Boaters and wake surfers on Arizona lakes would face tougher restrictions this coming fall under proposed Game and Fish Department safety rules. The department proposed the rule changes last month, following a five-year study. The proposals, which require approval by the governor's office, include:
• Requiring life vests for wake surfers.
• A ban on towing people who are hanging on the boat's rear swim platform.
• Requiring people who rent their boats to others to register the boat as a rental and designate it as a livery service. (The fee is the same as for a private boat registration.)
• Allowing third-party companies to handle boat-registration renewals.
Cris McSparen, general manager of Scorpion Bay Marina on Lake Pleasant, says he and most boaters he has spoken with don't have any problems with the proposed rules. The 11-square-mile lake just northwest of Phoenix, which is one of several large, manmade lakes in the state, was known as one of the five deadliest lakes in the nation until stiffer law enforcement and education among the boaters themselves turned the trend around. Three people drowned at the lake last year, McSparen says — tragic, certainly, but "some years we've had 16 or 17."
"People aren't taking chances like they used to," says McSparen. "Boaters are more responsible these days."
For the most part, the new rules shore up existing provisions. But some boaters may find them inconvenient.
Wake-surfing aficionados in particular may feel some of the freedom of their sport eroding. Existing rules (which have the force of law) demand a life vest on anyone being towed behind a boat — but wake surfers get a tow only to start. Once up on the wake, experienced surfers will drop the rope and propel themselves forward by maneuvering on the wake wave. At that point, they're "technically" not violating the law, says Nathan Gonzalez, Game and Fish spokesman.
"So this kind of closes that loophole to make sure everybody is being safe while being towed," Gonzalez says.
The proposed ban on being towed from a boat's swimming platform is also aimed at keeping people safe. Boating officers already try to stop people from doing that, Gonzalez says, but they can't cite offenders.
McSparen says he welcomes the proposed rule even though he sees few boaters doing it now. It's a potentially dangerous activity, he says, with documented cases of people who were towed behind the swim platform receiving propeller injuries, or drowning because of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
The Game and Fish Commission is scheduled to hear a presentation on the rule changes at its January 13 meeting. A public hearing will likely take place on the rules in February or March. If the commission and the governor's office approve the rule changes, they'll take effect in August, Gonzalez says.