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Remarks at the Western State Boating Administrators Association Annual Conference, Park City, Utah
Christopher A. Hart
Western State Boating Administrators Association Annual Conference, Park City, Utah

Thank you, David Dahms, [President, National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and Idaho Boating Law Administrator], for inviting me to join you here in beautiful Park City. Thank you to our host Administrator, David Harris, [Utah Boating Law Administrator], and to Rear Admiral [Joseph Castillo], for your thoughtful words.

This is actually my second tour as a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, but my first time joining WSBAA for its annual conference, and I've enjoyed speaking with quite a few of you already. I look forward to meeting and speaking with many more of you this evening.

I know NTSB always sends a representative to your conference – and you'll get a full briefing from Bill Gossard tomorrow morning – but it's a real pleasure to come see it for myself. And I really know now why Bill and others speak so highly of this group.

You are a great ally of the NTSB and share our goal of helping Americans enjoy travel – whether for business or leisure – as safely and reliably as possible. And the results speak for themselves. We've seen major decreases in the number of boating accidents over the years, and that means countless lives saved. So on behalf of the entire Safety Board, thank you for your service.

You have made contributions not just in your own states or in the Western region. The Western States have often led on issues of recreational boating safety and pushed for action across the nation – including, as you know, increasing the number of boaters who wear personal flotation devices, an issue NTSB's been vocal about for nearly two decades.

This is especially important because we know what causes most boating fatalities. It's not a mystery. Of the more than 7,000 boaters who have died in the last 10 years, 5,000 of them drowned.

And we know, of course, why most people drown: because they're not wearing a life jacket.

As many as 90% of drowning victims could still be alive if they had been wearing life jackets.

In 1993, the Safety Board issued a recommendation on recreational boating safety that included two primary elements. We urged states to pass measures requiring children to wear life jackets and requiring all boaters to take a state-approved boater education course before going out on the water.

We have made great progress toward reaching these goals. Every state in WSBAA already requires PFDs for children, and within the next year, we expect every state in the country to have done the same.

Now, we're glad to see this progress. But none of us would be here for this conference if we thought the work was done.

The Coast Guard believes that about 70% of accidents involve factors within the operators' control, and we know that 90% of boating fatalities in 2008 occurred on boats whose recreational operators had not completed a boating safety education course.

We need mandatory boater education in all 50 states. But 13 states have yet to act on the issue. And as you know, many of the 13 are Western States. So this is an area where I would strongly urge you to keep working.

There are other areas where we need to continue improving as well. We know, for instance, that in 2008, seven out of 10 boaters who drowned had been in open motorboats less than 21 feet long. This sort of information cannot be ignored. I understand that last month, the National Boating Safety Advisory Council made a recommendation to set up an internal BSAC task force to study the issue of further mandatory life jacket wear for people aboard small vessels. This is a step that is certainly worthy of strong consideration.

So I hope that these are among the issues you will consider over the next few days. I am thrilled to be a part of your conversation, and I want you to know that all Members of the Safety Board are grateful for your work and eager to continue this dialogue.

Thank you very much for inviting me to join you, and I wish you a successful and enjoyable conference.