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Remarks before the 38th Annual Conference of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, Charleston, South Carolina
Jim Hall
National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, Charleston, South Carolina

Good evening, President Ed Carter, members of the Executive Board, Boating Law Administrators, and honored guests. It is a great pleasure to be with you tonight to share some thoughts on recreational boating safety.

As you can imagine, the Safety Board has been very busy these last few years. Valujet, TWA 800, Guam, cargo plane crashes in Miami and Newark, railroad collisions, railroad bridge washouts, car and truck collisions with multiple deaths -- these are just a few of the high visibility accidents that have thrust the National Transportation Safety Board into the world spotlight. Add to this the thousands of lesser known accidents and incidents that we investigate every year, and you can see why we’ve been through an unprecedented busy time this year.

Only last week, I was in Dallas addressing the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary’s annual conference. The Auxiliary is an organization that prides itself on volunteerism and, above all, on responsibility. Everyone in this room, too, is responsible for his or her part in improving recreational boating safety, because when it gets down to the bottom line, the Boating Law Administrators represent where the buck stops. The hard and difficult safety decisions that must be made at the State level rest with you.

We at the Safety Board are pleased to provide support and direction to you, either individually or through this organization. We remain committed to further improvements in recreational boating safety because, quite frankly, in the marine mode this is where the greatest payoff in the saving of lives and reduction in serious injuries is going to occur. This is why the Board placed the issue on its "Most Wanted" Safety Recommendations list.

Because this is an after dinner speech, I do not want to bore you with needless facts and figures, but the numbers do illustrate your accomplishments in improving recreational boating safety. In 1983, as the result of a safety study, the Board recommended strengthened alcohol and boating laws. At that time most States simply stated it was illegal to operate a boat while under the influence – there were only 3 States with a defined blood alcohol concentration level and implied consent. Tonight we can report that all 56 jurisdictions (50 States, 5 territories, and the District of Columbia) prohibit operating under the influence, 54 jurisdictions have a defined BAC specifically for boating, either 0.08 BAC or 0.10.

In 1993, the Safety Board added support for even more safety improvements when another study recommended that the States implement a program of minimum recreational boating safety requirements. This would include the mandatory wearing of personal flotation devices (PFDs) by children, a demonstration that recreational boat operators know safe boating rules and an ability to safely operate their vessel, and/or an operator license.

To date, in answer to those recommendations, 31 States and Puerto Rico have implemented mandatory PFD use for children. Although the ages vary by State, we consider the mandatory wearing of PFDs by children an absolute minimum in any comprehensive boating safety program.

While mandatory education and operator licensing has proved to be a much more difficult political sell at the State legislative level, we’ve achieved success here as well:

• 4 States have implemented programs that will lead to universal mandatory education over time;

• 2 large recreational boating States -- Florida and Texas -- have recently expanded their mandatory education requirements to capture a larger portion of their boat operators; and

• 13 other States have reported some mandatory educational initiatives for youthful operators.

Alabama represents the only State with an operator license program as envisioned by the Board; other States reporting some type of operator license requirements include Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey and North Dakota.

The Board recognizes the difficulties of the States in moving rapidly to accomplish the intent of our recommendations. While we share in the frustration of repeated attempts to enact meaningful recreational boating safety legislation, we believe that you will eventually succeed.

Boating fatalities have decreased by approximately 33 percent over the past decade. This most likely results from a combination of the Wallop-Breaux funding for the State boating safety programs, active educational and voluntary programs, increased enforcement of alcohol and boating laws, increased media attention, and the formation of coalitions like the National Recreational Boating Safety Coalition.

The Safety Board will continue to do its part by independent oversight of recreational boating safety. I am sure that you are all familiar with our personal watercraft study effort, as we have asked the States to share in this study. I am looking forward to the results and hope that we have 100 percent participation. To date I understand we have had commitment from all jurisdictions. My staff informs me that 30 States and one territory have provided the 1996 baseline data requested and that about 180 PWC 1997 accident cases have been received.

I am aware that PWCs are a hot topic to a wide variety of audiences. Even my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, has seen the tragedy of PWC crashes, including a freak accident in which the 3-year-old operator of a PWC died. As you can imagine we have been asked more than once to weigh in on the PWC safety topic but we prefer to do our homework before we speak. The success of this study will in great part depend on your cooperation with us. I believe that this will be the definitive study on PWC safety, which we hope to conclude by early next year.

The Safety Board firmly believes that responsible uniform recreational boating laws provide the greatest safety level for the growing number of American citizens enjoying recreation on the water. By the same token, the more uniform the States are on these matters, the stronger this organization becomes.

We remain committed to serve the recreational boating public and, in so doing, serve you. We have honored our commitment to you by following up on our Safety Recommendations; we have testified in a number of States at your request; we have kept the intensity on recreational boating focused by placing recreational boating Safety Recommendations on the "Most Wanted" list; and continually assess the need to do national studies.

We know your job is made a little easier because there are a host of volunteers, support organizations, and vendors who also believe in improving recreational boating safety. A good example of how all of us can work together was shown when NASBLA’s Law Enforcement Committee, the State of Oregon, the Safety Board, and the Seaplane Pilots Association combined forces to achieve the Board’s recommendation to improve seaplane safety on the water.

In closing, I would like to offer incoming President Ted Woolley and his Executive Board the continued support of the Safety Board as we continue down the path to recreational boating safety improvement.

To my friend, outgoing President, and fellow Tennessean Ed Carter, I can only offer a rocking chair on my porch, a sip of sweet tea, and a chance to recount the experiences we have had in the past two years. In truth, I know that Ed will be as active as ever as a Past President. It has been my privilege to see through Ed’s eyes, the intensity and vision that the NASBLA and its members, the Boating Law Administrators, have to improve recreational boating safety.

I know that NASBLA and the Safety Board are of the same resolve -- that our children and their children after them will have a safe boating experience unthreatened by those under the influence, by those ignorant of boating safety rules, or by those not trained to operate their vessel in a safe manner.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you this evening, and for all you have done to make our recreational waterways safer.


Jim Hall's Speeches