Many people are not aware that Louisiana has a set of boating regulations that became effective July 1, 2008, that affect hand tiller outboard motorboats and towed water sports participants.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Division researched boating incident statistics to determine factors that would reduce boating accidents and boating fatalities. Based on recommendations prompted by that research, new recreational boating regulations were implemented by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission. Anyone boating recreationally in Louisiana waters should be aware of the following:
Everyone onboard a Class A motorboat (less than 16 feet long) which is being propelled by a hand tiller outboard motor must wear a USCG approved Type I, II, III or V personal flotation device (PFD) while the motorboat is underway. A handtiller outboard is described as an outboard motor that has a tiller or steering arm and does not have any mechanical assist devices for steering the boat, such as mechanical, hydraulic or electronic control systems. Electric trolling motors are not considered “hand tiller outboard motors.”
Additionally, a Class A or Class One (16 to 26 feet) motorboat with a hand tiller outboard motor in excess of 10 horsepower that is designed with an engine cut-off switch must have a fully functional engine cut-off switch and the engine cut-off switch link attached to the operator, the operator's clothing or the operator's personal flotation device.
These regulations don’t apply to licensed commercial fishermen engaged in commercial fishing activities or to sailboats.
The new laws also stated that people engaged in watersports, such as waterskiing, towing a tube, wake boarding or wake surfing must wear a Type I, II, III or V PFD. Inflatable PFDs don’t meet this requirement. Vessel operators cannot tow a watersports participant who is not wearing a PFD. Exceptions to these requirements are allowed during Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and/or United States Coast Guard permitted marine events such as barefoot water-skiing with a barefoot wetsuit, or a skier engaged in trick water-skiing whose movements would be restricted or impeded by the bulk of a PFD.
Previous laws that are sometimes ignored involve water skiing and riding in unsafe locations in a boat. The skiing law states: “No motorboat which shall have in tow or shall be otherwise assisting a person on water-skis, surfboard, or similar contrivance shall be operated or propelled in or upon any waterway unless such motorboat shall be occupied by at least two competent persons; however motorboats used by representatives of duly constituted water-ski schools in the giving of instruction or to motorboats used in duly authorized water-ski tournaments, competitions, expositions, or trials therefore if applicable permit has been obtained from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries or the United States Coast Guard. This does not apply to a motorboat being operated by a person 16 years old or older, which is equipped with a wide-angle convex marine rearview mirror of a minimum size of seven inches by fourteen inches in a position to observe the skiers being towed.”
Some unsafe (but common) boating practices are also prohibited: “No person operating a motor boat of 26 or less feet in length shall allow any person to ride or sit on either the starboard or port gunwales thereof or on the decking over the bow of the vessel while underway unless such motorboat is provided with adequate guards or railing to prevent passengers from being lost overboard.” Riding in these locations in a fast-moving boat is a recipe for disaster: If the boat strikes a log or other object, the riders will be violently thrown into the water, often in line with the hull and spinning propeller.
Smart water sport participants will also adhere to the following safety guides:
1. Float Well: Ensure anyone being towed has a properly fitting life jacket that won't ride up over a wearer's head if they take a spill. A Type III vest is best because it has the extra buckles to provide a snug fit and is built for taking a hard fall.
2. Go Over the Hand Signals: Before anyone jumps in the water, go over a few standard hand signals, such as stop (hand slashing the neck), slow (thumb down), speed up (thumb up), OK (tip of index finger and thumb together), turn (point finger upwards in a circular motion) and return to dock (pat head).
3. Engine Off: Always turn off the boat's engine when a rider is entering or exiting the water. Not only can a prop rotate while the motor is in "neutral," the engine exhaust produces carbon monoxide. Also never back up to retrieve a fallen rider.
4. Wait for the OK: Once a skier is in the water, wait until they are far enough away from the boat and signal that it's OK to start the engine.
5. Have a Spotter: It's very important to have constant visual contact with anyone being towed. This is the law in most states.
6. Signal Your Skier before Turning: The hand signal for turning is a pointing finger upwards in a circular motion, then pointing to the direction of turn.
7. Skiing makes for Wide Turns: Keep in mind that with kids on the end of long towline, your boat's safety "footprint" is now much larger. That means being extra cautious when near other boaters, docks, navigational aids and crossing wakes.
8. Look Both Ways after a "Drop": As soon as someone falls off the tube or a skier or boarder drops, the boat operator should quickly look to both sides before turning around for a pick-up.
9. OK Signal: After a drop or knock down, the skier should clasp their hands overhead to signal the towboat that they are OK and ready for retrieval.
10. Tips Up: A skier who has fallen in the water can seen by others much more easily if they keep the ski tips above the water.