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Remarks before the 2004 Annual Southern States Boating Law Administrators Association, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Mark V. Rosenker
Southern States Boating Law Administrators Association, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Good morning. Thank you, Lucia (U.S. Virgin Islands Boating Law Administrator Lucia Roberts Francis) for inviting me to the Southern States Boating Law Administrator Association meeting here in beautiful, St. Croix.... to address those whom I consider to be the backbone of the recreational boating safety effort...the state boating law administrators.

For more than two decades the National Transportation Safety Board has been pleased to work with this group to advance recreational boating safety. Bill Gossard, who unfortunately couldn't be here with us this evening, informed me that it was the Southern States Boating Law Administrators who were at the forefront of recreational boating safety and urged the NTSB to become more involved.

This relationship has strengthened over the years and has resulted in many of the recreational boating safety improvements we see today. For example: The Board asked after it's 1993 study that States complete a number of actions including strengthening alcohol boating laws, which involved defining blood alcohol concentration levels and implied consent, as well as initiate regulations that would mandate wearing of personal flotation devices by children under the age of 13.

I am pleased to report that most States in the Southern region have completed action on these recommendations. The States where I would like to see action for implied consent are Maryland and North Carolina and we still need to complete action on PFDs for children in New Mexico, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. I am very pleased to announce that I recently testified before the DC City Council on this very subject and emergency legislation was passed by the council on Tuesday June 1st unanimously. This legislation will make the wearing of PFD's by children under the age of 13, mandatory THIS BOATING SEASON. The Council will take up making the regulation permanent later this year. Additionally, the Board completed a 1998 safety study on PWC safety and again I am pleased to report that every State in the Southern region completed actions to provide information on the off-throttle steering concerns...several States completed actions to require the mandatory wear of PFDs when operating these craft.

Additional recommendations requested both the States and Coast Guard to update and complete boating safety agreements to ensure that they accurately reflect current responsibilities and jurisdictions in the areas of boating casualty investigation, reporting, search and rescue, and other related boating safety issues. Once again I am pleased to report that every State but two in the Southern States group have completed action on this recommendation. The two remaining jurisdictions are New Hampshire and the Virgin Islands. If there is anything I can do to help push the VI to completion, I would be happy to assist.

Does that mean we have done enough? The simple answer is NO...there remains much to be done. Recreational boating safety continues to be an extremely important area of focus in the NTSB. We recently re-emphasized the importance of recreational boating safety and continued to keep many of the most critical issues on our list of the "Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements for 2004." It would be of great assistance to us if you would keep Bill Gossard advised if you need help in any particular area or when your efforts have achieved some result, one way or another.

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 some 8 percent...however.. serious injuries have remained rather constant. In 2002, the Coast Guard reported there were more than 13 million recreational boats in the United States-that is approximately a 16 percent increase over the number reported just 10 years ago. I believe this number will continue to increase in the years to come and will result in further crowding of our waterways. More vessels will most likely result in more accidents...unless we improve safety NOW.

I am here this evening, not only to meet as many of you as possible, but also to let you know that the National Transportation Safety Board is prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as you move forward in your efforts to make our Nation's waterway safer. I have a personal interest in boating safety that goes beyond my time at the Board. I have been involved in recreational boating for over 20 years.

You have challenged the Board to address the issue of increased wearing of PFDs, Fred Messmann, Nevada boating law administrator and President of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators has done the same. I am delighted to report that the Safety Board will be holding a Recreational Boating Safety Forum, this summer at our National Academy in Ashburn, Virginia. We will be bringing together as many interested parties as possible to discuss issues and determine where we can best focus our efforts in the field of boating safety.

I pledge that we will continue our efforts to increase PFD use, and highlight the need to educate recreational boaters so each and everyone has a clear understanding of boating safety rules, and can demonstrate the ability to safely operate their vessel. The Coast Guard estimates about 70 percent of accidents are avoidable and involve factors that the operator should have been able to control..80 percent of 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 750 recreational boating deaths reported in 2002 are simply unacceptable.

The Safety Board supports States' efforts in every way possible. As you are aware, our staff has testified in a number of States including California, Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, Virginia, DC, and Utah. I ask that you join with us to accomplish the goal..of passing into law....recreational boating safety recommendations making... MADATORY..recreational boating safety education. I would like to see boating safety legislative initiatives addressing mandatory boating safety education for all boaters in Alabama, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia. My understanding is..and I am very pleased to hear.. that our in the Virgin Islands... are well on the way to accomplish the Board's recommendation, I applaud your efforts.

We ask that all boating law administrators stand with the NTSB and the Coast speak with one voice....on these important and critical safety issues. Work with your legislators and persuade them to introduce "bills" mandating recreational boating safety education. The Board believes that mandatory education provided to the public.. which contains carefully planned courses taught by experienced and well-trained instructors...will prepare this and future generations of boaters to come, for a lifetime of enjoyment on the water.

Finally, the Board has asked the States to improve the safe use of personal watercraft (PWC) by requiring States to have liveries provide safety training for those who rent these craft. Currently, more than 60 percent of the States require such instruction or provide guides for persons who rent PWCs. Unfortunately, there remain a number of States in the Southern region that have not yet completed action on this safety recommendation. We would ask you to support any and all efforts to bring these legislative initiatives before your lawmakers. We would like to see progress on this issue in the States of Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and the Virgin Islands.

If there is one message I could leave with you this would be...together.we can make a significant difference RIGHT establishing elemental water safety practices in every State. Bill Gossard will be your contact at the Board, so let him know where your States are on these issues. If you need me, I will be testify right next to you or do whatever I can to help...why?...because I believe there should the loss of even one life which we can prevent through education and common sense safety practices. I also want you to know that the door to my office is always. If you are in Washington, please come by and see me.

Again..I want to thank Southern States President Lucia Roberts Francis for giving me this opportunity to join you this this small piece of paradise, and once again, I want to congratulate and thank you for your past hard work and your continuing efforts to improve recreational boating safety. May our joint commitment to boating safety for the rest of 2004 and in the new 2005 legislative season lead to further reductions in recreational boating fatalities, injuries and accidents.