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NTSB stresses PFD use, boater education

Its ‘most wanted’ list includes mandatory-wear laws for kids, testing for boating knowledge

Its ‘most wanted’ list includes mandatory-wear laws for kids, testing for boating knowledge

The National Transportation Safety Board continues to press states to adopt laws related to children’s life-jacket wear, boating education and instruction of personal watercraft operators, but it still isn’t sure what to do to get more adults to wear PFDs.

Revisiting the list of safety improvements it most wants states to adopt, the NTSB in September said again that boating fatalities could be reduced if more states required children through age 12 to wear life jackets, and if they tested boaters for knowledge of rules of the road. It also wants states to require PWC businesses to instruct their rental customers in safe operation.

Those recommendations will remain on the NTSB’s “most wanted” list of safety improvements for the states to make, says Keith Holloway, NTSB boating safety press liaison. Notably absent from the most-wanted list is a recommendation for states to require adults to wear PFDs following an August public forum on that issue.

In 2003, 481 of 703 boating fatalities in the United States were drownings, and 416 of those drowning victims — 86 percent — weren’t wearing a life jacket. “We are concerned about that,” says Holloway. “What to do, we don’t know yet.”

He says the NTSB still is digesting the information it gathered at the summer forum. Boaters and the industry by and large opposed a broad mandatory-wear rule, but there was more support for mandated wear for those groups most at risk: children, canoeists, kayakers, PWC operators, water skiers, operators of boats smaller than 16 feet, and those operating in bad weather or cold water.

The National Boating Safety Advisory Council, which advises the Coast Guard, has set a goal of doubling the PFD wear rate to 44 percent by 2007, which the group believes could save 200 lives a year. The council is committed to meeting that goal “by all possible means,” including considering mandatory PFD wear for adults.

Six states — Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming — have no PFD-use laws, while 22 states have laws that cover children younger than 12. In those states without laws, a Coast Guard rule requires children younger than 13 to wear a proper-fitting life jacket while under way unless they are in an enclosed cabin or below deck. The rule, however, doesn’t supercede individual state child PFD laws.

Eighteen states have no laws dealing with boating knowledge. All others require some sort of boater education, with Alabama being the only state that requires licensing of recreational boaters.