Monday, December 06, 2010

States With Weak Boating Safety Laws

Two US states don’t require children to wear life jackets, 13 have no mandatory safety education

At least he's wearing a PFD! ©istockphoto/Jason Lugo
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the US Government Agency that is perhaps best known for investigating airplane accidents, recently removed recreational boating from what it calls its “Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.” The NTSB says that many states have “responded favorably” to federal recommendations to improve boating safety, but there are still many states pushing back. Such states have insufficient boating safety requirements, specifically in regards to children’s life jacket laws and mandatory boater education.

PDFs are off, helmets are on
For the record, the NTSB replaced boating with motorcycling on their watch list; and for the record, we were surprised motorcycle safety was not already on the Most Wanted list. The NTSB says that there were 4,400 motorcycle fatalities last year, which outnumbers those in aviation, rail, marine and pipeline (the sectors watched by the NTSB) combined. For comparison, nearly 700 people die in recreational boating accidents in the United States each year.

Kids without PFDs
Despite pressure from the NTSB, and despite the fact that over 70% of boating deaths are due to drowning – mostly by people who were not wearing life jackets - there are still two states that do not require children to wear life jackets. Those states are Wisconsin and Virginia.

Boaters without education
And there are 13 states do not require any boating education safety course at all according to the NTSB Safety Alert issued last month (PDF). The NTSB urges these states to adopt mandatory boating education safety requirements for all recreational boaters. Again, anyone can operate a boat in the following states with zero boating education:
1. Alaska
2. Arizona
3. California
4. Hawaii
5. Idaho
6. Indiana
7. Maine
8. Mass
9. Minnesota
10. Montana
11. South Carolina
12. Utah
13. Wyoming
Others not much better
In addition to the 13 states that the NTSB called out by name, there are several more states that do not require a boating education safety course for adults, although some are stricter than others about 10 or 12 year-olds that operate motor boats. These states include Texas, New York and both Dakotas, as well as Washington, D.C.

Now before you comment and applaud the two states that are holding on to personal freedoms, ask yourself if you would allow your children to ride in a car without a seat belt – especially if you knew all the other drivers on the road had never taken a driver’s exam or had even one hour of driver education before operating their vehicle.

Of course nothing beats hands-on training, but online boating safety courses such as those offered by can help you learn the rules of the waterways and be a safer boater. You can find boating education requirements for your state and local education resources at FirstBoat’s boating by state portal, online at


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