Remarks of Mark V. Rosenker
Vice Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
before the
2004 Annual Meeting
United States Power Squadrons
Orlando, Florida
January 17, 2004


Good morning. Thank you, Ted (Chief Commander Ted Smith), for inviting me back. I enjoyed the opportunity to speak to the Governing Board in Reno, Nevada this past September. I am particularly honored to have the privilege of speaking to the entire United States Power Squadrons (Power Squadrons) as you celebrate your 90th Anniversary. The Power Squadrons is one of the major recreational boating safety education organizations in the United States. For more than a decade the National Transportation Safety Board has been pleased to work with the Power Squadrons in advancing recreational boating safety on our Nation's waterways.

This relationship is best displayed by the work of the Power Squadrons in addressing the Board's marine safety recommendation stemming from the 1997 Morning Dew accident. This casualty involved a recreational sailing vessel that struck a rock jetty, as it attempted to enter Charleston Harbor, on the coast of South Carolina. The boat was later located about 15 yards south of the jetty, submerged in about 12 feet of water. The owner/operator of the Morning Dew and his three young passengers died as the result of this accident. The Safety Board asked the Power Squadrons to use the unfortunate circumstances and more importantly lessons gleaned from this accident as a vehicle to educate boaters about the relationship between good judgment, decision-making, and boating safety. One of the important actions implemented by the Power Squadrons was to link the NTSB's Website with yours. This simple action enabled Power Squadron members and other recreational boating enthusiasts to read the detailed lessons learned from this tragic accident and the Board's safety recommendations for prevention of these types of accidents. Additionally, the Power Squadrons directed its local instructors to include the specific safety issues surrounding the sinking of the Morning Dew as part of their public safe boating course instruction.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been the conscience, if you will, of our nation's transportation community for over 38 years. The Board's recommendations have led to numerous significant maritime and recreational boating safety improvements. These include emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) employed on fishing vessels, improved fire safety equipment and procedures for cruise ship passenger vessels, mandatory use of personal flotation devices for children, requirements for mandatory boating safety education, and safety improvements for personal watercraft. Let me assure you recreational boating safety continues to be an extremely important area of focus of the NTSB. The Board recently reemphasized the importance of recreational boating safety and continued to keep this critical issue on its list of the “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements 2003 and 2004.” This list is one of our most important and effective tools to increase public awareness of, and support for, action to adopt safety steps that can help prevent accidents and save lives.

Fortunately, recreational boating accidents and fatalities have been declining even as we see the number of recreational boats on our nation's lakes, rivers, bays, and oceans, increasing. Fatalities have dropped over the past 5 years from 815 in 1998 to 750 in 2002. Unfortunately, serious injuries have remained rather constant. In 2002, the Coast Guard reported there were more than 13 million recreational boats in the United States--that's approximately a 16 percent increase over the number reported just 10 years earlier - and the number, I believe, will continue to increase in the years to come, potentially resulting in further crowding our waterways. More vessels and operators may result in increased accidents, unless we improve safety in the recreational boating system. Additionally, many boating safety resources now are confronted with the dual mission of security and safety stemming from 9/11.

I am here this morning, first, to meet the terrific boating safety volunteers who have committed their time, energy, and talents to advance boating safety. We all recognize there remains much to be accomplished on the boating safety waterfront. I would personally like to congratulate the United States Power Squadrons for the effective work that all of you have done over the years in helping to improve recreational boating safety.

The Board feels it is imperative that recreational boat operators demonstrate a clear understanding of boating safety rules, and an ability to appropriately operate their vessel. I imagine many of you could relate numerous examples of poor judgment and boating safety practices on the water – some of which may have been life threatening. Recently, the Coast Guard estimates about 70 percent of accidents involve factors that could have been controlled by the operator and 80 percent of the fatalities occurred on boats operated by individuals who had not completed a boating safety education course. These percentages are consistent with information reported by the Safety Board ten years earlier. As I said earlier, in 2002 there were 750 boating fatalities, and the bottom line is that 750 recreational boating deaths is, as I think you will agree, simply unacceptable.|

The Safety Board needs the members of your 450 squadrons across the United States to join with us as partners in accomplishing our marine safety recommendation that seeks mandatory recreational boating safety education, the mandatory wear of lifejackets for children, and safety instruction training for persons renting personal watercraft (PWC) at rental locations in every State.

We are aware that over 3 million recreational boaters have completed Power Squadron courses over the nearly 90 years you have offered such courses – the Safety Board is very impressed with those numbers. With your rich history and great credibility in boating safety, your support can mean the difference in ensuring that recreational boaters are able to demonstrate a basic knowledge of safe boating rules and skills. We ask that the Power Squadrons stand shoulder to shoulder with the NTSB at upcoming State legislative committees and hearings testifying in person with a unified position in favor of mandatory recreational boating safety education. Currently, the Safety Board is seeking such action in 21 jurisdictions: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington State, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All 50 States recognize the United States Power Squadrons boating safety certificates. The Board believes that mandatory education will provide students with carefully planned courses taught by experienced and well-trained instructors; thus preparing boaters for a lifetime of safe recreational boating enjoyment.

Additionally, the Board continues to seek action in 6 States, the DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands to accomplish the mandatory wearing of lifejackets by children. Let me list those States for you, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. I find it very hard to accept that these State governments have not completed timely action on the mandatory use of lifejackets for their children. As adults, we can make decisions about wearing lifejackets, children cannot. The United States Power Squadrons teaches the value of lifejacket wear for children and I am assured that many of you are grandparents and perhaps even great grandparents and that you would not let those precious children out in a boat without having lifejackets used. This is to your credit. So we need your active support in the upcoming months as legislative initiatives are introduced or are debated on lifejacket wear for children in Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. These jurisdictions have legislative initiatives underway. But in the other States no action has been taken. We need together to foster a climate by our actions and words in these remaining States so that legislative initiatives are started.

Finally, the Board has asked the States to improve the safe use of personal watercraft (PWC) by requiring States to have liveries provide safety instruction training for those who rent PWC. Currently, more than 60 percent of the States require such instruction or provide guides for persons who rent PWCs. There remain 18 States that have not yet completed action on this safety recommendation. We would like to ask you to also support legislative initiatives for the remaining States: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington State, and Wyoming.

If there is one message I could send you home with today, it is let's make a difference and let's get these basic sound elemental safety practices in place in every State. Bill Gossard, of our Safety Recommendation and Accomplishments office, who many of you know, will be here for the rest of today and please make yourself available to him, if you can assist us in accomplishing these needed safety recommendations.

I would like to again thank Chief Commander Ted Smith for giving me the opportunity to join with you this morning, and I, once again, congratulate and thank you for your hard work and your continuing efforts to improve recreational boating safety. May our joint commitment to boating safety in 2004 further reduce recreational boating fatalities, injuries and accidents. I also am very pleased to have been one of your speakers on the advent of your 90th year of providing professional boating safety education for our Nation's recreational boaters. Thank you for that honor.