Propeller Injury Avoidance Measures

March 11, 2002


Docket Management Facility (USCG-2001-10163)
US Department of Transportation, room PL-401
400 Seventh St. SW
Washington DC 20590-0001

RE: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Federal Requirements for Propeller
Avoidance Measures: (66 Fed. Reg. 237, December 10, 2001)




Dear Sir / Madam:

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and the Houseboat Industry Association (HIA) are offering the following comments with regard to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Federal Requirements for Propeller Avoidance Measures (66 Fed. Reg. 237, December 10, 2001)

The NMMA, with over 1400 members, is the leading trade association of US recreational boat, marine engine, and marine accessory manufacturers. NMMA members include small, medium, and large businesses. The HIA, with 25 members, is an association, which focuses specifically on issues effecting the houseboat industry.

NMMA and HIA have five major concerns with the US Coast Guard (USCG) proposal:

  • Current USCG accident statistics do not support the "need" for these requirements, nor are there any indications of a trend towards increased propeller accidents on houseboats.
  • NMMA and HIA challenge the US Coast Guard's proposed solutions for reducing propeller injuries. NMMA and HIA's position is that USCG documentation has not supported the need or the benefit of this proposal. The USCG has stated that its accident statistics may be understated. NMMA and HIA can only base our comments on the USCG accident data. If the USCG is challenging its own data and has other data that it believes supports this rule, that data needs to be included in the docket. If such data is produced, NMMA and HIA would request that this rule be re-proposed with the revised data, so that we have sufficient time to analyze the new information and reevaluate our comments.
  • NMMA and HIA data, supplied by our members, challenges the $300 USCG estimated cost for the three combined measures: swim ladder interlocks, clear visibility aft device, and ignition cutoff switch.
  • NMMA and HIA members, including houseboat owners, rental operators and manufacturers, challenge the measurable " safety benefit" that the USCG proposed devices will actually provide.
  • Many houseboat rental operations are defined as small businesses under the federal definition of less than 500 employees. It is the position of the NMMA and HIA that the USCG did not properly identify the real costs and failed to evaluate the significant impact that this rule will have on small businesses. NMMA and HIA believe that the underestimated cost for technology is a direct result of the USCG's failure to comply with the Federal SBREFA requirements.


Benefits of the Rule

Current USCG accident statistics do not support the "need" for these requirements, nor are there any indications of a trend towards increased propeller accidents on houseboats.

NMMA and HIA support this position based on the USCG boating accident data for the ten-year period from 1991-2000 for houseboats. For the purpose of examining trends in propeller accidents, we have split the data into two sets, the first for accidents between 1991-1995 and the second between 1996 and 2000.

For rental houseboat accidents for the first five years between 1991 and 1995 the USCG reported three inboard propeller injuries, three outboard propeller/ gear case injuries, six stern drive propeller / gear case injuries, of which two of these injuries resulted in a fatality. For rental houseboats for the second five years between 1996 and 2000 there were no inboard propeller injuries, one outboard propeller / gear case injury, and no stern drive propeller / gear case injuries. This clearly represents a trend in the reduction of propeller related accidents on rental houseboats.

For all houseboat accidents for the first five years between 1991 and 1995 the USCG reported three inboard propeller injuries, five outboard propellers / gear case injuries and eleven stern drive propeller / gear case injuries, including the two previously cited fatalities. For all houseboats for the second five years between 1996 and 2000 the USCG reported one inboard propeller injury, two outboard propeller / gear case injuries and three stern drive propeller / gear case injuries.

The USCG defines a reportable injury as one requiring medical treatment beyond first aid. In regards to propeller injuries, one would assume that there would not be many minor injuries that would go unreported. Being hit by a propeller, spinning at any speed, would logically result in a major event requiring some form of professional medical attention, beyond first aid. This type of event would be reported. With no fatalities reported since 1996, and a clearly evident trend towards a reduction in accidents and injuries, NMMA and HIA challenge the USCG to provide data that supports the need for this rule. NMMA and HIA attribute the trend in reduction in accidents and total elimination of fatalities to increased education and awareness. With the manufacturers and rental operations providing both customer training and labeling of hazard points, propeller accidents have been reduced and fatalities virtually eliminated. NMMA and HIA challenge the USCG's justification for proposing to require design based technologies, at a significant cost, when the data clearly shows that awareness training and labeling are the solution.



Legal and Regulatory Policy Issues


  • USCG Must Weigh the Economic Considerations and Performance Consequences


  • The marine industry is uniquely susceptible to variations in cost, especially when regulation results in an increase in costs. For example, in 1990, the federal government imposed a 10% luxury tax on recreational boats costing over $100,000. Between 1990 and 1992, the addition of this tax combined with a recession caused an 80% decline in the sale of boats subject to the tax and in a loss of approximately 25,000 jobs. This tax nearly put this segment of the boating industry out of business. The USCG must assure that these rules do not lead to this type of adverse consequence. The USCG cost estimates, which will be discussed in a later section, significantly underestimate the cost of this rule.

    The Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA) requires the USCG to prepare an analysis (meeting specific criteria) of any rule subject to notice and comment rulemaking requirements under the Administrative Procedure Act unless the agency certifies that the rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The actual cost burden of this rule clearly falls within the parameters of SBREFA review requirements. However, the USCG simply concludes that it has determined that this action will not have a significant adverse impact on a substantial number of small entities. The basis for this conclusion is an unsupported, underestimated cost analysis. To the contrary, these comments will demonstrate that there may be a significant adverse impact on regulated entities. As a result, NMMA urges USCG to conduct a SBREFA review as required to assess the impacts of this proposed regulation on small entities.

    NMMA and HIA believe that the USCG has failed to comply with the provisions under Executive Order # 12866, which states that agencies should "…select the approaches that maximize the net benefits…" Section 1(a). In this rulemaking process the USCG has only identified a handful of designed based technologies and applied costs. The USCG has failed to establish an individual benefit to applying these design based technologies or compare the benefit and cost of these technologies to the benefits and costs of increased training and safety awareness. Increased training and safety awareness is clearly supported by the trends in the USCG boating accident data.

    NMMA and HIA also believe that the USCG has failed to follow the required procedures in 46 USC Chapter 43 (Boating Safety Act for Recreational Vessels).

    Specifically the law requires that the need for and extent to which the regulations will contribute to recreational vessel safety be considered, and that relevant available recreational vessel safety standards, statistics and data, including public and private research, development, testing, and evaluation be considered.


  • NMMA and HIA challenge that the statistics support the need for the rule
  • NMMA and HIA believe that the extent of effectiveness of the proposed interventions has not been thoroughly researched, tested and evaluated. The 1997 and 1998 Marine Technical Society reports approved by the Chief of Boating Safety are not valid for rulemaking, because they express the views of the authors and did not establish real-life feasibility or effectiveness.
  • NMMA and HIA are of the understanding that industry safety standards for the proposed design based technologies do not exist nor has the USCG developed a level of performance against which the proposed interventions can be measured. 46 USC §4302 states that a regulation can not compel substantial alteration of a recreational vessel or item of associated equipment that are in existence. 46 USC § 4302 may require compliance or performance to avoid a substantial risk of personal injury to the public. Without a "substantial risk" established, the alterations of an existing vessel prescribed by this proposed rule are prohibited.
  • NMMA and HIA believe that a substantial risk has not been identified if it is being supported by USCG accident data.
  • NMMA and HIA consider the proposed design based technologies to constitute "substantial alteration" with regard to the addition or modification of the vessel or associated equipment. NMMA and HIA challenge the USCG cost estimates and its failure to consider the challenges that existing houseboat owners will face making these modifications without the vessel and engine manufacturers approval, engineering or guidance.

NMMA and HIA will expand on the technical and economic feasibility, along with the actual safety benefits of the proposed designed based technologies in the following sections.



USCG Proposed Designed- Based Technologies


The USCG proposal requires owners of non-planing houseboats with propeller-driven propulsion, located aft of the transom, to install one of two propulsion unit measures or measures that employ three combined measures.

The proposal requires owners who lease, rent, or charter non-planing recreational houseboats to install either a jet drive system, propeller guards or three combined measures. The three combined measures include installing swim ladder interlocks, a clear visibility aft device, and an ignition cut-off switch. Owners of non-planing, non-rental houseboats would be required to install the interlocks and the clear visibility aft device, but not the ignition cutoff switch.

NMMA and HIA could consider supporting these technologies or a combination of these technologies if the USCG had data to support the benefit. The USCG provides relief for owners of non-planing non- rental houseboats from having to install an ignition cut off switch. Why not allow them to choose from two of the three technologies? Why not one of the three? Why not none of the three? Why does the ignition cut off switch provide less protection than the clear visibility aft device and the swim ladder interlocks. How much protection? NMMA and HIA can not support a rule where the benefits of the proposed technology can not be quantified. In order to support this rule, NMMA and HIA would need to see data that shows the additional accidents that will be prevented by applying these technologies.

NMMA and HIA also have concerns with the proper application of these technologies for which recognized standards do not exist. For example: the clear visibility aft device. What constitutes an acceptable design or placement? Even though it is being required, the USCG understands that a mirror does not exist where you can see the propeller or gear case or even the adjacent area from the helm. Without a standard, the location of the mirror will be inconsistent and arbitrary creating a false sense of protection and perhaps an increased risk. It also raises an enforcement question. Is the mirror in compliance or not?



Proposed Cost of Design Based Technologies


When evaluating the benefit of this rule in an attempt to find justification it leads us to the inevitable challenge of the cost of the proposal. The USCG states that "…the maximum cost is based on installation of a propeller guard which we estimate to be $300.00 (self installed)." The USCG estimates the cost of the "swim ladder interlock" to be $100.00 (plus installation costs), a "clear visibility aft device" to be $20.00 (self-installed), and an "ignition cutoff switch" to cost $40.00 (plus installation).

NMMA and HIA have worked closely with the houseboat industry to collect information on the cost of these design-based technologies. Based on data collected from a number of suppliers, the USCG costs are seriously underestimated.

  • Propeller Guards


  • The cost of propeller guards retrofitted onto a 61- ft. Sumerset rental houseboat (monohull) powered by two 115 hp Mercury outboard engines. Costs based on Swim Guard propeller guard by MariTech Industries (formerly Propeller Safety Technologies)

    Propeller Guards $333.50 x 2 = $667.00
    Labor per hour $69.00 x 1 = $69.00
    Haul & Launch $976.00 x 1 = $976.00 ($16 per ft @ 61 ft)


    Total = $1712.00
    USCG Estimate = $300
    Difference = $1412


  • Swim Ladder Interlock Device


  • The cost of a swim ladder interlock device retrofitted onto a 61-ft. Sumerset rental houseboat (monohull) powered by two 115 hp Mercury outboard engines. Cost based on Marine Safety System (formerly the Swimmer Safety System) by MariTech Industries (formerly Propeller Technologies)

    Swim Ladder 68.60 x 2 = $137.20
    Labor per hour 69.00 x 3 = $ 207.00
    Haul & Launch $976.00 = $ 976.00 ($16 per ft @ 61 ft.)


    Total $ 1320.20
    USCG Estimate $ 100.00
    Difference $ 1220.20


  • Ignition Cut-off Switch


  • The cost of an ignition cut-off switch retrofitted onto a 61-ft Sumerset rental houseboat powered by two 115 hp Mercury outboard engines with upper and lower helm stations. Cost based on Mercury part number 87-814324B2 dual engine kill switch.

    Cut-off Switch 66.75 x 2 = $ 133.50
    Labor per hour 69.00 x 2 = $ 138.00


    Total $ 271.50
    USCG Estimate $ 40.00
    Difference $ 231.50


  • Clear Visibility Aft Device


  • The cost of the clear visibility aft device includes pricing from a variety of convex style safety mirrors similar to the 7" x 9' USCG proposed size. For a comparison of the cost difference we took the average cost of the four prices and compared it to the USCG estimate. These costs may be underestimated because they consider self- installation, which for many houseboat owners and rental operators would not be an option. The rental operator could not avoid incurring a labor charge.

    WW Grainger, Inc. #1M802- 12"x18" convex safety mirror $64.35
    WW Grainger, Inc. #1 M800-18"x 26" convex safety mirror $109.60
    WW Grainger, Inc. # 6AR72- 12" convex safety mirror $41.70
    WW Grainger, Inc. # 2BC95- 18" convex safety mirror $55.25


    Average Cost $67.72
    USCG Estimate $20.00
    Average Difference $47.72


NMMA and HIA estimates of the total cost of implementing the three proposed propeller injury avoidance measures to be $3303.70 per houseboat. The actual number may be higher because it does not include the installation cost for the clear visibility aft device. When compared to the USCG estimated cost of $440.00 for these three technologies, it is clearly evident that the USCG has underestimated the actual cost of this rule by over $2800 dollars.



Proposed Definitions

The USCG has proposed language for definitions of the terms: clear vision aft, houseboat, ignition cut-off switch, non-planing vessel, and swim platform interlock.

NMMA and HIA support the USCG's efforts to propose definitions for various types of vessels. Many federal and state regulatory agencies look to the USCG definitions to be able to segregate categories of recreational boats for rulemaking. The current definitions in the US Code are not suitable for categorizing different types of recreational boats. NMMA and HIA's concern will be that the definitions are clear and precise, so as to improve the rulemaking process and not cause confusion. NMMA and HIA propose that the USCG meet with us to develop an industry consensus prior too moving forward with a final rule.

NMMA and HIA have reviewed the proposed definitions and offer these revisions.


Houseboat
A motorized vessel designed primarily with accommodation spaces with little or no fore deck or cockpit, with low freeboard and with low length to beam ratio.

Comment: Houseboats have high length to beam ratios. A typical houseboat would be about 50 feet long and 10 feet beam for a length to beam ratio of 50/10 = 5. A typical planning boat has a length to beam ratio of about 3 to 4.

Clear vision at device
Means a device, such as a video camera and monitor or a mirror, that allows the operator to see aft of the vessel from the engine throttle control station to be aware of the presence of a swimmer near the propeller.

Comment: As mentioned in the previous comments, NMMA and HIA have serious concerns with this technology. The USCG definition "to be aware of" highlights the false sense of security that could be realized by a captain assuming that all is clear. The correct language would be "…that allows the operator to see aft of the vessel from the engine throttle control station to see a swimmer near the propeller." The only technology that we recognize to perform this task is a knowledgeable boater who makes sure that the crew and passengers are accounted for and all is clear prior to operating the boat.

Ignition cut-off switch
Means a device that interrupts the engine ignition to stop the engine when the operator moves away from the engine throttle / shift control station.

Non-planing vessel
Means a vessel with a hull that is designed to ride through the water at any speed.

"means a vessel with a hull that remains in the displacement mode throughout its speed range."

Planing vessel
Means a vessel with a hull that is designed to ride on top of the water beyond a minimum point.

"means a vessel with a hull that is designed to be supported by hydrodynamic lift forces when operated beyond the displacement speed range."

Boarding ladder interlock
Means a device that interrupts the engine ignition to stop the engine when a swim ladder is deployed into boarding position at or near the boat transom.



Conclusion


The NMMA and HIA believe that this USCG proposed regulation is at best a solution in search of a problem. The USCG's own data does not support the cost and the proposed technology has the potential of creating a false sense of security. The most effective method for reducing the risk of injury from recreational boats, regardless of the hazard, is to increase education for boating safety. The USCG's own statistics from 1996-2000 support this as the solution.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important proposal. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at 202-737-9757.


Sincerely,


John McKnight, Director
Environmental and Safety Compliance