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Remarks before the 2006 National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, Louisville, KY
Mark V. Rosenker
National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, Louisville, KY

Good morning. Thank you, President Charlie Sledd (BLA-VA), incoming President Jeff Johnson (BLA-AK) and State Boating Law Administrators for inviting me to the 2006 National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) annual conference in this wonderful city, Louisville, and also a gracious thanks to our host Mike Fields (BLA-KY), so that I can speak to the backbone of the recreational boating safety effort, the boating law administrators. Before starting in earnest on the topic of recreational boating safety, I would like to introduce staff here with me today; Bill Gossard from the Office of Safety Recommendations and Advocacy; Rob Henry from our Office of Marine Safety; and Tom Doyle, my special assistant.

For more than a two and one half decades the National Transportation Safety Board has been pleased to work with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) in advancing recreational boating safety on our Nation's waterways. It has been the leadership of NASBLA, embodied in President’s such as Charlie Sledd that has kept the Safety Board’s fires burning on safety issues in this unique mode of transportation.

This morning I would like to focus on three critical areas where the Safety Board and the NASBLA are working together to make the Nation’s waterways safer: the 2004 public forum on Personal Flotation Devices in Recreational Boating, the Board’s MOST WANTED list and State recommendations; and the new emerging issue of safety of sole State passenger vessels. The 2004 PFD Forum that addressed issues dealing with the wearing of life jackets and related factual information resulted in 4 recommendations issued to four organizations: the United States Coast Guard, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA) and NASBLA. These recommendations were issued in June 2006, and responses have been received by the Safety Board from all four organizations.

The forum confirmed safety issues that the Board has been on record supporting for many years:

  • The need for recreational boating safety education to be accomplished in every State;
  • Mandatory wear of personal flotation devices for children should be of the highest priority and;
  • Any increased or enhanced wear of lifejackets for the boating population in general should be undertaken by the States.

The forum confirmed that there is much work to do and the continued high loss of life can and will be reduced. The Board’s recommendations asked that the manufacturers and retailers work to change the boating culture to better accept the wear of life jackets. We asked for a marketing strategy from these 2 organizations and they have provided that information. Indeed, Member Debbie Hersman attended and spoke at the first NMMA initiative in this regard when the Outdoor Channel, NMMA and the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers held a joint signing that the TV channel would support the wearing of PFDS on as many of its shows as possible. I also have accepted an invitation from the NMMA to attend the Miami Boat Show in February 2007 to see how their new program will focus of PFD wear at a major boat show. Additionally, the MRAA has invited me to address their Board I next month on how their strategy will be executed to support the national initiatives. The Coast Guard basically was asked to develop and evaluate measures that would advance State safety programs dealing with life jacket wear. Their response has been received and is being evaluated. The NASBLA was asked to include further information in its National Educational Standards addressing high-risk boating populations (adults operating small boats) and small boats (boats less than 21 feet in length). NASBLA’s response has also been received and is being evaluated.

Second, the Board voted only 3 weeks ago to keep State Recreational Boating Safety on the Board’s Most Wanted Safety Improvements list for 2007. The Board’s Safety Recommendations on the list are M-93-1 and M-98-101 issued to States and Territories. Safety Recommendation M-93-1 has three parts: mandatory wear of lifejackets by children, recreational boating safety education, and operator licensing. Where are we today, addressing recreational boating safety education, 34 States, DC, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands have enacted legislation or taken action consistent with our recommendation. In 2006, the Board closed the recommendation for New Mexico, Oklahoma, the US Virgin Islands and Iowa. In 2007, we are looking for safety legislative initiatives in California, Maine, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Virginia, Montana, and perhaps, North Carolina and Minnesota. In regard to the mandatory wear of lifejackets for children; 46 States, the DC, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands have completed a State requirement. There remain only 4 States (Wyoming, Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia) the have not taken any action. Bill has informed me that we will have solid efforts planned for State legislatures next year in Wisconsin and Iowa. I plan to meet with officials in Wyoming shortly. In Virginia, we will be patient until the effort to complete recreational boating safety education has run its course. Safety Recommendation M-98-101 addresses the need for persons renting personal watercraft (PWCs) to be provided some safety instruction training prior to operating such a vessels. Presently, 34 States, DC, and 4 territories have enacted legislation or taken action consistent with the Board’s recommendation. There remain 13 States where the Board continues to seek action on this recommendation.

The Safety Board has supported your increased safety efforts in every way possible. Indeed, Safety Board Members and staff have testified or provided supporting information in a number of States in the 2006 legislative cycle including but not limited to Wisconsin, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, the United States Virgin Islands, Oklahoma, Maine, and Iowa. This morning, I again challenge you give us the opportunity to finish the actions that we know need to be completed and accomplish recreational boating safety education, mandatory wear of lifejackets by children, and safety instruction training for persons renting personal watercraft (PWC) at rental locations in every State.

The third area, I would like to briefly discuss, is safety of sole State passenger vessels. The Safety Board, as a result of the ETHAN ALLEN casualty, suggested to the United States Coast Guard and the NASBLA that a joint training seminar would be a positive interim measure to address some of the safety concerns learned from this and other passenger vessel accidents. Based on our preliminary survey of States, it appears that safety of uninspected passenger vessels carrying 6 or more passengers on sole State waters falls on the shoulders of the BLAs with the exception of Washington State and Minnesota where Departments of Labor and Industry have that responsibility. Therefore, we have offered this opportunity to the States’ BLAs and the 2 other Departments to travel to beautiful Ashburn, Virginia to the Safety Board’s Academy to attend a seminar that will provide the nuts and bolts of instituting a sound inspection and certification program. The Coast Guard and 8 States will present their programs. Currently, I am pleased to report that between 26 and 29 States have indicated that they will be there. (Note: I will provide the exact number on Monday morning). I personally would ask that States attend because the Safety Board wants every State with sole State passenger vessel operations to attend and to know what is needed to insure the safety of passengers using these vessels. I do not want to go to another State after such a serious accident and inform that Governor that a State employee responsible for this area was unable to travel to this training seminar because of artificial travel limitations or disinterest. There are some serious issues that will be discussed at this seminar including but not limited to:

  • Certification and safety inspection
  • Stability and seaworthiness
  • Passenger and crew safety
  • Crew qualifications and training
  • Marine accident reporting
  • Reporting of accidents/incidents

Bill is here the rest of the week and has brought information with him on the training seminar and is ready and willing to register you on the spot, so if you have not done. I strongly urge that you attend if you have such vessels operating on your sole State waters. If need to make a phone call from my office to your responsible supervisor or the Governor’s office, please let Bill know.

In conclusion, I again wish to reach out and let you know that the Board members and myself are available to come to any State, any legislative committee, any important conference or meeting that addresses recreational boating safety because we must do our job and that’s to reduce fatalities, injuries and accidents.

Finally, I would like to again thank NASBLA President Charlie Sledd and our host, Mike Fields, for giving me the opportunity to join with you this morning, and I, once again, congratulate and thank you for your hard work and your continuing efforts to improve recreational boating safety. I now look forward to working with the incoming President Jeff Johnson and I know from personal discussions with him that his commitment runs as deep as Charlie’s as we seek to further improve boating safety for the rest of 2006 and into the new year 2007 to reduce recreational boating fatalities, injuries and accidents.

Now comes the good part as I am pleased to present 4 National Transportation Safety Board awards to the States/Territories for meeting the four specific criteria set in 2000 when the first boating safety awards were presented at NASBLA’s conference in Mackinaw Island, Michigan.

The criteria are as follows:

  • The implementation of a mandatory education program that eventually will cover all recreational boaters.
  • The mandatory use of personal flotation devices (lifejackets) for children ages 12 and under [under age 13].
  • Strengthened alcohol and boating laws including at a minimum a defined blood alcohol concentration and implied consent; and
  • The inclusion of personal watercraft information in all State boating courses.

I am now pleased to present these awards to the following 4 jurisdictions who represent the 14 th, 15 th, 16 th and 17 th such awards. If the Boating Law Administrators or their representatives for the United States Virgin Islands, the State of New Mexico, the State of Oklahoma and the tiny Great State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, come forward.

[Present the Plaques]

I would like all States and territories that have not yet completed these requirements to do so. For some it simply takes the effort to move the mandatory wear of PFDs for children up one year, just like Rhode Island… for others more serious actions need to happen, just like occurred in the US Virgin Islands, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The bottom line, we need to make the changes and we need to make a difference. I am available and willing and as you know fully committed before I leave the Safety Board to see that every State has mandatory PFD wear for children and a recreational boating safety education program that reaches as many operators as possible. Bill is available around the clock to set the important meetings that will assist in making recreational boating improvements happen in your State. And if you get to Washington on business or vacation, please stop by and see us.

Thank you.