Good evening. Thank you, President Jeff Johnson (BLA-AK), incoming President Tom Fetterman (BLA-ME), State Boating Law Administrators, and invited guests for providing me the opportunity to open the 2007 NABSLA Annual Conference in this environmentally refreshing City of Burlington, Vermont. Also, a gracious thanks to our host, Dan Begiebing, the Vermont Boating Law Administrator. (Parenthetically also any other top State official who is present as yet unknown)
As you might expect, the Safety Board has been very busy in the past few weeks. Indeed the bridge collapse in Minnesota has required substantial Safety Board resources and we are working hard to make sure that the exact cause is identified and changes are made so that this tragedy never occurs again anywhere in the United States. Indeed we have already made some initial observations, and the Secretary of Transportation has suggested inspection actions by all States with bridges of this particular design. Even though this is a major undertaking, I always find the time to be at NASBLA because the Safety Board is passionate about making recreational boating as safe as it possibly can be. (Unfortunately, I must return to Washington this evening but Bill Gossard, Office of Safety Recommendations and Advocacy and Rob Henry, Office of Marine Safety will stay for the entire conference and will provide a report to me on the important issues addressed during this conference. This sentence will change if you stay over a night)
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 and actions by NASBLA and Boating Law Administrators, embodied in President’s such as past-President Charlie Sledd, current-President Jeff Johnson and future-President John Fetterman that keeps me coming back to these conferences. Also, of course, is the unmistakable fact that the States have enacted over 230 recreational boating safety laws directly recommended by the Safety Board in such areas as alcohol and boating, lifejacket wear by children and persons aboard personal watercraft (PWCs), other PWC safety improvements including rental safety instruction, and mandatory recreational boating safety education. Thus, it is with great pleasure and respect that I provide these abbreviated remarks to an organization that embodies the principle to make our waters safer for everybody’s use.
On Tuesday, September the 18th, the Board will again discuss the need and rationale to keep Recreational Boating Safety on the Board’s Most Wanted Safety Improvements list for 2008. This list addresses children and lifejackets, boating safety education for all boaters, and rental safety instruction at PWC rental locations. I am confident that these issues will stay on the Board’s list. As many of you are aware, I have made a personal commitment that all 50 States will complete a law addressing children and life jackets before I depart the Board. Currently, 47 States have taken such action, and I would like this evening to personally congratulate the Wyoming Boating Law Administrator Carol Havlik for doing the hard work necessary to get the job done. On July 20, 2007, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission voted to require life jacket wear for children ages 12 and under in Wyoming. Carol, thanks.
In August, I directed my staff to arrange meetings with the Governors of Iowa and Virginia to enlist their aid in actively advancing this safety requirement for the 2008 legislative sessions. In Wisconsin, even as I speak, 2 bills are engaged in that State’s approval system and I may yet have to arrange a trip to Madison to fight for that initiative. In all 3 of these States, I know I have the finest Boating Law Administrators working hard to get these laws enacted.
One of the other major safety issues is boating safety education, which has now reached the tipping point, and I expect action in a number of States in 2008. Fourteen States remain open on the Board’s MOST WANTED list; however, a few States need to reassess their boating education laws so that they apply to all boaters. In many States, coalitions of recreational boaters who understand the value of education are leading the way such as in California and Maine, and new coalitions being formed in North Carolina and Illinois to address recommendations that have not been accomplished. I also restate my commitment that the Safety Board will assist any of these coalitions to prepare the way for improved and strengthened boating safety education laws. Why do we do this, because, I am saddened when 2 children under age 13 die in Tennessee because antiquated laws allow private lakes where no State law takes precedent, I repeat where NO State laws take precedent. I doubt that the adults involved in this accident had ever taken any boating safety education course. In another sad case, a frightened 11 year-old child is allowed to operate a PWC with a 6-year old passenger. The ensuing collision of the PWC striking another vessel, involving a family of four, results in the near tragic death of a mother of 2 children. A clear violation of Massachusetts’s law (operators of PWC in that State should be 16 years or older) but also an indication that the parents need a healthy dose of boating safety education, in addition, to a boating violation ticket.
The Safety Board supports your increased efforts to finish the job. Indeed, in the 2007 legislative sessions the Board has testified in 2 States twice (Virginia for boating safety education) and Wisconsin (lifejacket wear by children). Additionally, we have provided supporting information in Iowa, Maine, California, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Massachusetts, Utah and Wyoming,
Finally, I would like to briefly discuss safety of sole State passenger vessels. So far as the result of the joint Coast Guard/NASBLA/Safety Board October 2006 public forum on the safety issues that resulted from the ETHAN ALLEN tragedy – 2 States have made the commitment to address improved safety of these vessels (UTAH and TENNESSEE). Thank you, Ed Carter (BLA-Tennessee) and Dave Harris (BLA- Utah). This increases the number of States with oversight for these sole State passenger vessels from 7 States to 9 States. Also, New York State enacted additional safety improvements recommended by the Safety Board from the accident investigation. This entailed hard work by New York’s Boating Law Administrator Brian Kempf. Our staff, Rob Henry and Bill Gossard, is available to assist the States in any way we can. I am pleased to learn that the full-NASBLA will be voting on a policy position paper at this conference, I look forward to that initiative. Additionally, Rob Henry and a NASBLA Subcommittee have been working on proposing changes to the current NASBLA Model Act for Charter Boat Safety. We need a strong model act so that States can take appropriate actions based on the lessons we have learned from a number of tragic small passenger vessel accidents. I will expect that this model act will be completed by next year’s NASBLA annual conference.
Finally, I would like to again thank NASBLA President Jeff Johnson and our host, Dan Biebeging, for giving me the opportunity to join with you this evening, 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 John Fetterman and I know from personal discussions with him that his commitment runs as deep as Jeff’s as we seek to further improve boating safety for the rest of 2007 and into the new year 2008 to reduce recreational boating fatalities, injuries and accidents.
Now I have saved the best for last, as I am pleased to present 2 National Transportation Safety Board awards to 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 or [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 2 jurisdictions who represent the 18th and 19th such awards. If the Boating Law Administrators or their representatives for the State of Nevada and the State of New Hampshire, come forward.
[Present the Plaques]
I would like all States and territories that have not yet completed these requirements to do so. I personally would like to present this award to the remaining States and Territories. For some it simply takes the effort to move the mandatory wear of PFDs for children up one year, just like Nevada… for others more serious actions need to happen for example, new Hampshire, which moved its PFD requirement for children from ages 5 and under to ages 12 and under. 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.
Speeches & Testimony