Vessel operator definition bill awaits governor’s decision

Gov. Gavin Newsom receives AB 1183, will decide whether to sign or veto boating safety legislation.

SACRAMENTO—California Gov. Gavin Newsom has been signing his first round of bills this year. One bill sitting on his desk is Assembly Bill 1183 (AB 1183), which was presented to him on July 8 after earning majority votes in its favor from the Assembly and State Senate.

AB 1183, which was introduced in February by Assembly members James Ramos and Jay Obernolte, would update state law to clarify the definition of a vessel operator. The Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC) has endorsed AB 1183 and published an open letter on its website urging Newsom to sign the proposal.

“RBOC is urging Governor Gavin Newsom to sign into law AB 1183, legislation that would enhance safety on the state’s waterways by clarifying that an adult is responsible for supervising the children he or she allows to operate the vessel,” the open letter, published online on July 8, stated.

The bill proposes to define vessel operator as someone who is steering the vessel as it is underway, responsible for the vessel’s operation while it is underway, or is at least 18 years of age and, according to the RBOC letter, “is attentive and supervising the operation of a vessel by a person 12, 13, 14 or 15 years of age.”

“By changing the definition of operator to include additional persons who may, as operators, be subject to criminal liability, the bill would expand the definition of a crime, and thus would impose a state-mandated local program,” text of the bill stated.

A State Senate analysis of AB 1183 stated the bill aims to close a loophole in California law and was spawned from the death of a 12-year-old.

“A 14-year-old [boat] operator ran over and killed a 12-year-old and the supervising adult on the vessel was found to be under the influence,” the State Senate’s legislative analysis stated. “Given the deficiency in statute, the district attorney declined to file charges on the ‘supervising’ adult because the definition of ‘operator’ is too narrow.

“While the supervising adult is responsible for the safe operation of the vessel, he could not be charged because he was not technically steering the vessel, which is required in the Code’s definition of ‘operator,’” the State Senate’s legislative analysis continued.

Requiring an adult to be responsible for the operation of a vessel does have precedent, according to the most recent legislative analysis of AB 1183. Adults are responsible for the operation of an automobile, for example, even if the adult is not driving and a teenager is instead operating the vehicle.

“The captain of a naval vessel is responsible for the operation of that vessel, even though he is not steering the vessel,” the State Senate’s legislative analysis of AB 1183 continued. “Federal law defines ‘operator’ as ‘the person who is in control or in charge of a vessel while it is in operation.’ Under this bill, an adult will truly be responsible for supervising the children he or she allows to operate the vessel.”

The California State Sheriff’s Association sponsors the bill. No opposition to the bill was recorded.

Assembly members approved the bill by a 77-0 vote on May 6; the bill also cleared the State Senate by a 39-0 vote on July 1.

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One thought on “Vessel operator definition bill awaits governor’s decision

  • July 25, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    The old concept that the “Captain” is in charge and is responsible for the vessel is a good one.



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