Testimony of Mark V. Rosenker
Vice Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
before the
International Association of Marine Investigators
14th Annual Training Seminar
West Palm Beach, Florida
February 23, 2004


Thank you, Karlton [Karlton Kilby, 1st Vice President, IAMI], for your kind introduction. Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here today. The National Transportation Safety Board applauds the work of your organization to advance recreational boating safety on our nation's waterways.

Judging from the conference agenda, this is going to be a full and rewarding training program. Everyone involved in the planning and conduct of this conference should be proud.

As many of you may know, the National Transportation Safety Board has been the eyes and ears of the American people at accident scenes for more than 37 years. In 1967, Congress established the independent Safety Board to investigate accidents, make recommendations to ensure that similar accidents don't recur, and provide safety oversight of the transportation industry and the regulatory agencies.

This morning I would like to speak directly to some of our recent marine investigations as well as recreational boating safety, an area where your organization and members can support us in advancing a number of pivotal and critical safety improvements.

In 2003, the Safety Board's Office of Marine Safety launched on seven accidents, including 3 majors:

  1. The SS Norway (boiler room explosion) in Miami, Florida on May 25, 2003.
  2. Taki-Tooo (U.S. small passenger vessel) a capsizing at Tillamook Bar near Garibaldi, Oregon on June 14, 2003.
  3. The collision of the Andrew J. Barberi with a maintenance pier (Staten Island, NY passenger ferry) on October 15, 2003.

As you can imagine these investigations remain under investigation I can only provide you with a few facts and an indication where we currently stand on these investigations.

In the SS Norway investigation, the Safety Board's Office of Marine Safety has invested 1,500 man-hours. To date, the accident investigation team has conducted over 30 interviews and approximately 200 documents have been collected and analyzed. The investigation team is reviewing technical materials and other information relating to the boiler's operation and maintenance.

The Taki-Tooo a sport fishing boat capsized while transiting Tillamook Bar near Garibaldi, Oregon. Nineteen persons were aboard, 11 died. The 35-foot vessel was one of four small vessels leaving the bay at the same time for charter fishing excursions. The Coast Guard had posted its "Rough Bar" warnings and had prohibited recreational and uninspected commercial vessels from transiting the bar that morning. We have had interviews with the survivors and they indicate the seas were very rough, and all stated the vessel was parallel to the wave when it struck.

The captain gave a safety briefing before leaving the dock. He described the lifejackets and explained where they were located in a cabinet below deck. There was, however, no demonstration of how to don a lifejacket nor instructions to don lifejackets prior to crossing the bar.

Five of the 8 survivors were able to use lifejackets. The Captain and 7 others were thrown from the vessel and drowned - none of them were wearing lifejackets. One deceased passenger had to remove their life jacket to get out of the cabin and was not able to recover it. Two are still missing - they were on deck at the time of capsizing and could not access flotation devices. Our investigation continues.

Most recently, the Safety Board's Office of Marine Safety has invested 2,800 man-hours investigating the New York's Staten Island ferry accident. On October 15, 2003, the New York City Department of Transportation Ferry Andrew J. Barberi, with 15 crewmembers and an estimated 1,500 passengers, collided with a maintenance pier. Ten passengers were killed and 70 people were injured. An eleventh passenger died more than 30 days after as a result of injuries received. Fifty-five interviews have taken place and nearly 1,000 documents have been reviewed.

These 3 accidents give you some idea of the breadth and scope of accidents investigated by the Board. The end product of our investigations is to find probable cause and make Safety Recommendations to hopefully avoid future accidents.

The second area I would like to address is recreational boating safety. The Board has issued a series of recommendations resulting from 2 national studies and is working hard to have them implemented. This is where we need your assistance and support.

Recreational boating accidents and fatalities have been declining even as the number of recreational boats is increasing. Fatalities have dropped over the past 5 years from 815 in 1998 to 750 in 2002. [2002 represents the latest official information available] However, serious injuries have remained rather constant. IAMI and the Safety Board know we can do more to improve safety.

With that in mind, I want to focus your attention on five actions that we feel can reduce recreational boating fatalities and injuries.

First, we need recreational boat operators who can demonstrate an understanding of boating safety rules and an ability to safely operate their vessel. The Coast Guard reported in 2002 that there were 5,705 significant recreational boating accidents resulting in 750 fatalities and 4,062 injuries. Operator inattention, carelessness/reckless operation, operator inexperience, and excessive speed were the leading contributing factors of reported accidents. About 80 percent of the fatalities occurred on boats operated by individuals who had not completed a boating safety education course.

The Coast Guard's statistics are consistent with the Safety Board's research that found a majority of recreational boat operators involved in fatal boating accidents have not taken any type of boating education course. In 1993, the Safety Board recommended that state boating safety programs establish minimum standards, such as requiring safety education or operator licensing.

Currently, 23 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have established education programs that meet the intent of the Board's recommendation.

Second, we need to enforce boating-under-the-influence (BUI) laws.

Alcohol involvement in recreational boating accidents remains a problem. The 2002 Coast Guard statistics indicated that alcohol was involved in 39 percent of all boating fatalities, up 5 percent from 2001.

Since 1983, every state has strengthened provisions of their boating and alcohol laws. Every state now has a defined blood alcohol concentration specific to recreational boating. Only six states (California, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Washington State, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) do not have an implied consent provision, and we are committed to working with those states.

Third, we must increase the number of recreational boaters who wear personal flotation devices (PFDs). The Board's 1993 study on recreational boating safety indicated that 85 percent of those who drowned in a boating accident, and for whom information was available, were not wearing PFDs. The Coast Guard's 2002 statistics showed, 9 years later, that 85 percent of the boaters (524 out of 750) who died did so by drowning, and they estimate that PFDs could have saved 84 percent of them (that's 440 lives). Few other safety devices are so effective.

Fourth, we need to continue to improve the operational safety of personal watercraft (PWCs). In our 1998 safety study on PWCs, the Board identified the need for PWC safety standards, including improved design and controllability standards; improved safety instruction for renters of PWCs; and the incorporation of information on the safe operation of PWCs in all recreational boating courses. Response to these recommendations has been encouraging.

To date, every state has incorporated the safe operation of PWC into their recreational boating safety courses. In addition, 33 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia have implemented requirements for safety training of persons renting PWC. The remaining states have indicated intent to consider action on this recommendation. In 2003, the Society for Automotive Engineers International issued a recommended practice addressing off throttle steering capabilities of personal watercraft. This recommendation when implemented should make PWCs safer to operate.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, we need to take aggressive steps to protect our children when they're on our waterways. By teaching children to be safe passengers, we hope to ensure that they will grow up to be safe boat operators.

The Board has asked states to require the use of PFDs by all children aboard recreational boats. Currently six states (Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), the District of Columbia, and three territories still do not require children to wear a PFD on state waters. While the Board has recommended that children under 13 be required to wear PFD's, states such as Florida and Maryland, permit children as young as six or seven, respectively, to ride in a recreational vessel without wearing this lifesaving protection. I am pleased to report that DC and Iowa are very close to completing action on this recommendation; Wisconsin, as well as Virginia, have had legislation stalled in Committees. We are working aggressively to resolve this predicament during the upcoming legislative sessions. The bottom line, however, is that we need your help in the State legislative arena as citizens of those states and professionals in the field weigh-in on these important pieces of legislation. I personally would like to see every State in the Union with a mandatory wear requirement for children before I end my term as Vice Chairman of the NTSB.

We must put our children first when it comes to safety. And, by putting them first, we make recreational boating safer for them and for everyone who wants to enjoy our nation's waterways. By working together, we can continue to make a difference in the lives of families across America who enjoy recreational boating.

I want to again thank the International Association of Marine Investigators for giving me the opportunity to talk to you this morning. I also would like congratulate IAMI for its brand new Certified Marine Investigator Program. I understand that the program and the first examination for candidates is being done at this conference. This effort will improve the overall quality of accident investigation and reconstruction, as well as theft and fraud investigations. I look forward to fully exploring this new initiative by IAMI. I thank all of you for your hard work and your efforts to improve marine and recreational boating safety. My office doors are always open so if you are in town, please give me a call and I will be happy to see you. Keep up the good work, and I wish you all a very successful training conference.