New rule on flotation devises still in works

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 04/06/02)
By Ray Pendleton

For some reason writing about projects planned for Hawaii's waterways often proves to be risky business.

All too often something happens to these ventures between the planning stage and the implementation stage and suddenly a story about progress becomes nothing more than another tale of failed dreams.

The dredging of the Ala Wai Canal and the construction of Ewa Marina come to mind as examples of important, desirable projects that have been planned -- and written about --for decades, but are still far from being accomplished.

To be sure, we are told they will still come to fruition one day, but eventually the question must be asked, in whose lifetime?

Conversely, whenever we have received information or directives from the U.S. Coast Guard regarding future changes in its boating rules, there was little question of their implementation. It has usually been a done-deal -- until now.

Just a month ago, recreational boaters were advised to be aware of the Coast Guard's new rule on using personal floatation devises (PFDs).

In response to numerous deaths by drowning of preteen children, the CG had issued a requirement that all children under the age of 13 will be required to wear a PFD while they are above deck aboard a recreational vessel that is under way. The rule was to go into effect March 29, 2001.

On March 27, a notice from the CG was published in the Federal Register withdrawing its new rule requiring PFDs for children.

It seems a conflict had developed between the federal rule and those of various states with similar, although sometimes more stringent, rules.

Some states -- although, not Hawaii -- had previously adopted rules with age requirements based on the length of the vessel that children were aboard. This was perhaps due to statistics that have shown that the smaller the boat, the more likely fatal accidents were to occur.

The CG explained that after its new rule had been published, a state's Boating Law Administrator alerted it to potential enforcement problems resulting from the differences.

And independently, it had observed the same potential enforcement problems while it was preparing guidelines for its boarding officers.

"We are determining how to resolve the differences between federal and state requirements and will notify the public and publish our decision in the Federal Register," the CG wrote. But no deadline was given.

SO THE BOTTOM LINE appears to be that boaters and/or parents have a bit more time to get their young sailors fitted with wearable PFDs.

To assist buyers with the problem of constantly fitting growing children into new PFDs each year, many marine hardware stores currently offer replacement plans.

Still, it won't be long before the new rule and its enforcement will be a required part of taking kids on the water.

And, in the meantime, the CG nevertheless asks parents to ensure children under 13 wear CG-approved lifejackets while they are on the deck of a vessel under way.

"Children's safety is the ultimate objective and the delay of the rule should not stand in the way of sound judgment," it points out.

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