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Boating looks pretty good in NTSB Report

Earlier this month, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements and I gotta say that recreational boating is looking pretty good! In fact, boating safety has “come a long way baby” (to steal a phrase) in the past decade and, today, dealers can confidently tell prospects that boating is the safest it has ever been.

When looking at progress in boating safety, the NTSB uses as a benchmark its boating safety study conducted in 1993. While the current NTSB report does not specifically acknowledge that since that date boating fatalities have consistently declined to record lows, the steady improvement in boating safety is clearly inherent in their analysis of progress made over the past 10 years.

For example, in 1993, the NTSB recommended implementation of minimum boating safety standards to reduce the number and severity of boating accidents. It urged that the mandatory use of life jackets for children be undertaken and it also recommended there be a demonstration of operator knowledge of safety boating rules. Finally, the ’93 study pointed out: unlike general aviation and motor vehicle operators (a poor comparison, I believe) boaters did not have to demonstrate skills or obtain an operator license!

It’s a fact, most boaters are opposed to operator licensing and, arguably, with over 700 models of boats, practical skills testing would be nearly impossible. But those issues aside, the rest is really good news for boating.

Since the NTSB recommendations were issued in ’93, virtually all the states have enacted legislation or taken action consistent with the board’s recommendations. In the arena of children PFD wear, today 48 states have mandatory child’s life jacket requirements on the books. Virginia and Wisconsin do not, yet.

When it comes to a boater’s demonstration of knowledge of safety boating rules, today 36 states now have a mandatory boating safety education requirement in place and six more have proposed such legislation. States still without any mandatory education are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming. Only one state, Alabama, has mandatory Operator Licensing, a model no other state has followed since Alabama instituted its program 14 years ago.

What’s the bottom line of all this? Where once the boating industry feared mandatory education would have a detrimental effect on prospective boaters, those fears were never realized. In fact, having the states address mandatory education needs, and requiring that children wear life jackets, have all had a positive impact on the safety of boating in America when we look back at it. Boating is the safest it has ever been thanks to state agencies and volunteer boating safety education organizations.


3 comments on “Boating looks pretty good in NTSB Report

  1. Jerry Richardson

    Norm, maybe Wisconsin and Virginia read Federal Regulations that require children under the age of 13 years, wear PFD’s. They then decided the rules were already there and let it stand. The actual text from the current Wisconsin Boating Regulatins reads;

    FEDERAL PFD WEAR REGULATION FOR CHILDREN: Federal regulations now require that dhildren under the age 13 (that are not in a cabin or below deck) must wear a PFD on all recreational boats while underway. This applies on waters subject to federal jurisdiction.

  2. Captain Bob Armstrong

    I can’t begin to say how much it pleases me to see solid proof that education is NOT a dteriment to boat sales but rather beneficial for the industry as a whole. This is a position I’ve held and actively “preached,” (rather loudly I might add, though it often seemed to be to deaf ears) for over 30 years. I only wish that the powers that be would realize that to complete the pictrure (and also satisfy the NTSB’s suggestion of new boaters demonstrating operator knowledge) we should have mandatory education include on-water training as well as the classroom or on-line portions that present the subject matter only as theory. As I’ve said for years, it is as ridiculous to try to teach boating without going on the water as it would be to try to teach SCUBA without going in it. But I’ll happliy accept any degree of progress as an improvement. And again, I must say it is gratifying to see that statistics bear this out.

  3. John Wisse

    Captain Bob Armstrong’s comments are directly reflected in a new boater education program being developed through the Marine Marketers of America. The Boating Education and Safety Training (B.E.S.T.) – Just For Women, is a program that combines boating education classroom training and hands-on skills boat handling training. The Marine Marketers of America ( is nearing final development of the B.E.S.T. program and plans to hand it off to the marine industry in 2009. I could not agree more that this approach is reflected in many other outdoors recreation industries such as scuba diving and motorcycle riding. Utilizing this education-to-sales buisness model, which Norm has written of several times in 2008, makes good sense for a recreation industry in need of modifying its overall identity in a more highly competitive market today and for the future.

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