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Remarks before the 2005 Annual Western States Boating Administrators Association, Helena, MT
Mark V. Rosenker
Western States Boating Administrators Association, Helena, MT

Good evening. Thank you, Ron (Montana Boating Law Administrator Ron Jendro) for inviting me to the Western States Boating Administrator Association conference in this wonderful location, to speak to the association with some of the most effective safety-oriented boating law administrators in the business. I also have to thank James Horan (Washington State Boating Law Administrator) and President of WSBAA because the activity in his State to accomplish mandatory boating safety education this year reflects how successful we have been together at accomplishing needed safety improvements in boating in a difficult legislative environment. Before proceeding I would like to introduce the NTSB staff here with me this evening; Bill Gossard, who most of you know, if you have not met Bill by the time he leaves you will know he’s dedicated public servant who is serious about getting done the job of improving boating safety. Bill is with our Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications; and also with me this evening is Tom Doyle, my special assistant.

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. I, personally, have been to at least 2 conferences – the last I remember was in the far far West—Friday Harbor. Even though Helena is a grueling trip from DC taking nearly 12 hours to get here via DFW and Salt Lake City…Friday Harbor was also quite a trip, but quite frankly, both locations look a lot better than DC. I would also note that I have great memories of my time living in Great Falls, Montana, while my dad was stationed at Malmstrom AFB in the early 60’s.

Last year I addressed the relationship between the Safety Board and the Western States by highlighting the Western States’ accomplishments in achieving the recreational boating safety recommendations the Board issued from our 1993 recreational boating and 1998 personal watercraft safety studies and the report stemming from the 1997 Morning Dew accident.

In summation, the Western States with a few exceptions, which Bill will address tomorrow, have accomplished 75-100 percent of the actions recommended by the Board. This includes State boating programs that include a mandatory boating safety education program, mandatory personal flotation device (PFD) wear for children, inclusion of information in boating safety materials and courses on the off-throttle steering problem exhibited on certain personal watercraft (PWC), mandatory PFD wear for persons aboard PWC, and training for persons renting PWC so they have some basic information on how to safely operate their rented PWC.

But even with all of these important accomplishments, much remains to be done. Recreational boating safety continues to be an extremely important area of focus of the NTSB. The Board reemphasized the importance of recreational boating safety by keeping this critical safety issue area on the Board’s list of “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements for 2004 and 2005.”

Now I am here at this conference, first, to meet as many of you as I can because you give me the energy to keep the Board focused on boating safety. The reality is that recreational boating competes for resources against some heavy weights such as commercial aviation, railroad disasters, collisions at sea and a host of other accident scenarios. It was the Western States which challenged the Board to address the issue of increased wearing of PFDs because your association believed that this is one action that could be addressed to reduce the loss of lives in boating accidents (losses that have averaged about 750 deaths over the last 10 years). This we did by hosting a public forum on the issue in August of last year. It was well attended and was a great venue – so that with the pros and cons could be discussed. The results of that forum are being prepared as we meet. It was clear from the discussion at the forum that the wearing of lifejackets by children, mandatory recreational boating education, and increased lifejacket wear for all recreational boaters through voluntary efforts and public awareness campaigns were supported by all facets of the boating industry. I congratulate Fred Messmann of Nevada and Ray Tsuneyoshi of California, as well as the entire membership of the Western States, for bringing this important topic to the forefront of recreational boating safety.

You are all aware of my position which is we must complete the goal of mandatory wear of PFDs by children in all 50 States. Additionally, the Board feels it is imperative that all recreational boat operators demonstrate a clear understanding of boating safety rules, and an ability to appropriately operate their vessel. The Coast Guard continually 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 ten years earlier. The 703 recreational boating deaths reported in 2003 (most recent publicly available number) are simply unacceptable.

The Safety Board has supported your increased safety efforts in every way possible. Indeed, Safety Board staff has testified in support of safety initiatives or met with a number of Western States including, but not limited to Washington, Idaho, New Mexico, and tomorrow with Montana. Bill has spoken with almost every Western State BLA. I am not going to lecture or bore you this evening with what States have not completed parts of our recommendations, I will leave that work to Bill tomorrow morning. However, I do ask that you join in with us and accomplish our recreational boating safety recommendations.

We are aware that as a result of individual Western States’ actions that many more recreational boaters have and will complete boating safety education courses. Washington State was a textbook lesson in how citizens, legislators, industry associations, and State and Federal agencies could achieve an important piece of legislation, mandatory boating education. We now look to the remaining States to do the same. With your effectiveness history and great dedication to 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 and that safety instruction training will occur at PWC rental locations. The Board believes that mandatory education will prepare boaters for a lifetime of safe recreational boating enjoyment.

Finally, the Board has asked the States to improve the safe use of personal watercraft (PWC) by requiring States to have liveries provide safety instruction training for those who rent PWC. Currently, more than 60 percent of the States require such instruction or provide guides for persons who rent PWCs. 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. If there is one message I could send you home with this evening, it is let’s continue to make a difference and let’s get these basic sound safety practices in place in every State.

In closing, I would like to again thank Western States President James Horan and also our host, Ron Jendro and the folks from Montana, for giving me the opportunity to speak to you this evening, and 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 lead to further reductions in recreational boating fatalities, injuries and accidents.