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Statement for the Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding Between the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Outdoor Channel, 2006 American Boating Congress, Washington, D.C.
Deborah A. P. Hersman
American Boating Congress, Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding Between the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Outdoor Channel, 2006, Washington, D.C.

Good evening.

I am pleased to join Thom Dammrich, Chris Chaffin, and Bob Askew at this important signing between the NMMA and the Outdoor Channel. You are doing something tangible to educate and reach out to an audience that generally doesn't wear PFDs. In 2003, the observed use rate for adults wearing PFDs was around 10 percent. Like wearing bicycle helmets and seat belts, we know safety is a learned behavior. With increased exposure to commercial and professional use of PFDs, we can hope that boaters involved in hunting, fishing, or simply recreating on the water will decide to repeat what they have seen and wear PFDs. We all need to work together to change the boating culture to accept life jacket wear. Advancing life jacket wear is not a self-serving promotion. Life jackets work only one way -- if you are wearing one.

Unlike most people in this room, I am not a boater and, Chris, I don't even play one on TV. I am a safety official, and I'm here today to recognize the value of this MOU that may result in saving lives. Only a few weeks ago, the Safety Board's newest member, Kitty Higgins, was in Florida addressing life jacket wear before the Florida Boating Advisory Council. Last year Florida had a record high 80 fatalities, and we learned that the State's 2005 statistics indicated that 93 percent of Florida's boaters who fell overboard drowned. And further, the data revealed that 63 percent of them could swim. Guess how many of these victims were wearing a life jacket? If you guessed zero you'd be right. Additionally, 79 percent of Florida's fatal falls overboard involved a vessel 17 feet or less in length. This is a serious issue and the solution is known—wear a life jacket when on the water, particularly if you are the only boater on a vessel.

On March 13, 2006, the Safety Board issued recommendations following the 2004 Personal Flotation Devices in Recreational Boating Public Forum. Over 80 industry and government representatives attended this forum where the NMMA participated. As a result of the forum, a specific recommendation was issued to the NMMA (Safety Recommendation M-06-4) to develop a marketing strategy that promotes the increased use of personal flotation devices, and to integrate that strategy into the promotion and sale of boats and accessories.

After talking with everyone this evening, I look forward to the opportunity to go to the Miami Boat Show, the New York Boat Show, the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show or any of the boat shows and see manufacturers and distributors displaying life jackets as well as selling great boats. I have three children, and if I were looking at purchasing a boat, it would be great to see a set of color coordinated lifejackets available with the boat for my family, just as we have seen in the marketing done by the personal watercraft community that has proved so successful.

I'd like to thank the Chair of the PFDMA, Bob Askew, and all the other personal flotation manufacturers represented here this evening who have developed new products that are comfortable and effective if worn, because your products are going to save the lives of the Nation's recreational boaters.

This signing between NMMA and the Outdoor Channel serves as the beginning of a new chapter in recreational boating safety. Clearly, much needs to be done to market the voluntary wear of life jackets and to change the boating culture so that life jackets are not just seat cushions or stored in inaccessible lockers and not worn.

I look forward to more memoranda of understanding between entities who have the ability to influence the behavior of boaters, as we seek ways to increase voluntary wear by adults. I appreciate the NMMA and the Outdoor Channel for inviting me here to say a few words and witness this signing ceremony. The Safety Board is encouraged by the involvement of all the parties present here today. We hope this is the first of many positive partnerships that will increase PFD use in the United States.