacket laws in the states that have them.
"We are taking this opportunity to propose this rule to ensure that South Dakota is not saddled by the more restrictive federal rule in the near future," Shattuck said. "Public comment will be accepted on this proposal so we can make any necessary adjustments before finalization. We believe our proposal will provide adequate protection to children and will be better accepted than its federal counterpart."
For the most part, Shattuck believes South Dakota kids are already wearing life jackets while in boats.
"Most parents don't need the prospect of a fine to encourage them to put a life jacket on their child," he said. "According to Game, Fish and Parks records, no child under the age of 13 has died in a boating accident in South Dakota since 1987."
For years, South Dakota has joined the U.S. Coast Guard in urging boaters to voluntarily wear life jackets. According to national statistics compiled by the U. S. Coast Guard, 80 percent of those who died in boating accidents would have survived had they been wearing a life jacket.