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Bill would remove minimum boating age

Boating is a popular pastime in the Garden State and a proposed bill from Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Clinton) would allow children to participate in the hobby by removing the minimum age at which a person can obtain a boating license.

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“I don’t see anything wrong with a kid who is 6, 7 or 8 years old being able to steer the boat while they are going out with their parents,” Peterson said.

Under the existing law, no one younger than 13 years old may operate any type of power boat in New Jersey. Even boaters between the ages of 13 and 16 may only operate lower-powered or electric boats if they complete a boat safety course.

Peterson’s bill (A3396) would allow unlicensed minors to operate a boat in New Jersey’s tidal waters when under the direct supervision of a licensed parent or guardian.

While the operation of boats by preteens and younger children might seem strange to some, Peterson said the state’s waterways are actually a good place to learn.

“It’s such a wide area in the (Barnegat Bay) and there are not as many boats out there and it’s not packed like (Interstates) 287 or 78 during rush hour,” Peterson said.

Peterson recounted his own boating experience as a child, growing up at the Jersey Shore.

“I was operating my father’s boat, he had a 31-foot cabin cruiser, when I was 6 or 7 years old,” he said. “When we were going down the Barnegat Bay he would sit next to me and I would operate the boat.”

The assemblyman said some of a child’s fondest memories often involve spending time with family, especially if it means being behind the wheel.

“I think that every kid remembers experiences, doing something with their parents, especially being able to drive a boat, or when they’re old enough, drive a lawnmower or tractor,” he said. “Those are big events in kids’ lives.”

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