Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Recreational Boating Mandatory Education Initiatives

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Mr. Harry Hogan, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety and Mr. Jeff Ludwig, Regulatory Development Manager, U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Division

To reduce the number of recreational boating accidents, many states have mandated various types of education and licensing for motorized vessel operators. There are five general categories into which the recreational operator boating safety instruction requirements can be grouped.

Under a certain age: requires boat operators under a certain age to complete a boating safety course.

Born after a specified date: requires the boat operator to complete a class if he or she was born on or after a specific date.

Quick phase-in of all operators: several states have mandated boating safety instruction for their entire operator population, or at least up to a specified “grandfathered-in” age. This third group conducted a quick phase-in approach to getting their boaters educated, typically by requiring operators in younger age ranges to take courses first, then incrementally increasing the mandated age range.

Where no requirements exist: several states have no boating safety education requirements.

For personal watercraft operators only: some states have boating safety education requirements for personal watercraft operators only.

Advantages of the Quick Phase-In Policy
In 2006 the Coast Guard sponsored a study of operators involved in fatal accidents, finding that for the period of 1995 through 2005, the median age was 40, which means that in approximately 50 percent of the fatal motorized vessel accidents, the operator was over 40.

Therefore, the states with youth-based or “under a certain age” requirements are not reaching the majority of boaters involved in fatal accidents, and the states with a “born after” cut-off policy will typically have a long wait before they reach boaters who are 40.

Examining Trends
Currently, Alabama and Connecticut are the only states that have required all motorized vessel operators to obtain boating safety instruction for enough years that before/after comparisons are reasonable.

PICTURED: Mandatory boat operator safety instruction is often conducted as classroom-style sessions.

The study used the combined fatal accident rate (or FAR) of Alabama and Connecticut to show that future quick phase-in policy states should expect an approximately 25 percent decline in fatal accident rate. Using data from 2006 through 2008, Alabama and Connecticut have an average combined FAR of 3.9 fatal accidents per 100,000 registered motorized vessels.

This is 32 percent lower than the average fatal accident rate during what was considered their combined phase-in period from 1995 to 1999.

Further examination reveals that Alabama is driving the low fatal accident rate for this recent three-year period. Alabama has more than twice as many registered motorized vessels, at an average of 270,034, compared to Connecticut’s 108,875. Alabama’s average FAR was 3.8 fatal accidents per 100,000 registered motorized vessels during this three-year period, which is 45 percent lower than the average during phase-in.

Conversely, Connecticut had a FAR of 4.0, which was 66 percent higher than the average during phase-in. One possible explanation for Connecticut’s higher fatal accident rate in the past three years is its low number of total fatal accidents (averaging 4.3 per year for the past three years), which can result in major percentage changes with just a few accidents.

Confirming TrendsThe major assumption is that the quick phase-in policy is the primary factor in fatal accident rate reduction. Another assumption is that other states will follow trends that are similar to Alabama and Connecticut’s (or at least Alabama’s).

PICTURED: The test crash demonstrates the severity of damage that can occur.