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Remarks before the 2004 Annual Western States Boating Administrators Association, Friday Harbor, WA
Mark V. Rosenker
Western States Boating Administrators Association, Friday Harbor, WA

Good morning. Thank you, Ray (California Boating Law Administrator Ray Tsuneyoshi) for inviting me to the Western States Boating Administrator Association meeting to address those I consider to be the backbone of the recreational boating safety effort, the boating law administrators. I would also like to thank James Horan (Washington State Boating Law Administrator) for his considerable efforts putting this meeting together. Joining me in beautiful Friday Harbor... are Bill Gossard who you all know is with the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications; and Tom Doyle from my office.

For more than a decade the National Transportation Safety Board has been pleased to work with the Western States in advancing recreational boating safety on our nation's waterways.

The cooperation between the NTSB and the Western States was certainly evident in addressing the Board's recreational boating safety recommendations resulting from the 1993 recreational boating, the 1998 personal watercraft safety studies and the report stemming from the 1997 Morning Dew accident.

The Safety Board asked , after the boating safety study of 1993, that the States complete a number of actions including strengthening laws relating to alcohol blood level concentrations in persons operating water craft and mandatory wearing of personal flotation devices by children. I am pleased to report that... with one exception.... every State in the Western region has completed action on these important recommendations. In addition, the Board completed a 1998 study on PWC safety and again, every State in the Western region completed actions to provide information on the problem of off-throttle steering and several States completed actions requiring the mandatory wearing of PFD's while operating Personal Water Craft. Recommendation to the States resulting from the Morning Dew accident, asked both the States and the Coast Guard to update and complete boating safety agreements to ensure those agreements accurately reflected current responsibilities and jurisdictions in such areas as boating casualty investigation.. reporting.. search and rescue, and other related boating safety issues. I am pleased to report that every State but one in the Western region has completed this recommendation.

Does that mean we have done enough and can rest on our laurels? The answer is simply NO. There remains, much to be done. Recreational boating safety continues to be an extremely important area of focus for the NTSB. The Board recently reemphasized this importance by continuing to keep these issues on its list of "Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements for 2003 and 2004."

Fortunately, recreational boating accidents and fatalities have been declining even as we see the number of boats on our nation's lakes, rivers, bays, and oceans, increasing significantly. Fatalities have declined for the past 5 years from 815 in 1998 to 750 in 2002. Serious injuries however have remained fairly constant. In 2002, the Coast Guard reported more than 13 million recreational boats registered in the United States.... 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 which will result in further crowding our waterways. More vessels will most likely result in more accidents, unless we improve safety in the system NOW.

The Western States 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 can report this morning that the Safety Board is considering holding a Recreational Safety Boating Forum. Bringing together as many interested parties as possible to discuss issues and determine where to focus our efforts. 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 rules, and can demonstrate they can operate their vessel safely. The Coast Guard estimates 70 percent of all boating 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 statistics are consistent with information reported by the Safety Board ten years ago. The 750 recreational boating deaths reported for the year 2002 are unnecessary and unacceptable.

The Safety Board supports your efforts. As you are aware, our staff has testified in a number of Western State legislatures including, California, Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, and Utah. I will not bore you this morning with what States have not been able to accomplish. However, I will ask that you join us in working toward the creation of legislation which will establish recreational boating safety laws mandating boating safety education to include training for persons renting personal watercraft (PWC).

Several of the Western States' have already taken action to see that many more recreational boaters have and will complete boating safety education courses. The Board now looks to the remaining States to do the same. With your rich history and great credibility in boating safety, your continued support of our efforts. We ask that all boating law administrators stand shoulder to shoulder with the NTSB and speak with one voice on these important issues. Pressure your legislators to introduce legislation mandating recreational boating safety education and safety instruction training at PWC rental locations. We believe that mandatory education must provide boaters with carefully planned courses taught by experienced and well-trained instructors preparing them for a lifetime of safe boating enjoyment.

Finally, the Board is making a concerted effort to place the issue of personal watercraft safety before the public and the State Legislatures. We are asking the States to improve the safe use of personal watercraft (PWC) by requiring liveries to provide safety instruction and training to those who rent PWC. Currently, more than 60 percent of the States require such instruction or provide guides for persons who rent these craft. However, 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 and certainly offer our support to those efforts. Again, Bill is the contact on these issues and will be more closely addressing each area of concern with you later today...but I want you to know that the door to my office is always open if you need my assistance.

If there is one message I could leave with you this would be..we can make a significant difference today by establishing these elemental water safety practices in every State.

Again... I want to thank Western States President Ray Tsuneyoshi and our most gracious host, James Horan, for giving me the opportunity to join with you this morning..... 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 the new 2005 legislative season lead to further reductions in recreational boating fatalities, injuries and accidents.