Remarks of Mark V. Rosenker
Vice Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
before the
2004 National Association of State Boating Law Administrators
Chattanooga, Tennessee
September 13, 2004


Good afternoon. Thank you, President Fred Messmann for inviting me to the 2004 National Association of State Boating Law Administrators in this wonderful city Chattanooga, and also offer my sincere thanks to our host Ed Carter, for giving me the opportunity to address the backbone of the recreational boating safety effort, the boating law administrators. Before starting I'd like to introduce a few of our NTSB staff that have joined me today, Bill Gossard from the newly expanded Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications; Rob Henry from the Office of Marine Safety and Tom Doyle, my special assistant.

For more than a two decades the National Transportation Safety Board has been pleased to work with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) in advancing recreational boating safety on our Nation's waterways. It has been the leadership of NASBLA, embodied in Presidents such as Fred Messmann that has kept the Safety Board active in this special area of safety. Over the past year, Fred has demonstrated great leadership both in his state of Nevada and nationally, and is not afraid of taking on the tough issues to prevent accidents, reduce injuries and ultimately save people's lives. I want to personally thank Fred for taking me out a couple of weeks ago on one of his patrol boats in 105 degree weather, in the middle of a squall, while wearing a lifejacket of course, on Lake Mead to observe his officers at work. I also want to thank Lieutenant Al Durham, the District of Columbia (DC) Boating Law Administrator, for giving us one heck of an exciting boat ride on the Potomac, while we observed some of the daily challenges his officers face, including a demonstration from his skilled dive team. While with Al, we discussed the recent tragic DC case where a rowing instructor was lost in full view of his racing crew because he was not wearing his lifejacket. There were no lifejackets for the racing crew either. Since this fatal accident, Al has worked closely with the local rowing operations, and has encouraged them to take a number of measures to improve the safety of the instructors and the crews.

The effective relationship, yes we have formed a close relationship with NASBLA and its members, is best displayed by your participation in the Board's recent public forum on Personal Flotation Devices in recreational Boating. We had over 100 participants and 16 speakers representing a broad spectrum of recreational boating interests. The Board is currently sifting through the information presented at the forum, as well as studying the experience provided by Canada, Ireland, and 2 States in Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. Additionally, the record of the forum will remain open until September 30, 2004, to receive comments from the public. I might add that NASBLA offered some compelling arguments both pro (Fred) and con (Ed) on the issue of the mandatory wear of lifejackets.

We could not get full consensus from those that participated to make PFD's mandatory across the board; however, there were several issues on which we could all agree. First, all parties at the forum concurred on the need for mandatory recreational boating safety education to be established in every State. Second, mandatory wear of personal flotation devices for children should be the highest priority; and third, a focused public information program with the goal of increasing or enhancing the wear of lifejackets for the general boating population should be undertaken by States and those organizations involved in the boating community.

I once again congratulate the NASBLA leadership for their encouragement and support of the Board in its efforts to hold this important event. I believe as a result of the forum we now have an informal coalition of 16 strong participants in the quest to reduce recreational boating fatalities. Some of those partners include BOAT/US, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association, the Marine Retailers Association of America, the United States Coast Guard, the National Safe Boating Council, the National Boating Safety Advisory Council, our good friends from the North the Canadian Safe Boating Council, and the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, just to name a few.

Recreational boating safety is an extremely important area of focus for the NTSB. I wish I could have had more time to spend at your conference, but tomorrow morning, the NTSB board will meet to decide on next year's priority issues for its "Most Wanted" list, and I want to make sure that recreational boating safety remains prominent on that list. Now for background, the Safety Board, during its 40 year history has issued in excess of 12,000 Safety Recommendations, with hundreds of new ones being created every year. Only a few make the priority list. Let me illustrate some of the tough competition; in aviation, there are recommendations on reducing the dangers to aircraft flying in icing conditions and stopping runway incursions and ground collisions of aircraft; in railroad, the Board has asked for the implementation of positive train control systems to override mistakes by human operators, and: in highways, the need to establish stronger and more a comprehensive highway safety programs such as primary seatbelt enforcement and teen-focused highway safety programs.

Where are we today in recreational boating safety? Well fortunately, most States have taken some action on our "Most Wanted" safety recommendations. In the area of recreational boating safety, mandatory wear of lifejackets by children and mandatory education are essential for reducing accidents and ultimately, saving lives. In regards to mandatory education, 30 States, DC and Puerto Rico have either enacted legislation or taken action consistent with our recommendations. However, there remain 17 States and one territory that have yet to require education of recreational boat operators. In mandatory wear of lifejackets for children; 43 States, the DC, and Puerto Rico have a State requirement. Indiana has partially met the intent of the PFD and children portion of the recommendation, but the remaining States (Wyoming, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Virginia as well as one territory, the US Virgin Islands, have not completed this highest priority. Current Safety Recommendations address the need for persons renting personal watercraft (PWCs) to be provided some safety instruction training prior to operating such a vessel. Presently, 31 States, DC, and 3 territories have enacted legislation or taken action consistent with the Board's recommendation.

The Safety Board has vigorously supported your efforts to increase safety in every way possible. Indeed, Safety Board Members and staff have testified in a number of States during the 2004 legislative cycle including but not limited to Washington, Alaska, Wisconsin, DC, Virginia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

This afternoon, I applaud and encourage you to join with us once again to undertake the actions necessary to establish mandatory recreational boating safety education, mandatory wear of lifejackets by children, and safety instruction training for persons renting personal watercraft (PWC) at rental locations in every State.

The Safety Board looks to NASBLA -- an organization rich in history and great credibility in boating safety -- an organization with great leaders who are committed to advancing boating safety, to lead in the 2005 state legislative cycle to accomplish these recommendations. The Board believes that completing these actions will prepare boaters for a lifetime of safe recreational boating enjoyment.

If there is one message I could leave with you today, it is that you and your colleagues are making a difference. Your leadership in setting the direction of boating safety in your states is critical. You are the first responders, you are the enforcers, you are the teachers, and you are the ones who must care for the families who have lost loved ones. This is not an easy job, but you do it, and you do it well because you are dedicated professionals.

In conclusion, I am available to come to any State, any legislative committee, any conference or meeting that addresses recreational boating safety. Some of you have already asked me to come and discuss these safety issues, and I am willing and ready to do so. Indeed this past week I have accepted invitations to address boating safety at other organizations such as Boat Writers International, the Marine Retailers Association of America, and the National Advisory Council of BOAT/US.

Finally, I again thank NASBLA President Fred Messmann and our host, Ed Carter, for giving me the opportunity to join with you this afternoon, and I, once again, congratulate and thank you for your hard work and your continuing efforts to improve recreational boating safety. I now look forward to working with the incoming President, Randy Edwards from Iowa, and I know that his commitment to improving boating safety runs as deep as his predecessors.

Now comes the good part as I am pleased to present NTSB safety awards to two States for recently meeting the four specific criteria set in 2000 when the first boating safety awards were presented at NASBLA's conference in Mackinaw Island, Michigan.

The criteria are as follows:

  1. The implementation of a mandatory education program that eventually will cover all recreational boaters.
  2. The mandatory use of personal flotation devices (lifejackets) for children ages 12 and under [under age 13].
  3. Strengthened alcohol and boating laws including at a minimum a defined blood alcohol concentration and implied consent; and
  4. The inclusion of personal watercraft information in all State boating courses.

I am now pleased to present these awards to the following 2 jurisdictions who represent the 12th and 13th such awards. If the Boating Law Administrators or their representatives for the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico would come forward.

[Presentation of Plaques]

Congratulations to the 2 award winners (Lt. Al Durham, BLA-DC, and Ms. Marisa Gonzalez, BLA-PR).

Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today.