Massachusetts’s boaters and other organizations are trying to create new laws and raise awareness to ensure safety to boaters on the water.
According to the Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Resource Center, since the start of 2012 Massachusetts has seen a rapid increase of accidents, with alcohol, zero boating education, and improper use of life jackets being the leading reasons. Currently in Massachusetts, a 12-year-old can take a boating exam and drive a 65-foot recreational boat, while any competent adults 16 years and older do not have to take any exam to boat. Life jackets are not mandatory on boaters over the age of 12, but boaters are simply required to have life vests on the boat at all times. Passengers on boats can consume alcohol as long as the captain is sober.
John Girvalakis, a Massachusetts Environmental Police lieutenant, said that “without proper education and life jackets, it’s just a disaster waiting to happen”. He said “there is no guarantee that a life jacket is going to save your life”, but wearing one will increase your chances of survival.
Bob Garber, the manager of the Boston Sailing Center and a 50 year boater said that, “Massachusetts is behind other states on training.” Due to Massachusetts’s lack of education, more boaters are driving on the waterways without any proper knowledge of basic boating knowledge like buoy meanings and right of way, endangering everyone. He went on to state “people who would never think of having a drink in a car do it on a boat.” Showing the negative impact of alcohol on boats.
Currently the David Hansen Act, HB627, has been introduced in the Massachusetts legislature. Some of these bills introduced into the legislatures would require a range of actions from mandatory boating education classes to a requirement that all passengers wear their life jackets on boats. Though with this comes opposition. Bill Gossard, a retired investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board, stated that the only problem with the new legislation is that “it depends on whoever is in power” showing the political tension accompanied with boating.
In Massachusetts, proposed bills expire in two years if they are not passed by the legislature. Some boaters oppose legislation stiffening the laws. The general argument against life jackets is that they are too hot and cumbersome. Though countries like Australia and Tasmania have life jackets requirements and have found large success according to Gossard.
Breanne Dent, an avid sail boater on the Massachusetts Bay Harbor, said that with the increase of tourists in Massachusetts, she has seen a large increase in boaters and more traffic on the water. When asked about her opinion on the current boating laws in the state, she said “they are easy as long as people follow them.” Currently, if a boater is caught breaking the law in Massachusetts such as drunk boating, they can experience the same punishments as driving, with driving licenses being suspended and boating licenses if they carry them.
“Not a lot of the boats are very good at giving right of way”, Griffin Garber, a 15-year-old boater with dreams of racing, said in regards to boating safety. “There are classes available but not required” said Bob Garber, the father of Griffin, in regards to boating laws and the danger people pose with no education in boating.
This doesn’t mean that the Massachusetts Environmental Police and United States Coast Guard are not active. Bob Garber stated that police officers and Coast Guard perform random checks to make sure the captain is not intoxicated and all of the boat’s safety gear is aboard and working.
Rachel Johnson, an executive chairman for the National Safety Boating Council located in Virginia, said that wearing a life jacket is “the simplest life saving thing to do.” The NSBC “Wear-It!” is a campaign aimed at showing boaters how wearing life jackets can save their lives. They have created multiple brochures for life jacket security, effectively scanning the waters for danger, and even having the correct lanyards attached to boats. Their commercials also play a key part in the campaign, with their most recent in 2016 called “Silly Humans”. The NSBC has officially created a new outreach campaign aimed at boating inattention that is supposed to launch before the end of 2017.