Water Safety

LEA BEAZLEY/Lake Gaston Gazette-Observer

Officer Ed Burke of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, Lake Gaston Flotilla 9-3, left, was the guest speaker for June meeting of the Lake Gaston Water Safety Council. He is shown with Brian Goldsworthy, Water Safety Council president.


Ed Burke with the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, Lake Gaston Flotilla 9-3, provided boating law comparisons at the Lake Gaston Water Safety Council monthly meeting June 26.

“The rules for the different states are all different,” Burke said. “It is your responsibility to know state and local laws.” 

He focused mainly on the laws in Virginia and North Carolina because Lake Gaston is in both states.

Burke shared the following comparisons:

Mandatory Education

• In North Carolina, vessel operators born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must have successfully completed a Boating Safety Education course to operate a vessel with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater on public waters in North Carolina.

• In Virginia, as of July 1, 2016, all motorboat operators of 10 horsepower or more, regardless of age, and all personal watercraft operators age 14 or older must have completed a boating safety education course to operate a vessel in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Proof of passing the course must be carried on-board. No one under the age of 14 may operate a PWC.

Boating Accident Reporting

• In North Carolina, if a person encounters an accident, they must stop, render aid, and provide their contact information. The vessel operator is required to give his or her name, address, and number of the vessel to anyone injured and to the owner of the property damaged. In addition, the operator is required to report the accident to North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission when there has been: 1) a death or personal injury requiring medical treatment beyond first aid; and 2) damage to property in excess of $2,000. If there has been a loss of life, the report must be filed within 48 hours; otherwise, within 10 days.

• In Virginia, the law is the same, but worded differently, and reports are filed with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. One additional reason a report is required in Virginia is if the accident has resulted in the disappearance of any person. The filing timeframe is different in Virginia, and reports must be filed within: 48 hours if there is a loss of life within 24 hours of the accident; 48 hours if a person involved is injured and cannot perform usual activities or if a person disappears; 10 days if an earlier report is not required but becomes necessary; and 10 days if the boat or property damage exceeds $2,000.

Boat Registration

Both states require boats to be registered, but:

• In North Carolina, if a North Carolina-registered vessel is moved to another state, the N.C. registration is valid for 60 days. In addition, a vessel legally registered in another state may be kept in North Carolina for 90 days before a North Carolina registration is required as long as the other state’s registration remains valid.

• In Virginia, a Virginia Certificate of Number (registration) is required to operate powered vessels (gasoline, diesel, electric) on Virginia public waters. Exceptions are: 

sail-powered vessels (no motor) 18 feet or over; boats used only on private waters;

and boats registered in another state operating on Virginia waters for no more than 90 consecutive days. The registration is good for three years and the registration certificate must be on board and available for inspection. 

Life Jackets (PFDs)

• In North Carolina, a USCG-approved wearable personal flotation device, correctly sized and in serviceable condition, is required to be on board for every person on the boat. Boats 16 feet and longer must additionally carry a USCG-approved throwable device; this does not apply to canoes or kayaks. Persons being towed, those under 13 years old, and those operating a personal watercraft must wear a personal flotation device. Sailboards, racing shells, rowing sculls, racing canoes and racing kayaks are exempted from the requirements for carriage of any type PFD.

Personal flotation devices with water impact ratings are suggested for high-speed watersports such as operating PWC and being towed. “I encourage anyone with a high-speed jet ski to wear one of these,” said Burke.

• In Virginia, the life jacket law is the same—there must be one for everybody on board, and all boats 16 feet and longer must carry a throwable device—but the law specifically states, “This applies to all boats including all paddle craft (canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards).” Also in Virginia, persons under age 13 must wear an approved life jacket unless below decks or in an enclosed cabin when on federal waters.

Burke explained that the traditional “Types” categories—Types I through V—are being discontinued. 

“The new labeling system relies more on icons and less on wording to simplify things,” he said. “The older jackets and flotation aids labeled by type will still meet the regulatory requirements until they are no longer serviceable.” 

The new labeling system will divide personal flotation devices into two categories, wearable and throwable. 

Wearable life jackets will be divided into five buoyancy categories: 50, 70, 100, 150 and 275 Newtons, metric to harmonize with Canadian standards. Boaters are to choose the level of buoyancy for their type of activity. Burke said he was not sure when the new labeling system would go into effect. 

Personal Watercraft Regulations

• In North Carolina and Virginia, persons must be at least 14 years of age to operate a personal watercraft, and all persons being towed and on PWC must wear a personal flotation device. Inflatable PFDs are not allowed. In addition, drivers are allowed to operate a personal watercraft only between sunrise and sunset, and the operator must wear a cut-off switch lanyard. Finally, there must be an observer monitoring the person(s) being towed or have a mirror to observe, and the total number of passengers, operator; towed persons cannot exceed the capacity of the personal watercraft; the PWC must be operated in a reasonable and prudent manner.

In North Carolina, the laws also says, “Do not operate at greater than no wake speed within 100 feet of an anchored or moored vessel, a dock, pier, swim float, marked swimming area, swimmers, surfers, persons engaged in angling, or any manually operated propelled vessel (except within 50 feet in a narrow channel).” 

In Virginia, the law states, “Do not operate at greater than no wake speed within 50 feet of any vessel other than another PWC.”

Water Ski and Wakeboard Regulations

• In North Carolina, it is illegal to tow someone while intoxicated; towing is permitted only between one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset; and towers must have an observer or a rearview mirror. Towed persons must wear personal flotation devices.

• In Virginia, all boats towing a water skier or other towed devices must have one of the following: the person being towed must wear a USCG approved life jacket or have an observer on board to observe the skier. Towing is permitted only between a half-hour before sunrise and a half-hour after sunset using a boat, or only sunrise to sunset using a PWC.

No Wake 

No wake is defined as the slowest possible speed required to maintain steerage and headway. 

• In North Carolina, a no wake requirement of 100 feet applies to PWCs, but there isn’t a no wake requirement for boats.

• In Virginia, boats and PWCs must be at no wake speed within 50 feet or less of docks, boathouses, boat ramps, and people in the water (not including the towed sports participant).

Prohibited Operations

In both North Carolina and Virginia, there will be no reckless or negligent operations; operators must be capable of operating safely and at a reasonable speed for existing circumstances; and no operations while under the influence of alcohol—blood alcohol content of .08 percent or more—and/or any controlled substance or drug. 

Vessel Safety Checks and Stickers

Burke said the Coast Guard Auxiliary is available to conduct vessel safety checks at no charge “to ensure your vessel meets or exceeds federal and state standards” and would be happy to make house calls. To make an appointment, call 252-535-3335. 

“If your boat passes, you’ll get a special sticker to put on your vessel,” said Burke. “It may get you out of an inspection if a wildlife officer sees it on your vessel because they’ll know you take safety seriously.”

The Coast Guard Auxiliary also has bright orange, waterproof stickers for people to attach to the side of their canoe, kayak or rowboat that say “IF FOUND – CONTACT” with a space for a name and two phone numbers. Burke said it would be helpful for people to put them on their boats for two reasons: “If we see a boat floating in the water with one of those stickers on it, we can call the number and make sure no one has gone overboard,” and “It gives us a number to call so we can return the boats to their rightful owners.” 

These free stickers are available by calling the number given above.

Signaling Devices

Burke said, according to the law in both states, boaters are required to carry a signaling device on any boat, with or without a motor. He suggested that boaters wear a whistle on their PFDs so it would be easily accessible in an emergency.

Negligent Operations

Bow riding, sitting on the edge of a moving boat—front or back—is illegal. A fall can put someone in the path of the propeller, causing serious injury or death.

“I see this often on Lake Gaston,” Burke said. “It is a bad idea.”