Remarks of the Honorable Christopher A. Hart
Thank you, Mr. Graybeal (Jim), for inviting me to speak and to join NASBLA. And, right here near Lake Michigan - a perfect setting to discuss boating safety.
Thank you to our host, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and to Secretary Cathy Stepp and Rear Admiral Mike Parks for your thoughtful and insightful words.
This is my first time attending this important conference. I am delighted to be here to underscore the importance of what you do as well as the NTSB's commitment to improving boating safety.
I had the pleasure of speaking at the Western States Boating Administrators Annual Conference in Park City last year. There I got to see just how energetic and active Boating Law Administrators are in seeking boating safety improvements.
I want to thank everyone here today for what you do for boating safety. We share the same vision - improving safety and saving lives. It doesn't get any more important than that.
And, the results speak for themselves. Over the years, we have continued to see decreases in the number of accidents, the number of deaths, and the number of injuries. For example, boating accidents have dropped from 8,000 back in 1996 to less than 5,000 today. In 1997, 821 people died in boating accidents. In 2010, that number was 672.
We know NASBLA's efforts have been key to this success, especially with your leadership on two issues very important to the Board - use of personal floatation devices (PFDs) and boater education.
As you know, many boating deaths occur due to drowning. Of the more than 7,000 boaters who died in the last 10 years, more than 5,000 of them drowned. We also know that many could have survived had they been wearing a PFD.
In addition, we know that the lack of boater education plays a pivotal role in boating accidents. The Coast Guard estimates that about 70 percent of accidents involve factors within the boat operator's control. And, that about 90 percent of boating fatalities in 2010 occurred on boats whose operators had most likely not completed a boating safety education course.
Almost 20 years ago, the NTSB recommended that States require children to use PFDs and that all recreational boat operators complete a basic State-approved boater education course before going out on the water.
Have we made progress? You bet! Only 2 States have yet to put a child PFD requirement in place. And, we only need 13 more States to establish a boating education requirement.
Yet, none of us would be attending this conference if we did not think that there was more that could be done. We all know that as long as people are being injured and killed on our waters, the work isn't done.
Your recent Operation Dry Water program is a prime example of not being satisfied and continuing to look for new and effective ways to bring attention to an ongoing problem - impaired boating.
Let me suggest another item for consideration. This past April, the National Boating Safety Advisory Council voted to support efforts to expand the PFD requirement to all occupants on vessels less than 18 feet. Drowning statistics from the last 10 years certainly indicate that such a measure has merit.
Over the next few days, I am sure that the topics I have mentioned and other topics will be thoughtfully explored. One area that I know will be discussed is the NTSB's recommendations that still need action. Mr. Bill Gossard from our Safety Advocacy Division will be presenting at a workshop on this very topic.
Thank you for inviting me to join you. And on behalf of Chairman Debbie Hersman and the entire NTSB, thank you for your continued commitment to improving boating safety.
I wish you a successful and meaningful conference.