Schumer bill would limit boat passengers

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer speaks with people during

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer speaks with people during the New York State Democratic delegation breakfast at the Doubletree, in Charlotte North Carolina. (Sept. 4, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

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Manufacturers of large boats would be required to limit the number of people aboard such recreational vessels under new legislation introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer Wednesday.

The bill, proposed after a boat with 27 people aboard capsized in Oyster Bay on July Fourth, killing three young children, would require the U.S. Coast Guard to mandate that recreational boats longer than 20 feet have capacity limits, and that the limits are posted visibly onboard.

According to the Coast Guard, manufacturers are required to post capacity limits only on boats that are shorter than 20 feet, though the rule is not enforceable by federal law.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he intended for the Coast Guard to make the changes itself, but recently officials from the agency said that upon review of accident data, a policy shift could not be justified.

"They looked it over and said they didn't want to do it," Schumer said Wednesday. "That's their responsibility, and we're going to require them to do it."

The Kandi Won, the Silverton that sank this summer en route from a fireworks display, was 34 feet long.

Philip Cappel, a Coast Guard official who drafted a response to Schumer's request this summer, said most accidents occur on boats shorter than 20 feet. Even if capacity limits were posted on larger boats, there are no federal laws in place to enforce them.

"Having a label on there is not going to do anything except give the operator some idea of how many people he should have on the boat," said Cappel. "It's not a requirement."

The process of getting regulatory approval is often fraught with burdensome cost-benefit calculations, Cappel said.

"This is not like commercial boats, where one accident can cause a lot of change," he said. "We have to go through the full regulatory process of doing a cost-benefit analysis, and that comes down to the cost per lives saved; what would be the cost to the manufacturer to require him to do that?"

Schumer said he was not persuaded, especially when he said the Coast Guard pointed out that most deaths and injuries occurred on boats shorter than 20 feet. "The logic is false," he said. "If you have two dangers, it doesn't mean that if one is greater than the other one, you ignore the smaller one."

Schumer said the bill has no sponsors yet, but that he expects it to achieve "full bipartisan support."

"Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to awaken the conscience of the boating public to do this," he said.

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