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Remarks Before the Fall Governing Board Meeting, United States Power Squadrons, Reno, NV
Mark V. Rosenker
United States Power Squadrons, Fall Governing Board Meeting, Reno, NV

Good morning. Thank you, Ted (Chief Commander Ted Smith) and Jack Wilson, Special Assistant for Governmental Affairs, for your assistance in arranging for me to speak at your fall governing Board meeting. For more than a decade the National Transportation Safety Board has been pleased to work with the United States Power Squadrons (Power Squadrons) in advancing recreational boating safety on our Nation's waterways.

This relationship is best displayed by the work of the Power Squadrons in addressing the Board's marine safety recommendation stemming from the 1997 Morning Dew accident. This casualty involved a recreational sailing vessel that struck a rock jetty in the early morning hours of December 29th, as it attempted to enter Charleston Harbor, on the coast of South Carolina. The boat was later located about 15 yards south of the jetty, submerged in about 12 feet of water. The owner/operator of the Morning Dew and his three young passengers died as the result of this accident. The Safety Board asked the Power Squadrons to use the circumstances and more importantly lessons gleaned from this accident as a vehicle to educate boaters about the relationship between good judgment, decision-making, and boating safety. One of the important actions implemented by the Power Squadrons under the leadership of your Chief Commander was to link the NTSB's Website with yours. This simple action enabled Power Squadron members and other recreational boating enthusiasts to read the detailed lessons learned from this tragic accident and the Board's safety recommendations for prevention of these types of accidents. Additionally, the Power Squadrons directed its local instructors to include the specific safety issues surrounding the sinking of the Morning Dew as part of their public safe boating course instruction.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been the conscience, if you will, of our nation's transportation community for over 36 years. The Board's recommendations have led to numerous significant maritime and recreational boating safety improvements. These include emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) employed on fishing vessels, improved fire safety equipment and procedures for cruise ship passenger vessels, mandatory use of personal flotation devices for children, requirements for mandatory boating safety education, and safety improvements for personal watercraft. However, recreational boating safety continues to be an extremely important area of focus of the NTSB. The Board recently reemphasized the importance of recreational boating safety and continued to keep this critical issue on its list of the "Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements 2003." This list is one of our most important and effective tools to increase public awareness of, and support for, action to adopt safety steps that can help prevent accidents and save lives.

Fortunately, recreational boating accidents and fatalities have been declining even as we see the number of recreational boats on our nation's lakes, rivers, bays, and oceans, increasing. Fatalities have dropped over the past 5 years from 821 in 1997 to 681 in 2001. Unfortunately, serious injuries have remained rather constant. In 2001, the Coast Guard reported there were about 13 million recreational boats in the United States--that's approximately a 16 percent increase over the number reported just 10 years earlier - and the number, I believe, will continue to increase in the years to come, potentially resulting in further crowding our finite waterways. More vessels and operators may result in increased accidents, unless we improve safety in the recreational boating system. Additionally, many boating safety resources now are confronted with the dual mission of security and safety stemming from 9/11.

I am here this morning, first, to meet the wonderful boating safety volunteers who have committed their time, energy, and talents to advance boating safety. We all recognize there remains much to be accomplished on the boating safety waterfront. I would personally like to congratulate the United States Power Squadrons for the effective work that you have done over the years in helping to improve recreational boating safety.

The Board feels it is imperative that recreational boat operators demonstrate a clear understanding of boating safety rules, and an ability to appropriately operate their vessel. I imagine many of you could relate numerous examples of poor judgment and boating safety practices on the water - some of which may have been life threatening. The Coast Guard 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 eight years earlier. As I said earlier, in 2001 there were 681 boating fatalities, and the bottom line is that 681 recreational boating deaths is, as I think you will agree, simply unacceptable.

The Safety Board needs the members of your 450 squadrons across the United States to join with us in accomplishing our marine safety recommendation that seeks mandatory recreational boating safety education in every State. Over 3 million recreational boaters have completed Power Squadron courses over the nearly 90 years you have offered such courses - the Safety Board is very impressed with those numbers. With your rich history and great credibility in 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. We ask that the Power Squadrons be shoulder to shoulder with the NTSB at upcoming State legislative committees and hearings testifying in person with a unified position in favor of mandatory recreational boating safety education. Currently, the Safety Board is seeking such action in 21 jurisdictions: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington State, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All 50 States recognize the United States Power Squadrons boating safety certificates. The Board believes that mandatory education will provide students with carefully planned courses taught by experienced and well-trained instructors; thus preparing boaters for a lifetime of safe recreational boating enjoyment.

I would like to again thank the Governing Board and Chief Commander Smith for giving me the opportunity to join with you this morning and to have had the time to meet many of you last night. 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 for 2004 further reduce recreational boating fatalities, injuries and accidents.