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Remarks before the Boating Writers International Bi-annual Meeting, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Mark V. Rosenker
Boating Writers International Bi-annual Meeting, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Good Morning. Thank you, Mike for inviting me to be a part the bi-annual meeting of Boating Writers International. This is a wonderful location, and my tour of the Boat Show yesterday was a treat. It has been a few years since I sold my boat and after seeing some of the wonderful vessels my colleagues and I saw yesterday, I am reconsidering my thoughts on boat ownership. Let me introduce two of my colleagues here today: Tom Doyle, my (very) Special Assistant and also Bill Gossard from the Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications at the NTSB.

I believe this is the first time a representative of the National Transportation Safety Board has spoken to this distinguished group of writers and editors from the boating magazine and print industry. I am honored to speak with you this morning about the Board's efforts to reduce accidents and fatalities in recreational boating and the role you and your publications can play in advancing a safer recreational boating world.

For more than 35 years the National Transportation Safety Board has worked diligently to advance safe recreational boating on our Nation's waterways. The Safety Board first spoke to recreational boating safety in a 1969 study entitled "Recreational Boat Accidents, Boating Safety Programs, and Preventative Recommendations." In the past three decades, fatality levels in recreational boating have been reduced from nearly 1,400 a year during the 1970s to about 750 per year for the last eleven years. This decease in numbers has been a result of actions taken by the recreational boating industry, the United States Coast Guard, and boating regulators in every state. Some of their efforts have included:

  • Positive flotation requirements for recreational boats so they will not sink under most circumstances;
  • Capacity plate requirements to limit operators and prevent overloading;
  • Installation of flame arrestors to minimize serious fires aboard certain vessels;
  • State alcohol and boating laws have been strengthened, allowing marine law enforcement officers to focus on drunk boaters;
  • Mandatory education programs to improve operators knowledge of boating safety rules; And
  • Mandatory lifejacket requirements for children and other high-risk boaters such as water skiers, personal watercraft operators and boaters operating in cold waters or near dams.
When we look statistics, it is obvious that we have made great progress in reducing fatalities; however, this does not mean we should simply rest on our laurels. You and I both know that major safety improvements can still be made, which could bring down the number of fatalities even more. As I mentioned, during the past 11 years fatalities have remained at about 750 per year. This stagnation indicates to the Board that new directions and new safety initiatives are needed to diminish this high loss of life.

Over the summer, we held a public forum on "Personal Flotation Devices in Recreational Boats." This forum, which was held at the Safety Board's new training academy in Ashburn, Virginia, included 16 engaging and informative presentations and consisted of 100 participants representing a wide spectrum of recreational boating interests. I will only speak briefly about the forum because the Board is currently sifting through the information presented at the forum, in addition to studying the experience provided by Canada, Ireland, and 2 States in Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. We expect the report of the forum to be issued early next year. I am sure at that time we can further explore and examine what actions might be taken to advance boating safety.

As you might expect, we did not get full consensus from those participating in order to require mandatory PFD use across the board, and that was not our purpose; however, there were several safety issues on which we could all agree. First, all parties concurred on the need for mandatory recreational boating safety education to be established in every State. Second, mandatory wear of personal flotation devices for children should be the highest priority; and finally, a focused public information program with the goal of increasing or encouraging lifejackets to be worn among the general boating population should be undertaken by the States and the organizations involved in the boating community.

I believe an important result of holding this forum is that we now have an informal coalition of 16 strong participants in the quest to reduce recreational boating accidents and fatalities. Some of those partners include the National Boating Safety Advisory Council to the US Coast Guard, BOAT/US, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association, the Marine Retailers Association of America, the United States Coast Guard, the National Safe Boating Council, the National Association off State Boating Law Administrators, our good friends from the North - the Canadian Safe Boating Council, and the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, among others.

I also am happy to report that on September 14, 2004, the Safety Board voted unanimously to keep several recreational boating safety recommendations on our "Most Wanted" list for 2005. Since its conception, the Safety Board has issued in excess of 12,000 Safety Recommendations, with hundreds of new ones being created every year as the result of serious and deadly accidents in all modes of transportation. For example, in aviation we have issued recommendations to reduce the dangers to aircraft flying in icing conditions; to reduce and ultimately, to eliminate runway incursions and ground collisions of aircraft. We have asked the railroads to implement positive train control systems to assist engineers and help reduce accidents caused by human error. On our highways, we need to establish stronger and more comprehensive highway safety programs such as primary seatbelt enforcement laws and teen-focused highway safety programs, such as graduated licensing, which limits night driving as well as the number of passengers who can be carried by a novice driver.

So where are we today in recreational boating safety? Well fortunately, most States have taken some action on several of our "Most Wanted" safety recommendations. 30 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have either enacted legislation or taken action consistent with our recommendations in regards to mandatory education. However, there remain 17 States and one territory that have yet to take any action requiring education of recreational boat operators. Mandatory wear of lifejackets for children is now law in 43 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Indiana has partially met the intent of the PFD and children portion of the recommendation, but the remaining States (Wyoming, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Virginia as well as one territory, the US Virgin Islands, have not yet completed this common sense requirement. Current Safety Recommendations address the need for persons renting personal watercraft (PWCs) to be provided some safety instruction or training prior to renting or operating such a vessel. Presently, 31 States, DC, and 3 territories have enacted legislation or taken action in this area.

The Safety Board has vigorously supported State legislative initiatives in every way possible. Board Members and staff have testified in a number of States during the 2004 legislative cycle including Washington, Alaska, Wisconsin, Virginia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. This afternoon, I would like to applaud and encourage you to join with us in encouraging the necessary actions in order to establish mandatory 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 Safety Board would like to ask members of Boating Writers International and your publications to support our safety initiatives in recreational boating safety. Please join with us this morning in setting sails to achieve new safety horizons. The Board has a "bully pulpit," but in many ways, it pales in comparison to yours. In the past month, we have brought this message to other organizations such as the Marine Retailers Association of America's Executive Board, the National Advisory Board of BOAT/US, the International Association of Marine Investigators, the United States Marine Safety Association, the United States Power Squadrons, and the International Boating and Water Safety Summit. We can't do this alone. We need the boating community to assist us in making these common sense, life-saving recommendations accepted best practice among our nation's boaters.

Finally, I again thank Mike Sciulla and the Boating Writers International for giving the Safety Board 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 through your powerful position as writers and editors of major boating publications.