Remarks of Mark V. Rosenker
Acting Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
Before the
2009 Annual Western States Boating Administrators Association (WSBAA) Conference
Boise, Idaho

June 23, 2009

 


Good morning. Thank you, Dave (President of WSBAA and the Idaho Boating Law Administrator David Dahms) for inviting me to the Western States Boating Administrator Association conference in this wonderful location, to speak to the association with the most effective safety-oriented boating law administrators in the business. Before proceeding I would like to introduce the NTSB staff here with me this morning, not that it is necessary but Bill Gossard, who most of you know, is one of the Board’s most dedicated public servants who is serious about getting done the job of improving boating safety. Bill is with our Office of Safety Recommendations and Advocacy; and also with me this morning is Tom Doyle, my special assistant.

For more than 15 years, the National Transportation Safety Board has been pleased to work with the Western States in advancing recreational boating safety on our Nation's waterways. I, personally, have been to at least 2 other conferences.  The working relationship with the Western States and the Safety Board has been tremendous, only a couple of years ago I was fortunate to be out in Nevada with Kevin Bergersen and big Fred Messmann on a BUI boat block.  In California, Ray Tsuneyoshi and I did the best we could to start the process for  a sound boating safety education bill in the California Legislature. In summation, the Western States with a few exceptions, which Bill has addressed earlier in the conference, have accomplished 75-100 percent of the actions recommended by the Board.  This includes State boating programs that include a mandatory boating safety education program, mandatory personal flotation device (PFD) wear for children, inclusion of information in boating safety materials and courses on the off-throttle steering problem exhibited on certain personal watercraft (PWC), mandatory PFD wear for persons aboard PWC, alcohol safety improvements including a defined blood alcohol concentration and implied consent, and training for persons renting PWC so they have some basic information on how to safely operate their rented PWC.

But even with all of these important accomplishments, much remains to be done. Recreational boating safety continues to be an extremely important area of focus of the NTSB. The Board reemphasized the importance of recreational boating safety by keeping this critical safety issue area on the Board’s list of “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements for 2009.”   I also hope that it stays on for the 2010 boating year.

Now I am here at this conference, first, to again meet as many of you as I can because you give me the energy to keep the Board focused on boating safety. The reality is that recreational boating competes for resources against some heavy weights such as commercial aviation, railroad disasters, collisions at sea and a host of other accident scenarios. It was the Western States which challenged the Board to address the issue of increased wearing of PFDs because your association believed that this is one action that could be addressed to reduce the loss of lives in boating accidents (losses that have averaged about 700 deaths over the last 10 years). This we did by hosting a public forum on the issue in August 2006. It was well attended and was a great venue, so that the pros and cons could be discussed. The results of that forum have led to some modest visible PFD projects. It was clear from the discussion at the forum that the wearing of lifejackets by children, mandatory recreational boating education, and increased lifejacket wear for all recreational boaters through voluntary efforts and public awareness campaigns were supported by all facets of the boating industry. I congratulate retired Fred Messmann of Nevada and Ray Tsuneyoshi of California, as well as the entire membership of the Western States, for bringing this important topic to the forefront of recreational boating safety. In a recent press release issued for Memorial Day, I have brought to the attention of the public those persons operating small vessels less than 21 feet should don their life jackets.

You are all aware of my position which is we must complete the goal of mandatory wear of PFDs by children in all 50 States. Additionally, the Board feels it is imperative that all recreational boat operators demonstrate a clear understanding of boating safety rules, and an ability to appropriately operate their vessel. The Coast Guard continually 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. The 685 recreational boating deaths reported in 2007 (most recent publicly available number) continue to be unacceptable.

The Safety Board has supported your increased safety efforts in every way possible.  Bill has spoken with every Western State BLA on actions you can accomplish so you do not remain on our “Most Wanted” List.  I am not going to lecture or bore you this morning  with what States have not completed parts of our recommendations, I will leave that work to Bill, who I am sure has already spoken to  most if not all of you. However, I do ask that you join in with us and accomplish our recreational boating safety recommendations.

We are aware that as a result of individual Western States’ actions that many more recreational boaters have and will complete boating safety education courses. I would like to thank Oregon (Paul Donheffner, BLA and Marty Law, Education Program Administrator) for providing the latest success information on their program’s mandatory boating safety education results.  Since the implementation of  Oregon’s safety education requirement, there have been notable decreases in the number of accidents which peaked at 144 in 1995 prior to the introduction of the education program to 66 accidents  in 2007 ( that’s an amazing drop of nearly 55%).   We now look to the remaining States to do the same. With your effectiveness history and great dedication to 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 and that safety instruction training will occur at PWC rental locations. The Board believes that mandatory education will prepare boaters for a lifetime of safe recreational boating enjoyment.  Sadly, I see that 8 States and 3 Territories remain in the West to complete education requirements……so if you do not do this soon, Bill will stay employed in Federal service for many more years.  Bill would like to retire but he will stay on until every State has taken action on this recommended area.  Fortunately, I would note only 2 States remain to complete mandatory wear requirements for children (one of those, Wisconsin may complete action this year).

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 a number of States in the Western region that have not yet completed action on this safety recommendation. We would like to ask you to support legislative initiatives. If there is one message I could send you home with this morning, it is let’s continue to make a difference and let’s get these basic sound safety practices in place in every State.

In closing, I would like to again thank Western States President Dave Dahms, who is also our host, for giving me the opportunity to speak to 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 lead to further reductions in recreational boating fatalities, injuries, and accidents.

 


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