In Alabama they called it "get the idiots off the water."

Since Alabama, in 1993, became the first state in the country to make safety education a mandatory requirement for driving a boat, 33 other states have followed.

California remains a holdout.

This summer the state Department of Boating and Waterways will consider a mandatory boater education program when it holds public hearings in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

The department's top officials, while acknowledging that boater education can save lives, have not taken a position on whether California should make it mandatory.

"Boating education in any form leads to safer boating," said the department's spokeswoman, June Iljana.

California has resisted mandatory training for years. Gov. Gray Davis rejected a bill in 1999 that would have required boat drivers to possess safety certificates. Davis wrote in his veto message that he saw no evidence that mandatory training would make anyone safer, and he didn't want to saddle the state with more bureaucracy.

Davis was wrong, said Bill Gossard, the National Transportation Safety Board's recreational boating safety program coordinator, who will testify at the forums.

"We need a good, sound, mandatory education program in California," Gossard said.

Contra Costa County Sheriff's Sgt. Will Duke, who patrols the county's waterways, agreed.

"There needs to be licensing. If you aren't aware of the rules of the road, that is going to cause problems," Duke said.



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