Saving lives through safe boating

auxiliary boarding

A Coast Guard Auxiliary member inspects a recreational boaters flares during a free vessel safety inspection. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Crystalynn A. Kneen.

As a maritime nation, America has long turned to its waterways as a means of transportation and economic pursuits. Yet, America’s seas, lakes, rivers and streams are not merely the realm of the professional mariner. The sea has also called out to tens of millions of recreational boaters over the years. Their craft have evolved from those powered by sail to those powered by motor and their numbers peaked at nearly 13 million in the year 2000.

The first half of the 20th century saw recreational boating grow by leaps and bounds but also saw boating-related fatalities growing at an unacceptable rate. It was for that reason that on this day in 1971, President Nixon signed the Federal Boat Safety Act and established, among other things, the National Recreational Boating Safety Program.

“This act gave the Coast Guard the authority to establish mandatory boat manufacturing and safety standards that have significantly reduced accidents and injuries over the years,” said Capt. Mark Rizzo, chief of the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety. “The law also provided grants that States could use to fund their Boating Safety, Law Enforcement and Public Education programs.”

Class with students teaching Docking a boat

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary instructor teaches boat handling to students attending a boating course. U.S. Coast Guard Photo.

The act also established the National Safe Boating Advisory Council providing the Coast Guard with a cost-effective source of recreational boating safety expertise. Seven seats on the council are held by states, seven seats by industry and the rest by national recreational boating organizations and members of the public. It acts as a forum for the public to participate in recreational boating safety discussions that may lead to changing regulations.

Beyond the council, when it comes to boating safety, the Coast Guard’s biggest asset is the Coast Guard Auxiliary. With their primary mission as recreational boating safety, the auxiliary plays a pivotal role in the boating community conducting Vessel Safety Checks, a free examination available to boaters to ensure their vessels are in compliance with state and federal regulations, as well as teaching boating safety course to boaters of all ages. The Coast Guard also has a close relationship with numerous partner organizations such as the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the National Water Safety Congress, U.S. Power Squadrons, Army Corps of Engineers, Boat U.S. Foundation, the American Canoe Association and others. These associations work tirelessly supporting our many boating safety initiatives.


Coast Guard Auxiliarist examines a life jacket on board a recreational vessel during a free vessel safety check. The courtesy marine inspection examines safety equipment required to be on board every vessel on the water, such as lifejackets, devices to signal distress, working navigational lights, and fire extinguishers. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Terrell.

Consider this: in 1971 there were 5.5 million state registered boats and 1,582 recreational boating deaths. Over the past decade, the number of recreational boating deaths has hovered around 700 while the number of state registered boats has remained steady at 12.8 million since 2000. It is through the partnerships with the volunteer organizations, state-led agencies, the boaters themselves and the maritime community that this landmark legislation has been so successful.

As recreational boating’s popularity continues to increase, the Coast Guard will remain vigilant with their efforts to improve safety for boaters.

Click here to read an article from the Fall 2010 Proceedings.

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