Passenger vessel operators face new regulations

Passenger vessel operators have been hit with a flood of regulations recently and another major one is on the horizon.

Two of the new rules deal with service and policy issues for complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Department of Transportation’s ADA rule became effective Jan. 3, and the Department of Justice’s kicks in March 15. There’s also new weight and stability guidelines to handle increasingly heavy passengers that must be complied with by Dec. 1. 

The final and potentially most costly ADA-related rule covers structural guidelines for new and existing vessels. The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) expects the rule to be released later this year.

Naval architects such as John Waterhouse are encouraging clients to understand their obligations under the law, especially in areas like barrier removal. Even though the final rule may differ from the initial proposal, the guidelines are the best available now, said Waterhouse, chief concept engineer at Elliott Bay Design Group, Seattle. Waterhouse was a Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) representative on the Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee.

“The population is not divided into special needs and all the rest,” he said. “We all have different needs.” A mother pushing a child in a stroller and a person in a wheelchair could both use ramps instead of stairs.

“There are rules for what is technically feasible,” said Waterhouse. An elevator can’t be installed if it makes the boat unstable. However, not all-vertical access must be by elevator. Wheelchair lifts are an option.

An elevator isn’t required on a vessel with one or two decks. But if there are three decks and the third deck is the only open-air area, then regulators must decide if a disabled passenger can have an equivalent experience elsewhere on the boat.

And if, for example, an operator is redoing a restroom, it should comply with the guidelines even if the rest of the vessel doesn’t. Replacing wallpaper in the bathroom is not covered by ADA, but a new sink is.

ADA compliance for a 600-passenger dinner boat, for instance, would add $600,000, or 12 percent, to the $5.1 million construction cost. Changes to a 40-car vehicle ferry, such as a lift connecting the entry deck to the second deck, would add just over $250,000, or 3.2 percent, to the $8 million construction cost.

The proposed rule and case studies are available at: http://www.access-board.gov/pvaac/pvag.htm. ­

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