Gov. signs legislation reducing penalties for violating boating laws

SACRAMENTO (LOG NEWS SERVICE) — Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation June 28 reclassifying certain boating law violations from misdemeanors to infractions thereby removing jail time from the punishment which may be imposed on persons convicted of violating those section of the law.

The legislation SB 1162 by Republican Sen. Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte reclassifies the following violations of the Harbors and Navigation Code as infractions and reduces the associated fine to the amount specified:

Mooring a vessel to a buoy or beacon, except a designated mooring
buoy ($100);

Violating a “blue light law” by failing to provide a clear course for a law enforcement vessel ($100);

Owning, operating, commanding, or permitting the use of a vessel at a speed over 5 mph within 100 feet of a swimmer ($100);

Owning, operating, commanding, or permitting the use of a vessel at a speed over 5 mph within 200 feet of an occupied beach, swimming float, diving platform, lifeline, or way or landing float used to fast a boat ($100);

Operating a vessel towing a person on water skis without a person of at least 12 years of age on board, in addition to the operator, to monitor the progress of the persons being towed ($200);

Operating a vessel towing a person on water skis at night ($200);

Violating the United States Coast Guard Navigation Rule 20 relating to navigation lights, which describes timeframe and condition during which vessel operators must comply with regulations on lighting ($100);

Improperly shielding floodlights or headlights that may interfere with proper navigation of approaching vessels ($100); and,

Performing certain reckless or negligent acts including riding on the bow, gunwale, or transom of a moving vessel that lacks deterrents to falling overboard ($250).
Existing law defines these crimes as misdemeanors punishable at the discretion of the court by imprisonment in the county jail, a fine or a combination of both.
While persons accused of misdemeanors have the right to demand a jury trial and in some cases the right to be represented by a public defender those cited for infractions do not.

Berryhill said that many counties struggle with prosecuting misdemeanor boating violations and as a result, the violations go unpunished. Rather than an offender escaping sanctions due to an overburdened court system, this flexibility will help ensure the collection of penalty fines in counties that may struggle in prosecuting misdemeanor boating violations.

“California’s outdoor atmosphere is legendary,” Berryhill said in a release. “We have lakes, rivers, oceans and marinas — all of which people use for a variety of recreational activities. We want to make sure it is safe, and we want to make sure boaters are punished when they operate unsafely. SB 1162 allows for punishments that fit the crime.”

The California State Sheriff’s Association in arguments submitted to the legislature in support of the changes said it believed that these crimes “do not rise to the level of misdemeanor criminality and enforcing them as such saps existing resources of law enforcement, prosecutors and courts.”

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