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Scuba diving is declared hazardous activity in California, limiting government liability in case of accidents

July 26, 2010 |  2:35 pm

A diver swims in the kelp tank at the California Science Center.

A new law that will take effect Jan. 1 declares scuba diving a hazardous activity in California.

AB 634, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this month, adds the sport to the list of recreational activities considered hazardous and releases state and local governments from liability in lawsuits associated with it, reports the Dana Point Times. Other sports currently on the "hazardous" list include  surfing, water-skiing, windsurfing, kayaking and white-water rafting.

"Fear of frivolous lawsuits has hampered efforts to expand recreational activities in many communities,"  the bill's author, Assemblywoman Diane L. Harkey (R-Dana Point), said in a statement. "I am pleased that Gov.  Schwarzenegger signed into law our legislation reducing liability for local and state governments while allowing for more recreational activities such as scuba diving, aiding coastal economies, the environment and the state of California."

The legislation, backed by California Ships to Reefs, was created with sunken-ship-based scuba diving in mind, because "diving in and near sunken ships can be hazardous, requiring special training and equipment beyond that for normal scuba diving," Harkey said.

Harkey added that because the government will no longer be held liable in lawsuits in which a scuba diver is injured or killed while diving, coastal communities may be more likely to create artificial reefs -- a benefit to both the marine environment and to divers interested in exploring them.

"Today, California has removed a major impediment to artificial reefing," said Joel Geldin, chairman and CEO of California Ships to Reefs, a nonprofit organization that hopes to establish a regional system of reefed ships along the California coast. "We are enthusiastic about the new unlimited opportunities ahead to create a network of artificial reefs on the state’s coastline, improving ocean life and enhancing our recreational diving and fishing industries."

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: A diver swims in the kelp tank at the California Science Center. Credit: Leroy Hamilton / California Science Center