New Jersey Task Force Calls For Mandatory Boat Safety Training and Premium Discounts

March 12, 2004

A New Jersey legislative task force has recommended that the state mandate safety training for all boat operators. If the state does not do that, it should at least require insurers to provide premium discounts to those who do complete such training, the task force says.

The task force recommends that if a mandatory boating education requirement is not enacted, then the state should enact a law to require insurance companies that offer boating insurance to give a 10 to 15 percent premium discount to those who complete a safety course.

Boating accidents in the state have declined since a limited safety course requirement was implemented in 1996, according to the task force’s report. The task force, chaired by Assemblyman Robert J. Smith, has recommended expanding the limited requirement to all boat operators.

New Jersey ‘s current safety education rule applies only to persons 25 years or younger operating personal watercraft, not to operators of power vessels or older operators. The current course takes about 8 hours of study.

The task force found that since this limited requirement has been in effect, accidents have decreased, despite the rise in the number of power vessels and personal watercraft on the waterways.

The number of boats operating on the state’s waterways has jumped significantly in the past decade. In 1993, 158,100 vessels were registered with the state; that number reached 203,835 by 2003.

But despite this increase, boating accidents have actually declined, most notably since a limited mandatory boating education requirement was put in place in 1996. There were 332 boating accidents in 1993, a number that dropped steadily from 1996 to 1998, when it declined to 216. After a slight increase in 1999 to 220, accidents declined again in 2000 and by 2003 had dropped to 136.

The task force found that there “is no real discernable pattern tot he number of fatalities that occurred” in accidents in the state. Fatalities ranged from a low of three in 1989 to a high of 20 in 2002.

The General Assembly requested the report after several deadly accidents. One involved the deaths of three people when a 60-foot yacht collided with a 20-foot fishing vessel off the coast of Beach Haven in October 2000. Another occurred on memorial Day 2002, when three brothers were killed off the coast of Sea Isle City when they lost control of and crashed their high-speed catamaran. The following month, twp people were killed when an 18-foot boat capsized in s Stone Harbor inlet.

The task force held public meetings in Ocean City, Camden, and Pine Beach. Testimony at the public hearings cited several contributing factors to boating accidents, including alcohol and drug abuse, speeding, operator inattention and failure to wear safety equipment.

The hearings also revealed possible inaccuracies in the state’s boating data. By law, the operator of a boat is required to report to the state when an accident results in a death, disappearance or injury or when property damage exceeds $500. But several witnesses said that the number of insurance claims being field for boating accidents “far exceeds” the number of accidents in state files.

The task force weighed the possibility of a comprehensive boat operator license but was dissuaded by concerns over the administrative costs this would impose on the state and the impracticalities of determining operator competency in light of the wide range of boat types.

Nineteen states have some type of mandatory boating education. Among them is Connecticut, which requires all boaters to take an 8 to 10 hour course and an additional course for personal watercraft.

In addressing insurance issues, the report notes that boat owners can now obtain boat insurance as an endorsement to their homeowner’s policies under limited circumstances. Premiums average from $38 to $100 a year for crafts that do not exceed 50 horsepower or 16 feet in length, according to the report. There is no discount for taking a boat safety course. Few claims are made under homeowner’s policies for boating accidents.

Boat owners who do not qualify for the homeowner’s endorsement purchase separate marine policies. There may be safety discount on these policies of from 10 to 15 percent of premium.

The task force recommended that insurers be required to provide a 10 to 15% premium discount to all persons who complete a boating safety course.

In addition, the task force recommended increased educational requirements for boating safety instructors and increased funding for marine patrols by the state police.

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