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Charlotte Area News

Boat Rental Companies Worry About Potential New Regulations

Doug Herr

Doug Herr of Carolina Boat Rentals in Cornelius says any licensing of boaters should happen at the national level and should apply to both renters and boat owners. (David Boraks/DavidsonNews.net) By CHRISTINA RITCHIE ROGERS DavidsonNews.net MOORESVILLE - Owners of boat rental companies on Lake Norman told the Lake Norman Marine Commission Monday night they're worried that increased regulation could deter rentals and severely hurt their businesses. The owners addressed the commission as it continued discussions about possible new rules for boat renters aimed at improving safety. Also Monday, the commission said farewell to outgoing chairman Paul Carter and elected Ron Shoultz to replace him. The marine commission began studying certification or licensing requirements for Lake Norman boat renters in July, after a June 25 accident in Mooresville in which a rental boat driver backed over and seriously injured a 25-year-old Charlotte woman. A state law that took effect in May 2010 requires anyone under age 26 to complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) safety course before operating boats or personal watercraft with motors of 10 horsepower and above. Boating courses are offered by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadron, and others, and typically take 6 1/2 to 7 hours to complete, said Commissioner John Marino, who represents Catawba County. But there's a loophole in the state law, Mr. Marino said: Boat renters don't have to take the safety course. Individual boat rental companies are responsible for any safety instruction, and the level and quality can vary. There's no guarantee the commission will ultimately adopt rental-boat regulations. And it's still not clear whether the commission has the authority. But rental company owners are concerned about the prospect of any new rules. "It's not rental companies, it's lakewide safety we need to address," Doug Herr said. He owns Carolina Boat Rentals of Cornelius, and said he educates every renter before he or she takes a boat onto the lake. Added Don James, owner of CS Performance Rentals in Mooresville: "I agree with the safety concerns, but you can't judge the whole deal based on one incident." The two men were among five owners of rental companies who asked to address commissioners Monday, after reading news reports about possible new rules. They outlined the ways they take care to protect boaters - from safety videos to documents to hand-on instruction. But not all companies are as careful, they said, nor are some private boat owners. Several expressed concern that requiring a 7-hour boater safety course would deter vacationers from renting boats. "Nobody's going to rent a house on Lake Norman if they have to sit and look at the water," Dustin Keith said. He owns Aquaventure Watercraft Rentals in Sherrills Ford, and sent 3,500 boats out with renters this season without incident, he said. He said he shows his renters an 8-minute safety video, has them read and sign a 6-page document, and then does a 20- to 25-minute walk-through at the boats, he said. He even offers a discount to renters who hold N.C. boater safety cards. Often, families call him a few days in advance of their vacations to reserve a boat, he said. If he had to tell them to take a 7-hour course before the weekend, he'd be out of business, he said. Still, some commissioners are concerned. Mr. Marino, who asked the commission to begin studying new rules in July, said, "To give someone a 20 minute video or a 6-page document to me doesn't seem to be adequate. On a summer weekend, it's like the Wild West out there." On Tuesday, Mr. Herr told CorneliusNews.net he and the other owners agree that lake safety is an important concern. He said he worked previously in Coast Guard law enforcement in Florida, and thinks licensing for all boat owners is a good idea. But it should be at the federal level, he said. "I'm for licensing everyone 99 years old and younger," he said. A boat license should be much like a driver's license, he said. But he opposes any effort to create stricter rules for renters than for people who buy a boat. After the discussion Monday, marine commissioners thanked the rental company owners for their contributions to the discussion, and assured them that the commission won't take any action without studying the idea further and hearing more public comments. "The position of the Marine Commission is one of discovery at this time," Commissioner Paul Carter said. "This is an issue of best practice and whether it makes sense," he said.