Renewing a car license is easy; a boating license is a mess

licenseIt’s business as usual. A reader’s testimony brought back to the forefront an “ancient” question. But why is it so easy to renew a car license (the “B” license) and instead to renew a boating license (to be done every 10 years until age 60 and every five from age 60 and up) you have to pass reflex tests that are anything but trivial?

Manlio Laschena, 84 years old and well worn (much more than a “dynamic retiree”), had to simultaneously renew both his B driver’s license and his sailing license with no limitations from the coast. We asked him to tell us in detail how the examination took place.

He begins with two premises: “The first is that although I may perhaps consider them excessive, I am not against reflex tests for boating licenses. But since we want to be safety-conscious, it surprises me that there is no such evidence in B driver’s licenses. Similar tests exist for licenses above the B level.

The second is that a boat license qualifies one to operate boats, not specifically to drive. This particularity is not considered in any way in ‘designing’ the evidence that validates the renewal.”


“That said, I come to the details. I am 84 years old so I am an “old” sailor, I started at the age of 14 and today, with my wife (74) we tour the Mediterranean on a Hallberg Rassy 40. If you wish, you can find us on YouTube. Hoping not to be presumptuous, I consider myself a very fortunate elderly person, because my condition is much better than the average of my peers. A great help, at least for the mental part, comes from the fact that I am an engineering graduate, one of the first in Italy to choose electronics, and I could call myself a “digital grown-up,” which comes in very handy in such circumstances.

I say at the outset that age influences only the frequency of renewals and not how the tests are performed.

What do they consist of?

For a driver’s license the usual rigmarole. The doctor ascertains the general health condition and has a form filled out for any medical conditions. It also ascertains hearing efficiency. It also performs the usual visual acuity tests for each individual eye, supplemented by the chiaroscuro vision tests, etc….

For the boat license, first you have to pass the reflex (read reaction time) tests, since 2013. These are performed, at the best-equipped facilities, via an electronic device that delivers stimuli and measures reaction times. At the end it provides a report defining whether or not the test was passed.

The parameters by which reaction times are evaluated are the result of neurological (or rather, psychophysiological) studies that are applied through statistical criteria. So each test consists of a certain number of stresses (about ten) which are then, by the device, averaged and compared with what is prescribed by the standards. In practice, reaction times should have values between 300 and 1000 milliseconds.

Basically, the subject receives a round terminal equipped with a button, some LEDs, and a mini speaker. The terminal fits comfortably in the palm of the hand and makes it easy to press the button.

There are four trials:
(a) response to LED lighting. It is repeated with varying frequency about ten times.
(b) response to a sound (beep). It is repeated with varying frequency about ten times.
(c) response to LED lighting and not to sound (beep) (so it is necessary that the sound does not provoke response). It is repeated with varying frequency about ten times.
(d) response to a sound and not to LED lighting (here you do not have to respond to the light stimulus). It is repeated with varying frequency about ten times.

After the reflex tests there are the same tests as for the driver’s license: any medical conditions, visual and speech comprehension tests.”

Why, Manlio wonders, “for a driver’s license, where your vehicle goes 80 mph, no reflex test is required, while for a sailboat, whose speeds (!) are known, more than ready reflexes are required? I am puzzled and don’t understand where the logic is.”.

Dear Manlius, truthfully, neither do we.




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