Boating RegulationsNews

Lake Wylie Marine Commission to Issue New Boating Regulations

Lake Wylie Marine Commission (LWMC) presented new charter boat and vessel rental regulations at the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioner’s Feb. 27 budget policy meeting in accordance with LWMC’s mission statement: “To promote public policies and support regulations for the preservation of Lake Wylie and its wildlife and for the education and safety of the citizens who use this beautiful natural resource.”

According to LWMC Executive Director Neil Brennan, several law enforcement officers who patrol Lake Wylie have expressed the need to enact regulations surrounding charter boat and vessel rentals due to unsafe vessels and unqualified captains.

There are more than 5,000 boating accidents yearly in the U.S., largely on account of the lack of boating safety education, which is believed to account for about 77% of fatal accidents.

“[After the pandemic] a lot of people went out and escaped to the water, bought a boat and, unfortunately, not all of them are squared away on how to operate those vessels,” Brennan said.

The purpose of the new regulations is to ensure those who rent and charter vessels do so safely and to establish a common set of standards for each type of vessel rented. This is the second time LWMC has seen fit to implement regulation, following last year’s idle speed standardization across Lake Wylie’s waters covering both states.

The state of Florida requires captains to have documented boating instructions, insurance and have had a safety check done on the rented vessel before they are able to board.

Although North Carolina has a regulation in place that requires both the renter and rentee of a jet ski must have liability insurance, the same does not apply for boating vessels statewide.

Certain lakes in North Carolina have already implemented the proposed regulations, including Lake Norman, where the Lake Norman Marine Commission enacted charter boat regulations years ago and recently established new rental boat regulations.

The Lake Wylie Marine Commission is issuing regulations for three categories of vessels: 

  • Charter boats– Pontoon boats, cabin cruisers and motorized sailboats
  • Rental boats- Pontoon boats, jet skis and inboard and outboard motor boats
  • Non-motorized vessels– Kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and non-motorized sailboats

The proprietors of these vessels are, at times, established companies or marinas covered under insurance and typically mandate a safety check. The majority, however, are individuals renting their vessels online at lake access ramps or including them with VRBO and AirBnB short-term rentals, all of which are difficult for law enforcement to regulate due to the lack of legislation.

The legislation LWMC is proposing to enact will issue annual permits to businesses renting out vessels. Once a business is permitted to rent, it will receive a LWMC sticker to put on motorized vessels for law enforcement to easily identify rented vessels and recognize potentially amateur boaters.

Because Lake Wylie is an interstate body of water patrolled by the Coast Guard, the regulation will also restate US Coast Guard regulations for charter boat captains of both master charter boats (more than 6 people) and six packs (6 people or under) to ensure those renting their boats for charter are licensed. 

Lastly, the regulations will require liability insurance, pre-ride safety checklist, a safety inspection documented within the safety checklist, training for renters on each vessel and an annual records review by LWMC.

Current North Carolina law states renters born before 1988 do not have to attend a boater education class and the only requirement to captain a vessel is the rental agreement with the renter and rentee signature.

Catawba River and Lake Wylie with dam on sunny afternoon
Catawba River and Lake Wylie at the Lake Wylie Dam access point (Photo by Mark Castiglia)

Prior to presenting these regulations to the Board of Commissioners, LWMC introduced the draft to the US Coast Guard, Gaston County Police Department, York County Sheriff’s Office, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and commercial marina owners, all of which have jurisdiction to enforce these regulations.

LWMC also worked with Duke Energy, the owner of Lake Wylie, to ensure the regulations do not interfere with its shoreline management guidelines.

All law enforcement offices briefed on the draft unofficially announced their support for the regulations, according to Brennan. 

Should any law enforcement officer stop an individual renting vessels without proof of insurance, the officer has the authority to cease the individual’s operation on Lake Wylie. 

If businesses continue to disobey regulations, fines may also be distributed in accordance with state law, which classifies violations as a class 3 misdemeanor

“We’re not trying to put anybody out of business, we just want them to do it safely and that’s not happening now,” Brennan said.

LWMC is awaiting feedback from all affected counties before enacting these regulations and will hold a public hearing to allow citizens to share their concerns on the issue at a to-be-determined date. 

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