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South Carolina Boater Safety Bill Headed To Governor’s Desk

11th hour vote secures passage …

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After budget battles brought South Carolina lawmakers back to Columbia, S.C. to hammer out the final details of next year’s spending plan, members of the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the final version of a boater safety bill 97-7, sending it to governor Henry McMaster‘s desk.

The bill, S. 96, will require boaters born after July 1, 2007 to take a S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) safety course prior to operating a watercraft with more than then horsepower. The legislation had broad support within both chambers of the General Assembly, but it faced roadblocks when several House members attempted a late-stage filibuster.

State representative Phillip Lowe of Florence ardently opposed the bill, taking to the well to expound on the enjoyability of drinking while boating (yes he really did that). Lowe also downplayed the bill’s fiercest advocate, a young woman named Morgan Kiser, who appeared in our studios last February to tell the harrowing tale of her father’s death and mother’s disfiguration at the hands of an allegedly drunk boater.

“When cute young ladies come to the legislature with a tragic story about a loved one who died in a boat accident, the lawmakers fall right in place.” Lowe wrote on a duck hunting forum.

S.C. lawmakers last “fell in place” in 1997 after the death of 11-year-old Drew Smith at the hands of a drunk boater. At the time of Smith’s death, the state lacked a statute to prosecute boating under the influence (BUI) – so his family tirelessly advocated to make BUI prosecutable.

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Drew’s father Randall Smith led that charge, and has since advocated for the newly passed boater education bill. The BUI bill (like the boater safety education bill) brought South Carolina’s lagging code of laws up to par with what most of the nation had implemented long before – something most would consider a success.

If Lowe hadn’t recently given a speech extolling the enjoyability boating under the influence, one might question his opposition to lawmakers addressing deficiencies in the state’s statutes. But Lowe didn’t stand alone. S.C. House minority leader (and attorney representing the man who allegedly crashed into the Kaiser family) Todd Rutherford also opposed the bill.

While many state house insiders thought this bill was doomed until the legislature’s return in January 2024, advocates kept pushing – eventually succeeding in getting a house vote on the final compromise version of the bill.

Once governor McMaster signs the measure into law, boaters born after the deadline must either attend a free in-person class or a $40 online class – while renters will be given a less intensive safety course. Minors who haven’t attended a class may still operate a boat under the supervision of a qualified adult. Out of state, and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) licenses will be recognized.

I spoke with an “elated” Kiser about the passage of the bill, which she said would bring her family “healing” knowing that “other families might not have to suffer the same way my family suffers and other victims suffer.”

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Morgan Kiser with U.S. senator Tim Scott. (Provided)

“My family feels so honored to be a part of this truly incredible process that has unfolded over the years to have this life saving bill get to governor’s desk,” she said. “It has been a long journey with many amazing people that have teamed up to make this incredible legislation finally happen. Without everyone’s involvement this would have never happened. I have gained so much respect for so many wonderful people through this experience and my family feels so honored that we can move forward knowing that my dads death and my mom’s loss of her leg will be a part of saving other families from suffering in the future.”

“We were able to get legislators to take note of the growing desire of the citizens of South Carolina to want safer waterways,” Kiser added.

Gettys Brannon – executive director of the S.C. Boating and Fishing Alliance (SCBFA) – also praised the passage of the legislation.

“Boater safety is not just a responsibility, but a vital investment in the longevity and prosperity of the boating industry,” Brannon said. “By prioritizing safety, we safeguard not only the lives and well-being of boaters, but also the reputation and future of our beloved pastime. When we navigate the waters with knowledge, respect, and preparedness, we ensure a thriving boating community for generations to come.”

Boating is one of the great joys of living in a state with multiple magnificent lakes and 187 miles of beautiful Atlantic Ocean coastline, but operating a boat without an understanding of how to control the vessel or while intoxicated has the potential to cause irreversible harm. Let us not forget this as we enjoy ourselves this summer.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dylan Nolan is a digital media producer and reporter for FITSNews, and loves spending time on the water after work.

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3 comments

Gettys Brannon Top fan June 9, 2023 at 7:49 am

Thank you FITSNews for covering this important legislation!

Reply
Flipper June 9, 2023 at 8:41 pm

More laws = less justice.

Reply
medmondsm June 10, 2023 at 8:38 am

Yeah – we need to rid ourselves of the pesky DUI laws too. @Flipper – do you even know what you are talking about?

Reply

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