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Remarks before the 2006 National Boating Federation 40th Anniversary General Meeting, Portsmouth, VA
Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Boating Federation 40th Anniversary, 2006 General Meeting, Portsmouth, VA

Good morning. Thank you, President Marlene Barrington, for inviting me to the 2006 National Boating Federation’s General Meeting on your organization’s 40th Anniversary.    Certainly, Portsmouth, Virginia is a great location and has a rich and diverse marine history.   Before starting in earnest on the topic of recreational boating safety, I would like to introduce Mr. Bill Gossard from our Office of Safety Recommendations and Advocacy.

For more than two and a half decades, the National Transportation Safety Board has been pleased to work with the Federation in advancing recreational boating safety on our Nation's waterways.  It has been the leadership of organizations, such as the Federation that has kept the Safety Board engaged in this unique mode of transportation.  Bill informs me that he has worked closely with Margot Brown, Earl Waesche, Dave Kutz, Bob David and Ev Tucker, to name a few from the Federation’s membership.

This morning I would like to focus on three critical areas where the Safety Board and the Federation can and are working together to make the Nation’s waterways safer; first, the 2004 public forum on Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) in Recreational Boating; second, the Safety Board’s Most Wanted list; and last, the newly emerging issue of the safety of sole State passenger vessels.

The 2004 PFD Forum addressed issues dealing with the wearing of life jackets and resulted in recommendations issued to four organizations:  the United States Coast Guard, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA), and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). The full text of the recommendation letters sent to these organizations are available at the handout table for your review. 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 before the high loss of life can be reduced.    The Safety Board’s recommendations asked that the manufacturers and retailers work to change the boating culture to better accept the wearing of life jackets.  We asked for a marketing strategy from the NMMA and the MRAA, and they have provided that information.  Indeed, one of the first actions accomplished under this program by the NMMA involved the Outdoor Channel, NMMA and the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association (PFDMA), who held a joint signing that the Outdoor Channel would support the wearing of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) on as many of its shows as possible.  I had the privilege of participating at that event.

Additionally, the MRAA has invited the NTSB Chairman to address their board meeting in November in Las Vegas on how their strategy will be executed to support the national initiatives.   The Coast Guard 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.  I believe that the United States National Boating Safety Advisory Committee and the Coast Guard are engaged as we speak on this topic at another Virginia location.  The NASBLA was asked to include further information in its National Educational Standards addressing high-risk boating populations and small boats.  The NASBLA’s response has also been received and is being evaluated.

The next issue deals with the Safety Board’s Most Wanted List. The Safety Board voted only a month ago to keep State Recreational Boating Safety on the its Most Wanted Safety Improvements List for 2007.  The Safety Board has two recommendations on the list issued in 1993 and 1998 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 on the accomplishment of these recommendations? The truth is that many of you are part of this and we are making tremendous headway.  

  • In regard to 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 this portion of the recommendation for New Mexico, Oklahoma, the U.S. 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.   We invite the Federation to add their important support for recreational boating safety initiatives in these States. 
  • In regard to the mandatory wear of lifejackets for children, 46 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have completed a State requirement.  There remain only four States, Wyoming, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Virginia, that 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.  The Chairman plans 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.   I understand, and Ev Tucker can correct me if this is not the case, Representative Kathy Byron has pre-filed her legislative initiative from last year to advance recreational boating safety education for all boat operators in the Commonwealth of Virginia. 
  • In regard to Safety Recommendation M-98-101, which addresses the need for persons renting personal watercraft (PWC) to be provided some safety instruction training prior to operating such a vessels, 34 States, the District of Columbia, and four Territories currently have enacted legislation or taken action consistent with the Safety Board’s recommendation.  There remain 13 States where the Safety Board continues to seek action on this recommendation.  

Copies of our Most Wanted List and additional information on these activities are on the handout table.

The Safety Board strongly supports the States’ safety efforts.  Board Members and staff have testified or provided supporting information in a number of States in the 2006 legislative cycle, including Wisconsin, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Oklahoma, Maine, and Iowa.  This morning, I again challenge the Federation to join with us in assisting to complete 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.  We particularly will need your assistance in States such as Virginia, Iowa, Wisconsin, Maine, Massachusetts, California, South Carolina, and Montana, to name a few.  If you think you can help us in these States, please see Bill after the meeting to make sure he has your contact information.

The third area, I would like to discuss, is the 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 identified in this passenger vessel accident.  Based on our preliminary survey of States, it appears that the safety of uninspected passenger vessels carrying more than six passengers on sole State waters primarily falls on the shoulders of the States’ Boating Law Administrators, with the exception of Washington State and Minnesota, where Departments of Labor and Industry have that responsibility. 

On October 4th and 5th, at the Safety Board’s training center in Ashburn, Virginia, the Coast Guard and seven States provided the nuts and bolts of their inspection and certification programs for small passenger vessels.   I am pleased to report that 27 States and Puerto Rico were in attendance.  Charlie Sledd, Past President of NASBLA, who is here today to also address this meeting, was personally involved in making this a terrific training seminar.   I do not want to overstate the success of this seminar but I believe it was a sound first step to engage States as to the seriousness of the certification and inspection needs for this class of vessels.   Some of the serious issues that were discussed at this seminar included:

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

We have also provided copies of the Ethan Allen accident report for your review.  Additionally, Bill, who was one of the Safety Board staff that arranged for the training seminar, is here today to answer more detailed questions.
In conclusion, I again wish to reach out and let you know that the NTSB is available to address conferences or meetings that directly advance our recommendations addressing recreational boating safety.

Finally, I would like to again thank Marlene and the National Boating Federation Board for providing me the opportunity to join 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 look forward to the Federation’s continued efforts to further improve boating safety for the rest of 2006 and into the new year 2007, so that we together can further reduce recreational boating fatalities, injuries, and accidents.

Thank you.