2008-05-10 / News

Chief: No plans for watercraft user, access fees

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - ODNR's Division of Watercraft has no plans to seek user or launch fees.

Chief Pamela Dillon delivered that message several times during Watercraft's Public Forum April 29 at Millersport Elementary School. Buckeye Lake was the first stop on a ten forum tour around the state. The forums are seeking public input for the revision of the state's Strategic Plan for Ohio Boating. Dillon said the first public forum for the current plan was held in 1998.

The revised plan will guide the division for the next fiveto 10 years, Dillon explained. The current plan, finished in 2004, listed 11 major strategies with more than 24 specific objectives. That plan can be downloaded at www. ohiodnr.com/watercraft/dlibrary/ tabid/2074/default.aspx.

The ten public forums, coupled with an on-line comment process, are designed to compile a comprehensive list of concerns and recommendations. Watercraft staff outnumbered boaters at the meeting. Each participant received an electronic control so responses to some 50 questions could be immediately recorded. Between 18 to 20 votes were tallied at Millersport.

The Millersport turnout was 84 percent male with 80 percent age 50 or above. Nearly all - 95 percent - have been boating more than 10 years and 53 percent consider themselves expert boaters. One third own more than one boat with 37 percent owning an open motorboat and 37 percent owning a pontoon boat. None owned a personal watercraft. Most of the boats - 83 percent - are 16 to 26 feet in length and 68 percent have an outboard motor.

Several questions addressed boating safety courses. Nearly 60 percent have completed a boating safety course. None of these courses was taken via the Internet.

Participants were polled on levels of agree/disagree on a number of boating issues. A slim majority either disagreed or strongly disagreed that strong swimmers don't need to wear life jackets on boats. Ninety fivepercent agreed that life jackets should always be worn in rough conditions or bad weather while aboard boats less than 21 feet. But just 16 percent agreed that all boaters be required to wear a life jacket while boating. Another 21 percent didn't agree or disagree. Seventy eight percent don't always wear a life jacket when boating.

An overwhelming number - 94 percent - agree that alcoholic beverages should not be consumed while operating a boat. But just 42 percent thought that prohibition should extend to passengers on a boat. Seventy two percent consider boating under the influence a serious problem with 47 percent agreeing that penalties for doing so should be more severe. Just 12 percent believe there are too many boating rules and regulations which makes boating less fun.

Only 26 percent disagree that an operator's license be required for anyone to operate a boat and 42 percent agree.

Everyone agreed that boaters under a certain age be required to take a boating safety course. Sixty one percent would extend that requirement to any boater.

Nearly 75 percent believe that the amount of reckless boating is increasing. Sixty three percent disagree, while just 5 percent agree, that they practice safer boating habits with their family than when with friends. Just 11 percent said they would wear a life jacket if they were more comfortable, while 46 percent disagreed. A narrow majority didn't have an opinion. Only 11 percent agreed that they would wear a life jacket if others on board were wearing life jackets. Sixteen percent had worn a new style life jacket like a belt pack and liked it, while 5 percent tried it and didn't like it. Equal numbers - 32 percent each - had or hadn't heard about the new styles.

Lack of knowledge of the rules of the road and reckless operation tied at 32 percent each as the most important safety issue in Ohio. Sixteen percent thought it was crowding of waterways, 11 percent overloading small vessel and fivepercent each for drowning due to not wearing a life jacket or boating under the influence.

Facilities and access topped the list at 32 percent as the most important topic to be addressed by the Division of Watercraft, followed by safety and law enforcement at 26 percent and 16 percent each for education and public relations and other not listed.

Participants were given seven options on how Watercraft should manage busy waterways with multiple user groups. Establishing specific zones for different boating activities and restricting horsepower tied at 26 percent each. Close behind at 21 percent was vigorously enforcing existing operating regulations with 16% favoring increasing law enforcement presence.

Sixty eight percent believe Watercraft should focus boating education efforts on personal watercraft operators with 21 percent believing it should be on youth. Nearly 90 percent believe law enforcement efforts should be focused on personal watercraft operators. Future boating access efforts should be focused on powerboaters - 47 percent, anglers - 21 percent, personal watercraft - 16 percent and sailors, paddlers and youth tied at 5 percent each.

Millersport participants tied at 33 percent each on the most effective action to encourage current boaters to continue boating in Ohio with allow more boaters to use waterways that currently have horsepower limits and more law enforcement presence to ensure safety on the water.

After the electronic polling, participants could speak one on one with Watercraft staff at nearly a dozen specific interest tables.

Dillon wasn't surprised by the low turnout, but expressed disappointment that only 20 boaters turned out out of such a large boating community. She encouraged boaters to complete the survey on-line at www. ohiodnr.com/Watercraft/2ndNav/ NewsandEvents/PublicForums/ tabid/2489/Default.aspx or simply follow the boating link at ODNR's homepage at www. ohiodnr.com.

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