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Boater education moves are confusing

Should boater education be federalized?  Does it belong to the states? Should it be mandatory? How far should requirements go? Confused about boater education? You’re not alone. It doesn’t appear anyone has a solid handle on the subject and lots of groups, including the Coast Guard, NTSB, National Recreation Boating Safety Coalition and NASBLA are all scrambling to find one, if such is even possible.

The Coast Guard, for example, recently took a well-deserved public blasting when it said it wanted authority to establish requirements for pleasure boat operator proficiency along with required boater identification on our waterways. So, you’d think logic would lead the Coast Guard to back off an idea apparently nobody agrees with. Not so.

The Coast Guard just convened the National Boating Safety Advisory Committee’s Boating Education Task Force to redevelop legislation that will result in a new Coast Guard education proposal. 

Fortunately, NMMA’s Washington staff has been monitoring and attempting to provide industry input at every opportunity. As an industry we should have a reasonable, understandable position on boater education. How about this for a solid handle:
• First, boater education and any boater I.D. requirements proposed in the name of maritime security do not belong in the same discussion. We should oppose any requirement that boaters must have a separate I.D. just because they’re boaters! 
• As to education, a boater with basic knowledge will be more confident in his or her abilities and, therefore, will enjoy boating more. Accordingly, we should advocate basic safe boating education. But  it should be under the jurisdiction of the states to require all boaters to complete a NASBLA-certified course or any equivalent course such as the popular web-based course of BoatUS or courses like Boater 101 given by qualified boat dealers. The idea is to make it easy for boaters to become educated, not make it difficult to get to education!
• Boaters with experience should always be allowed to “test out.” 
• There should always be a new boat buyer’s grace period to allow time to complete an education course. 
• Boat rental instruction at the point of rental should be accepted and valid only during the the rental.  This would allow non-boaters to quickly get educated and rent a boat.
• Reciprocity among the states is a must so boaters can easily travel from one state to another. Greater uniformity in state education laws is most desirable.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Coast Guard attempt to create a new plan, it’s reported as many as 15 states are expected to seek some education legislation next year. There’s no question, as an industry, we all need to be singing from one songbook and if you’re in a state considering legislation, you should be attentive to what’s in any proposal.


9 comments on “Boater education moves are confusing


    The industry and the industry alone should be the ones to prescribe education requirements. NMMA may be better suited to facilitate the entire procedure because NASBLA has a tightly defined curriculum guide and is slow to advance with industry. In other words it is very difficult to bring change to NASBLA and they are reactive rather than proactive.

    Utilizing the insurance companies as the stick as they have the ability to vet each proposed insured and determine if the education received is appropriate for the proposed risk.

    If we use the U.S. Coast Guards Licensing process as an example of what could be then we can determine how government has failed to properly evaluate and maintain competency. When all lower level master and OUPV licenses were farmed out to third party schools the knowledge, skills, and ability of these license holders dropped significantly. Understanding this is a board brush and merely as viewed by myself as a U.S. Coast Guard Marine Inspector observing these individuals in the field and the enormous amount of training we had to provide to be able to get them to met minimum acceptable levels of ability. This is another issue to which we demonstrated how inappropriate it as for tax payers dollars supporting education of private business.

    With the open water the last area to enjoy freedom not found on land the government must stay away and let us find appropriate, targeted educational initiatives which meet mission.

    To preempt question, Yes, I do have a vetted interest in all of this as I am a partner in the This school was developed from need and we are directly partnered with industry. Additionally you not guaranteed to receive certification from this course. Each student must demonstrate ability on the water to become certified. No money back, no re-does only pay to do over. Our reputation and the future of recreational boating is on the line and this is why you cannot take our course Online.

    Best Regards,
    Brad Schoenwald

  2. Bill Haimes

    I agree with Norm but would expand on some of the points. First, Government, including law enforcement has no intrinsic right to demand identification of anyone, absent probable cause. The owner can be required to establish that he is in fact, the owner and that is all. There is enough information in boat registration records and documents to satisfy all the security needs. The problem is access for the Coast Guard since some states will not make it available and for local agencies as well since it is not on line like car license plates. The solutions here are not rocket science.

    Portability of the qualification is a must. The guiding principle in all things maritime is predictability and uniform treatment from one jurisdiction to another. It was once common to have a boarding in each Coast Guard District on the ICW and be inspected on different items each time. Even the Coast Guard saw this as a problem, once pointed out by a few Congressmen. NASBLA is the de-facto standard and should be formalized by Congress and thats where the Feds should stop.

  3. Jim

    I have been against state or fed involvement in licensing or mandatory boating education from the beginning. The power squadron and the cg auxiliary have done a fine job up to now, and I would submit that those who are normally conscientious people will continue to be so and will get a boating education. Those who ignore the rules of society in general will do the same in a boat–meaning that licensing auto operators and testing them has had little effect on people following the rules in an automobile.
    Maybe RV owners should be licensed to drop their awnings, start a camp fire and set up their sites–and don’t forget proper levelling. Laws, licenses and taxes are out of control and we need to discourage the practice of adding new laws and fees at every perceived opportunity. Again, boater education has been available for years. The same people who don’t speed or break the laws in a car, will do the same in a boat and vice versa.
    Having said all that and venting; I agree Norm that if we MUST have government involved, your proposed approach is agreeable—but how and when do we draw the line on rules and regulations that will ultimately completely discourage people from buying boats??

  4. Schwarzel

    Boy I see a mess of trouble when the feds take control of safe boating classes. Read that as ending up with a user tax, boating tax. (how are they going to pay for it) Nothing good would come of it. Boating use to be the “last frontier” a place to escape from all of the nuts in the world and now the nuts are on the water! They need boaters ED….but not at a federal level. Local level, where control can be kept, with out someone figuring out how to make a tax from all of it.

  5. Ron Longman

    Why doesn’t someone with some decision making power review the concepts of CDL licensing. All states must comply with Federal guidelines on the minimum qualifications for each class of license. However, states are given leeway in adding to the minimum requirements to attain specific riders to your CDL within a particular state., ie: hazmat, passenger, tanker, etc.

    Minimum standards could be established, with more intense instruction applicable in areas where there are serious or dangerous sea or weather conditions more frequently that local boaters may encounter.

    Just a thought.

    R. Longman

  6. Roger Field

    I agree with those who oppose letting more government into our lives, but the fact is the vast majority of boaters involved in boating accidents have had little or no prior boating education and training. Education and training add greatly to enjoyment and that leads to repeat business.

  7. Capt Russ Cohen


    Why won’t anyone talk about or promote “Hands-on” Education and Training! I’ve written about this numerous times. I’ll comment on the 6 bullet points you mentioned above about education. It’s not confusing, it’s bureaucratic!

    1. I agree with you that another ID is not needed, just check driver’s licenses and yes, every vessel has reg. #’s and or Doc. #’s, we don’t need more #’s! What law enforcement needs is compentency in their communication, computer systems and sharing of important information; good luck with that!

    2 & 3. NASBLA content is very rigid, outdated and as a certified NJ Boating Instructor, I can tell you that questions are sometimes ambiguous and don’t do a good job of actually teaching the student safe boating. That is why I disagree with online learning, you need a live, educated instructor to administer the course content so it can be taught successfully. NJ is mandatory for everyone and although people will complain, taking a course for 6-8 hours is not that bad. NJ does have a test-out option for experienced boaters.

    4 & 5. I agree with a grace period for new boat buyers, but I also think the dealers need to do a much better job of having safety courses available and offering you guessed it, “Hands-on” Training! The rental education is fine, people in rental boats are not the ones killing people and if they do, you have a company and assets to go after. Maybe a good rental company will help to sell the person on buying a boat?

    6. I totally agree there should be reciprocity among states. NASBLA is probably the easiest path to take when trying to establish national guidelines because they have “state boating law administrators” in most states already.

    Lastly, what Brad said about Captain’s Licenses is very true. I’ve have had to take the wheel away from many a 50 ton Master because they didn’t know how to handle a boat! Remember, there’s no “Hands-on” testing to obtain your Captain’s License, just “Seatime”! What Ron wrote about CDL licensing is very interesting, but again, I doubt you’ll see on-water testing.

    The fact is simple, the industry needs some form of ‘consistent’ classroom learning with a proctored classroom environment and it also has to EMBRACE AND PROMOTE “HANDS-ON” TRAINING AND EDUCATION EVERY STEP OF THE WAY DURING THE BOAT BUYING PROCESS! Any questions, please stop at a Golf Course, Ski Mountain, Scuba Pool, Airport or Cycle Shop!

    Thanks for your time, take care and as always, we’ll See Ya on the Water!
    Capt Russ Cohen, Founder & President
    Boatboy Marine Training

  8. mike webster

    In many regions the majority of accidents and misuse are related to PWC. If we as an industry had guarded against the proliferation of such craft we would have likely seen less outcry for control and “education”.

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