US Sailing to fight for Boater Rights

Published on March 7th, 2017

Bruce Burton, President of US Sailing, and Jack Gierhart, Chief Executive Officer of US Sailing, report on proposed laws that will negatively impact boating.

Over the past several days we have received numerous communications from our members and other sailors concerned about potential legislation in Maryland and Florida that would impact sailing and boating in those states. Thank you for sharing your concerns and perspective on these developments.

In Maryland, bills have been introduced in the state senate and house that would prohibit operation of a vessel while a person aboard is riding on, or suspended from, the bow, gunwale or transom of the vessel. HB 1609 and SB 1147 were introduced by Republican Delegate Mary Ann Carozza (R-38C- Ocean City) in the Maryland House of Delegates on February 23, 2017, and by Democratic Senator James Mathias (D-38) in the Maryland Senate on February 24, 2017.

These bills were cross-filed, with Delegate Carozza filing first, followed by Senator Mathias. This legislation would have a negative impact on sailing and US Sailing is strongly opposed to any legislation that would limit sailors’ abilities to operate boats in a manner consistent with normal operational methods and practices for any type of sailboats, from sailboards and kites to dinghies, keelboats and multihulls, inshore and offshore.

In Florida, bills have also been introduced in the state house and senate to limit the rights of minors to operate small powerboats (10 hp or greater) and sailboats (10’ or longer) in salt water without direct supervision of an adult over the age of 21. Florida SB 1262 and Florida HB 1227 – Boating in Salt Water were proposed by Senator Gary Farmer (D-34 – Broward County shoreline – Fort Lauderdale area) on Monday, February 27, 2017, and Representative Kristin Jacobs (D-96 – Broward County – Coconut Creek) on Friday, May 3, 2017.

These bills were cross-filed with Senator Farmer filing first, followed by Representative Jacobs. In the state of Florida, there already exists education and certification requirements for youth boaters and boaters in training. This proposed legislation could have damaging effects on youth sailing in one of the most impactful states to the sport of sailing in the US.

We all understand and accept, like many youth sports and activities, that safety is an important consideration, and the well-being of our young sailors is of utmost concern for US Sailing and all involved in youth sailing programs. That is why as a community and official Olympic sport we are all committed to and provide the highest standards in training and safety.

However, US Sailing is strongly opposed to any legislation that would restrict the rights of sailors of any age from participation in the sport by mandating over reaching supervision, when in reality US Sailing provides effective safety and education to all of our sailing youth.

We understand and respect the goals of our government leaders to encourage and promote boating safety. With this, we believe both of these proposed pieces of legislation in both of their states’ respective houses have been drafted by well-intended state elected officials without complete information on their implications, as well as the true factors that provide for a safer boating environment: education, practice, mentoring and experience.

These ideas are what truly develop competency and safe boating practices. Sailing has the strongest safety track record in the boating community, and we take pride that our sailors take this into account. With this, the US Coast Guard has relied on the sailing community and has designated US Sailing to lead the development of on-water boating education standards because of its first class education, safety standards and protocols, all of which which have been practiced for 50 plus years.

US Sailing’s Government Relations Committee, whose members have extensive experience and contacts at the federal and state levels, has been in contact with leaders in both Maryland and Florida to express our objections to the pending bills as is, and offer assistance to accomplish the goals of the state leaders through alternative approaches.

We are also in contact with fellow boating organizations that have a presence in Maryland and Florida to coordinate messages and pressure on state officials to amend these pieces of legislation to exclude sailing. We will continue to work through our channels to amend these bills and protect the rights of our members, sailors and boaters across the country.

For our members in Maryland and Florida, we encourage you to contact the state representatives and senators proposing these bills to voice your concern on the detrimental impact these bills will have on the sailing and boating communities and industry in these states.

Delegate Mary Ann Carozza (R-District 38 – Ocean City)
203 House Office Building
6 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD 21401

Senator James Mathias (D-District 38 – Somerset, Worcester, Wicomico Counties)
216 James Senate Office Building
11 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD 21401

Representative Kristin Jacobs (D-District 96 – Broward County – Coconut Creek)
200 House Office Building
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399

Senator Gary Farmer (D-District 34 – Fort Lauderdale)
216 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399

We will keep you updated on developments in both Maryland and Florida. Our goals remain to ensure that these bills do not pass in their current forms, and the safety concerns and objectives presented are addressed through other, non-regulatory means.

Source: US Sailing

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