CHARLESTON, S.C (WCBD) – A push for more boater education and safety on South Carolina waterways. The state Department of Natural Resources says the state has more than 500,000 registered boats on it’s waterways. State law enforcement and elected officials agree more safety measures are needed.

State House Bill 497 would require everyone under the age of 16 or born after July 1st, 2006 to take a boater education and safety course to receive a safety certificate before being able to hit the water in a boat. One of the bill’s sponsors, State Senator Chip Campsen – R-Charleston, says this is a necessary step as waterways get more crowded.

“You can’t go anywhere without seeing a boat in someone’s yard and there is a need for better boater education in this state,” says Major Billy Downer with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Boat sales have gone through the roof during COVID-19 over the last year putting the state in the top ten states with the most registered boats. Law enforcement and elected officials say they are working to keep everyone safe.

“I see how uninformed and uneducated many of the new boat operators are and that is why and it’s because of the massive in migration into coastal South Carolina,” says Senator Campsen.

If approved by the House of Representatives, anyone younger than 16 and born after July 1st, 2006, would be required to get the safety certification before driving some watercraft in the state.

“It applies to outboard boats, inboard boats, jet skis, anything that is motorized and is more than 10 horsepower,” says Senator Campsen.

“So, it’s going to be a slow and gradual change,” says Major Downer. “It will affect young people first but eventually in 10, 20, 30 and 40 years it will impact our boating public.”

SCDNR says boating tragedies in the state saw a significant increase in the last year along with the increase in sales. Senator Campsen says unlike driving a car, boating on open waters isn’t as straight forward.

“You don’t have road signs, you don’t have rumble strips, you don’t have lane markings, you don’t have stop lights,” says Senator Campsen.

A growing number of boaters are taking to South Carolina’s many waterways and an increase in tragedies is coming with it. Major Downer says the goal for state leaders is to promote safer boating.

“What boater education does, we’ve seen across the nation that boater education does reduce accidents over time,” says Major Downer.

House Bill 497 passed the state senate unanimously in February and is currently sitting in the South Carolina House of Representatives.