SACRAMENTO — A bill stiffening penalties and subjecting drunk boat operators to the same sobriety standards as car drivers went to Gov. George Deukmejian Friday following a 34-0 Senate vote.
Sen. John Seymour's "boozing boater" bill, prompted in part by a 1984 accident near Seal Beach that killed five people, was the first of a package of bills this year dealing with safety standards for an estimated 2 million recreational boaters to win final legislative approval.
Seymour, of Anaheim, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, said he was confident Deukmejian would sign the measure into law since the administration's Department of Boating and Waterways strongly supported it.
The bill would establish the same .10 blood alcohol level for boaters that defines intoxication for automobile drivers. Skippers found operating a boat while drunk could be fined up to $1,000 and jailed for six months after a first conviction. They could be sentenced to a year in jail if convicted a second time.
The measure requires that boat operators submit to chemical sobriety tests whenever ordered by police officers, and it recommends that the maximum penalties be assessed against any boater who refuses.
Two other boating safety bills that would prohibit children under 14 from operating certain power boats and establish a manslaughter statute for boaters are still pending in committees of both houses of the Legislature.
California lawmakers say the state's inland and coastal waterways are becoming overcrowded with more than 600,000 pleasure craft.
The move to beef up safety standards was spurred by recent accidents and a two-year study by the Department of Boating and Waterways that pointed out a series of shortcomings in existing law.
Among boat accidents frequently mentioned during hearings on the bills was a crash on Halloween night, 1984, in Anaheim Bay near Seal Beach. Five people were killed when a speeding power boat crashed into a buoy. Virl H. Earles, who the National Transportation Safety Board alleges was intoxicated, is scheduled to be retried for involuntary manslaughter, beginning Monday. An earlier trial in the case ended in a mistrial in January.