The 2021 recreational boating season is upon us. With Covid-19, pleasure boasting has become an extremely popular means of escape. Sales of recreational boats have skyrocketed, which means the number of novice boaters on our nation’s waterways will likely increase as well. This raises serious questions about safety, boater education and general boating knowledge.

I support operators of recreational vessels. This is an important industry and a popular form of recreation for our citizens. But it is very important that all recreational boaters take a course in safe boating that will give them a solid understanding of the rules of the road. Unfortunately, many recreational boaters do not have this important foundation and, as a result, are a danger to themselves and others around them, including commercial vessel operators.

For example, when I operate the Belle of Cincinnati on a busy weekend afternoon on the Ohio River in Cincinnati, I must carefully steer this 1,000-passenger H-boat through a cascade of recreational boaters that are scattered across the river. This includes racing sculls, jet skis, houseboats, speed boats and other. Many of these boaters appear to have little or no understanding of the rules of the road. It is not uncommon to find several of these vessels anchored in the channel, and some operate recreational boats at night without lights. When you add barge tows, two or three excursion vessels and several harbor boats to the mix, you have the potential for real chaos.

As I have written before, the experience and skill of licensed mariners is why we have been able to avoid serious accidents. This why the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) is working closely with the Coast Guard and organizations such as BoatUS, the National Boating Safety Advisory Committee, and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) to promote the need for broader education of the recreational boating community to encourage the safe use of our waterways. PVA is committed to working with all of these groups to educate boaters and prevent accidents.

I encourage other maritime organizations to join us in this effort. Together, we can improve the knowledge of our recreational boating community. We in the commercial marine sector want to share our nation’s beautiful waterways with everyone, but we must do it safely. Education is the key. 

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or [email protected].