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.