The Weakest Link


The strength of a team is only as strong as its weakest link. That being said, when a boat leaves the dock, shouldn’t everyone onboard be aware of certain aspects of boating safety?

Nationally over 40 percent of those who die in boating accidents (where the role was known) are not the operator of the boat. Boating safety efforts have for years been targeted toward the operator, but what about the rest of the people on the boat? What boating safety education are we offering them? And while the majority of the states have some boating education requirements, what about those participants who fall outside those requirements?

The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ proposed charges for 2016 include one for the Education and Outreach Committee’s Program Administration Subcommittee to “work as needed with the Education Standards Panel to develop a new core boating standard for non-operators.” This charge is the continuation of work the subcommittee began in 2013 when it collected and reviewed curriculum from several children’s programs throughout the country. The subcommittee’s findings were that while there is some consistency in the various programs (especially concerning life jackets), there was also a variety of messages with differing priorities and content. The committee also learned that several states had no existing children’s programs.

Building upon the momentum of the subcommittee’s 2013 work, the group surveyed the NASBLA membership to gain further insight about their state’s programs for youth: “Would they use a voluntary national standard to design a curriculum or, if they already had a program, would they review their existing curriculum to ensure it meets such a standard?” The survey results indicated a strong interest from most states. A curriculum refers to the means and materials with which the student interacts (Ebert, Bentley 2013). An education standard is a framework with which to develop a curriculum.

Children, if taught boating safety information at an early age, could one day change behavior and develop a culture that embraces life jacket wear, resulting in fewer fatalities.

The majority of respondents believed that children are considered influencers of adults, and future boaters, who if taught boating safety information at an early age, could one day change behavior and develop a culture that embraces life jacket wear, resulting in fewer fatalities.

In September 2014 NASBLA was accredited by the American National Standards Institute as a standards developing organization. Coinciding with that effort, the National Education Standards Panel developed NASBLA 103-2015 Basic Boating Knowledge – Power, using open, consensus-based procedures. Now that there is a national education standard, a curriculum can be designed or reviewed for conformity and to ensure that the information is relevant, risk-based and correct. In addition, curricula can be designed to address the unique boating environments and specific student characteristics that differ between states.

Based on the 2014 findings, the subcommittee charge group came to the conclusion that a risk-based voluntary standard for youth should be designed using the public health approach to injury prevention. The steps to applying the public health approach to injury prevention include defining a target audience, gathering evidence, defining the problem, designing an intervention, implementing the intervention, and evaluating the program with the willingness to refine or revamp the program and begin the process again. Then the committee approached the NASBLA executive board requesting that the Education Standards Panel form a workgroup to advance a voluntary youth standard.

At the 2015 International Boating Water Safety Summit the subcommittee reconvened and began discussing the topic – focusing on the intended audience and attempting to narrow down an age group to target. After much exploration and debate over the magic age to target with education efforts, a theory emerged that perhaps it is not necessarily youth of a particular age, but rather the non-boat operators that should be targeted.

Susan Weber with the U.S. Coast Guard was instrumental in the next step, which was gathering evidence. She provided data from the last 10 years comparing operator vs. non-operator fatalities and cause of death. Fifty-three percent of reported non-operators who died in boating accidents in the last 10 years were younger than age 39. Of the fatalities in the 13 and under age group, about 92 percent were non-operators. Boating safety education is directed toward boat operators, but about 43 percent of the boating fatalities in the last 10 years (where the role was known) were reported as being non-boat operators. The non-operators represent a large demographic that is being left un-reached by formal safety education opportunities at this point. A core boating standard for the non-operators could help to fill this gap.

What are those aspects of boating safety everyone should know? The Education Standards Panel along with subject matter experts from diverse fields of study have joined with this new work group to explore and apply the public health approach to injury prevention and design a new voluntary standard for non-boat operators. Who knows what the end result or product may be, but we must give ourselves the opportunity to explore and challenge ourselves to ask questions, make informed decisions, and be willing to honestly evaluate our progress or lack thereof, and change it. By designing a risk-based voluntary standard using the public health approach to injury prevention, we may perhaps strengthen every boat crew’s weakest link.

Special thanks to the subcommittee members of the last three years:

Darren Rider, Executive Board Liaison; Betsy Woods, Subcommittee Chairperson; subcommittee members: Cindy Bellar, Zachary Campbell, Cecilia Duer, Joseph McCullough, Melissa Miranda, Denise Petersen, Tanya Wakelin, Ted Walke, and Derek VanDyke. Thanks as well for all the support from NASBLA Education and Standards Division Director Pamela Dillon, CAE, Dr. Deb Gona, Tamara Terry, and all ERAC members who provided input.

Program Administration Subcommittee

2015 NASBLA Education and Outreach Program Administration Subcommittee Charge Members

Back Row: Tanya Wakelin, Cindy Bellar, Darren Rider. Front Row: Melissa Miranda, Denise Petersen, Kelli Toth, Derek VanDyke, Zac Campbell. Not Pictured: Cecilia Duer, Joseph McCullough, Betsy Woods.

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