Surprise! Proposed Boating Regulation Would Make Things Worse

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Is recreational boating going to be regulated out of fun, and hence, existence?

Interesting question, and I wonder if some organizations are now just trying to justify their existence and funding by proposing new regulations for boaters. What am I talking about? The Coast Guard has just released another Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in the Federal Register for a new national regulation to be imposed on the recreational boater.

The ANPRM is based on no science and a knee-jerk reaction to an infrequent type of boating accident from propeller strikes and carbon monoxide casualties. I do not want to downplay the seriousness of being hit by a propeller, but this is a rare occurrence in the boating world – more people are bitten by sharks. However, the proposed rule would require all boaters to shut down their boat’s engines if someone is in the water and near the back of the vessel, to prevent propeller strikes and CO poisoning.

What? Come on and give me a break, please.

So I will be required to shut down the main engines and my generator if anyone is swimming off the swim step. How stupid, as this action would make me lose control of the vessel and all AC power onboard. Really? Shut down my power, electronics, HVAC, lights, steering, and other equipment?

Furthermore, this action would be strictly against man-overboard procedures, and I would have to leave the helm to shut down the genset. Water skiers, get ready to shut down every time someone jumps in or is picked up – and how many dead batteries will this cause? Oh, lifeguards on rescue boats need to prepare to shut down your engines while in the surf line when you are picking up distressed swimmers.

Interesting that this ANPRM was recommended by the National Boating Safety Advisory Council, yet I do not see any science or statistical data to support this regulation affecting all boaters. I know that the law of unintended consequences will rear its ugly head, as I think that this rule would realistically make boating more hazardous and put more boaters in jeopardy.

Keep in mind that a national survey proved that boating and fishing is the No. 1 activity for families to spend time together. Furthermore, in my Aug. 19 column (available online at, I took issue with the statement from the US Coast Guard that the number of boating deaths remains unacceptably high.

I wrote, “the 2010 recreational boating statistics show that total boating fatalities were at an all-time low of only 672 while boating participation was at a record high of 32.4% of the population or 75 million people. If my math is correct, then 672 annual deaths divided by the 75 million people who participated in boating for the year equals 0.00000896 or 0.000896%.”

Can you say less than 1 percent? Way, way, way less?

So why does boating need more regulations, when it already is a very safe activity and the empirical data proves this? The reason is that boaters are an easy target for knee-jerk regulation because boaters go to the water on the weekends and then go back to work during the week. Boaters are not watching for new regulations being introduced by non-boating legislators after a constituent’s best friend’s second cousin was injured while boating. In other words, yes, people do get hurt, but I know of people who have fallen and broken a wrist while walking on the sidewalk. Therefore, we should we require that everyone wear wrist guards while walking on sidewalks.

There is a 90-day comment period that is open until Nov. 25, and do not forget that the proposed rule to mandate the wearing of lifejackets on vessels less than 18 feet is still weaving its way through the system, too.

As I said on my radio show, “I will just wrap myself in bubble wrap when I leave my house to go boating. The bubble wrap will maybe protect me from hurting myself, and if I fall in the water then I will float easily. Oh wait, the bubble wrap is not an approved floatation device by the Coast Guard, so I will not be in compliance, even with bubble wrap. Therefore, I think we might need a new boating law for mandatory wearing of bubble wrap, helmets, and wrist guards – you have to walk down the docks.”

Tip of the week is for boaters to make your voices heard to all your legislators whether locally, at the state level, and in Washington, before boating and fishing regulations knoc all the fun out of the No. 1 family recreational pastime.

And don’t forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon, Pacific Time and replayed on Sunday at 10 am Pacific. Join Chandler Bell, Craig Carpenter, and me as we talk about “all things boating.” You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iTouch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at or

Until next week, Safe Voyages!

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  1. I webmaster the Propeller Guard Information Center. There are actually many more recreational boat propeller accidents than shark attacks in the United States. I tried to post some statistical information on prop strikes and shark attacks here earlier and the system blocked me so I posted in on our site at:

    I suggest you correct your article.

    gary polson
    Propeller Guard Information Center

  2. Leave Capt. Mike alone with a tongue in cheek comment. This regulation is useless and who is going to enforce it? The major point is that it does not take into consideration the size of the boat. Skiff with an outboard or a yacht with a huge swim platform. Besides looks like you, Gary, are simply making a posting to promote and sell your kill switches with a fake front of a website. You have lost all credibility as you should have disclosed your main purpose of financial gain in this discussion.

  3. Dear SamS –

    1. I said nothing about the regulation in my post here. I only pointed out Capt. Mike is misleading his readers about the relative number of U.S. recreational boat propeller strikes compared to U.S. shark attacks.

    2. As for my so called “fake front of a website”, I have spent a few thousand hours constructing it and producing the propeller safety related content posted there. I do have some other sites with associate ties to Amazon that might have sold a kill switch or two at some time, but I checked all our records and none of our sites have sold one in the last five years.

    3. I have posted several propeller safety inventions related to boat operators and passengers being ejected in the past. Most of them have been placed in the public domain for anyone to build or use. A few have not. If inventing and developing propeller safety devices is a crime, I am guilty.

    4. As for my credibility, over ten times as many people were killed by boat propellers as were killed by sharks in the U.S. in 2010. Capt. Mike said more people were attacked by sharks. I try to make sure propeller injury and fatality statistics are correctly reported in the media so people will be more alert near propellers. If being an advocate for propeller safety is a crime, I am guilty.

    5. I welcome Capt. Mike’s opinion on the proposed regulation. I welcome your opinion on the proposed regulation. I encourage, you, Capt. Mike, and all boaters to submit their comments on the proposed regulation to USCG at on USCG-2011-0497 on or before the November 25 cutoff date.

    Before you attack me further, I suggest you read this sentence from the comments I submitted to USCG on the other proposed regulation pertaining to kill switches a few weeks ago, “While we encourage everyone to use EECO (Emergency Engine Cut-Off) switches when appropriate, we will leave the debate on mandatory use to others.”

    Have a nice day

    gary polson
    Propeller Guard Information Center