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Boating safety bill calls for capacity notices and safety education contracts

New legislation would add two new recreational boating safety features into law. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introduced the Boating Occupancy and Teaching Safety Act (H.R 4642), known for short as the BOATS Act. The bill first became available online on Sunday, May 18.

The bill will have to sail through a sea of congressional inquiry if it goes anywhere. It was referred to three committees: Transportation & Infrastructure, Ways & Means, and Natural Resources. Israel picked up no original cosponsors for the bill. (The speaker of the House could limit the time each of the three committees could take in conducting hearings or taking a vote on the bill, however.)

The bill includes two major components designed to enhance recreational boating safety. First, it would require boats manufactured primarily for recreational purposes to list their passenger capacity. It calls on the Coast Guard to establish standards for determining such capacity. The Coast Guard would get six months to come up with the standards.

Manufacturers would have to post the passenger capacity on the boat. They would also have to post a notice that passengers could see advising of the need to balance weight on the boat to avoid capsizing. The rule would apply to boats between 20 and 45 feet long and only to those boats built starting next year. It would apply only to private boats, not those subject to Coast Guard inspection or ones designed for commercial recreational use that carry paying passengers.

The other aspect of the bill concerning state recreational boating safety education programs would allow states to contract with local governments or private agencies to conduct them. In giving such contracts, states would have to consider spreading the programs out geographically and the various types of waterways and vessels in the state.

The legislation would forbid local governments (but not private entities) from profiting from such contracts. Rules would not apply to any contracts entered into before the bill becomes law. States would have to establish criteria for contracts.

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