The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a report on the risks associated with the shared use of America’s waterways by recreational and commercial vessels, saying the U.S. Coast Guard should require recreational boaters on U.S. navigable waterways to complete a safety course.
The course should meet the standards set by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators or equivalent.
“Just as operators of motor vehicles upon our nation’s roadways are required to demonstrate a standard of understanding of the rules of the road in order to make roadways safer for all vehicles, large and small, so too must operators of recreational vessels understand and practice the rules of the road upon our nation’s maritime transportation system to make waterways safer for all vessels, large and small,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart.
The growth of both commercial and recreational vessel traffic during the last several decades is seen as a significant risk factor. The number of canoers, kayakers and standup paddleboarders increased by nearly 22 percent between 2008 and 2014. The diversity of waterway users and their differences in experience, navigational knowledge, and boat-handling skills exacerbate the safety risk.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 4,158 recreational boating accidents were reported in 2015. These accidents resulted in 626 deaths, 2,613 injuries, and approximately $42 million in property damage. Compared to 2014, the number of accidents increased 2.3 percent, the number of deaths increased 2.6 percent, and the number of injuries decreased 2.4 percent.
The Coast Guard identified the accident causes as:
• collisions with recreational vessels (990 accidents),
• collisions with fixed objects (470 accidents),
• flooding/swamping (449 accidents),
• groundings (350 accidents), and
• skier mishaps (301 accidents).
The NTSB report Shared Waterways: Safety of Recreational and Commercial Vessels in the Marine Transportation System highlights a recent example of the risks:
“In the late afternoon on August 30, 2016, a group of eight kayakers set off from the dock at West 44th Street in New York City for a guided tour along the Hudson River. The intended route was south along the waterfront of midtown Manhattan, then southwest down the river. As the tour passed the New York Waterways ferry piers at West 39th Street, a commercial passenger ferry backed out of its berth, then turned west to head toward New Jersey.
“The kayak tour guide attempted to signal the ferry captain by waiving his arms, but the captain later told investigators that because of the glare of the setting sun he did not see the paddlers in time to avoid colliding with them. Three kayakers, including the guide, were injured in the collision—two of them seriously. The ferry captain alerted authorities and used his vessel and crew to help rescue the kayakers. New York Waterways did not learn until several hours later that all kayakers had been rescued and accounted for.”
The NTSB issued three safety recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, one to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and one the National Water Safety Congress in the report. These recommendations address the need to identify and mitigate risks associated with shared waterways and training and education for recreational vessel operators.
The report is available here.