Martha Geiszler, a motorized boat operator for 20 years and an owner of a cabin in Pinecrest, has seen dangers increase in recent years on the reservoir from inexperienced boating, speeding and massive wakes generated by large vessels.
“They’re the ones you always have to be wary of and watch,” she said.
Last August, Geiszler, 61, hauled two kayakers to shore from her boat after their craft was overturned by a large wake. She was at her cabin on Saturday when a 24-year-old boater launched a motorboat up onto a dock at Pinecrest Reservoir after he accidentally accelerated instead of stopping.
The 24-year-old didn’t know he was required by state law to have a California Boater Card to operate the boat since he was under the age of 25.
“I think it’s necessary for people to get the license. I think it will inform them of what is and isn't allowed on the lake. They need to know boating rules for the safety of the kayaks and windsurfers and sailors that are on the lake,” Geiszler said.
On Jan. 1, 2020, the age limit for all boaters to be licensed will increase to 35 years old. The phased process will increase annually until 2025 when all people operating a motorized vessel are required to have the card.
Geiszler does not have her license, but she said she plans to get it soon, and before the deadline.
“It's a minor inconvenience for anybody, but if it helps increase safety, why not?” Geiszler said.
According to Adeline Yee, a public information officer with California State Parks, said 45 cards have been issued to Tuolumne County residents and 86 to Calaveras County residents as of Monday. She said the totals were determined based on the applications where the counties were auto populated with the US Postal Service.
As of Monday, 29,519 California Boater cards were issued statewide, Yee said.
Yee said the boating card requirement was the result of Senate Bill 941, which was passed to reform boating education and improve waterway safety. The law prohibits the operation of motorized vessels without the card.
And though many boaters acknowledge the dangers of boating and the need for proper education, they say the law has inconvenienced experienced operators and allowed exemptions from people who need licensing the most.
Pinecrest resident Danita Romero, 58, was on Pinecrest Lake on Sunday and watched boaters speed across the water and create heavy chop among the oar boats, sailboats and fishermen. Many of the motorboats were rentals, which a loophole in the law allows unlicensed boaters above the age of 16 to operate.
“I think in order to have a boat you should have a license, but I think someone having to take a boat class for someone been boating for a lot of years, is a tough one,” Romero said.
Her son, Nick White, 32, of Alameda, added, “I see the value in the card for the first time boater trying to figure it out. Those are usually the people trying to put the others in danger.”
Other exemptions include being from another state or foreign country and operating the boat for no longer than 60 days or 90 days, respectively, operating a vessel while under the direct supervision of a licensee above the age of 18, participating in a regatta or vessel race, possession of a commercial fishing license or marine operator license, and completing a boating course approved by law enforcement training standards.
Romero and White both do not have their boating cards, yet plan to get them to stay in compliance. Romero expressed some doubt about the cards as a deterrent to dangerous activity.
“I don't think having a license is going to make a difference for safety. It's just like a drivers license, it doesn't stop people from speeding on the road,” she said.
Garrett Collum, manager of New Melones Lake Marina in Angels Camp, said it was common for some of the veteran and experienced boaters to express “slight irritation” with the new requirements.
“They've been doing it all their lives and now they have to get a license. It makes it even harder when people are still finding out about it,” Collum said.
Collum, 28, took an online test and earned his card in 2018 because it assisted with his employment, he said. Though the education was pertinent, he said the test lacked detail for safety on inland lakes, such as boating etiquette, no wake zones and boat launch ramps.
“We have issues out here all day with people coming too fast into the no wake zone near the marina,” he said. “When there's a big wave they could damage other boats.”
The approved courses can be online, in a classroom or by home study, Yee said.
Collum said 15 people work on the dock at the marina and most were licensed. The remaining employees were preparing to be certified, he said.
The marina does not check for the cards because of the loophole regarding rentals, he said. But the marina’s biggest challenge has been getting the information out to boaters who may be out of compliance and could be cited by law enforcement patrolling the waters.
Law enforcement sometimes confronts boaters under the age of 25 that have no knowledge of the cards, Benson said, and is seeking to post information at the entrances to reservoirs.
Yee said the state plans to send out a DMV mailing this fall with additional information.
One citation was issued on Saturday on Lake Tulloch after a jet-ski accident where a passenger was injured, Benson said. The driver was 18 and was monitored by boating enforcement officials. Benson said the 24-year-old from the Pinecrest accident was not issued a citation, but a recommendation would be issued to the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office to issue him a fine. Alcohol was not a factor in the incident, she said.
There were hundreds of boats out on area lakes over the holiday weekend and over 200 enforcement stops.
She said many citations were issued for not having or wearing proper life jackets, creating wakes in no wake zones, and riding on the bow, transom or gunwale. No boating under the influence arrests were made and six accidents with injuries occurred during the past week.
Lt. Anthony Eberhardt with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office said he could not immediately reach the department’s Marine Safety Unit.
According to the Division of Boats and Waterways, a card fee is $10 and does not have to be renewed unless it is lost.