After two years of testimony and study, Congress has passed a sensible powerboat bill. The Federal Boating Act of 1958 is not going to turn the country's waterways into well-policed thoroughfares, with every boater staying in lane and carefully signaling his turn. But at least it marks the beginning of some kind of control over the traffic problems created by the 10-year boating boom. Fishermen, swimmers, water skiers and water-borne hot rodders, all operating in the same body of water, have been finding for some time now that their interests conflict, often dangerously. The Bonner Bill (its sponsor is Representative Herbert C. Bonner of North Carolina) is the first effective step toward straightening out the mess.
Hereafter, if you own a boat whose motor packs more than 10 horsepower, it is going to have large, legible numbers painted on both sides of its bow. And if you cut too close to a swimmer, or swamp some placid fisherman's rowboat with your wake, he can take down your boat's number and you may be fined up to $100.
This can happen, that is, if you are operating your boat in the navigable waters of the U.S. The country's navigable waters have never been precisely defined, but in general they include salt water, rivers which flow to the sea, the Great Lakes and bodies of water bounded by two or more states. Walden Pond is not navigable water, and neither are hundreds of other lakes in which thousands of motorboats operate. Control over this non-navigable water, however, may eventually be set up by the states. In many cases it exists already.
Representative Bonner and a good many other people interested in boating hope that the new federal boating law will be taken as a pattern by states that have none, and some degree of uniformity thus achieved.
The Bonner Bill gives the authority for handing out tickets and collecting fines to the U.S. Coast Guard. The Secretary of the Treasury (under whose department the Coast Guard operates) will allot to the states a series of numbers which they may issue to boat owners. Each craft will receive a pocket-size certificate of number which the law enforcement officer will want to see when he blows the whistle on a speeding motorboat. The certificates, like drivers' licenses, will be acceptable for a limited period in states other than the one that issued them.
Operators of boats of 10 horsepower or less won't be required to register their craft and have them numbered. This means that about half the motorboats in the country will remain anonymous. Even so, the Bonner Bill affects the most powerful half of the country's pleasure boats and is the badly needed first step toward overall boating safety.