FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 11, 2011

SCHUMER, BOATERS CALL ON COAST GUARD TO IMPROVE BOATER SCREENING METHODS ON THE HUDSON TO PREVENT REPEATED & UNNECESSARY BOATER STOPPAGES – PUSH FOR BETTER COORDINATION BETWEEN FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT TO BOOST SECURITY, LET BOATERS ENJOY THE WATER


Schumer Push For Better Coordination Comes After Reports Show Many Boaters Being Stopped Multiple Times On The Same Day And After Last Month’s Deadly Accident

Coast Guard Already Uses System To Ensure Boats Aren’t Needlessly Screened Multiple Times, Schumer Asks Them To Lead Other State & Local Agencies In Developing A Method With The Same Goal In Mind

Schumer: Screen Six Boats One Time, Not One Boat Six Times

 

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer gathered with local Hudson River recreational boaters and announced his push to improve coordination between the Coast Guard and various state and federal agencies with overlapping jurisdiction on the Hudson. After a number of media reports this summer have documented the lack of coordination between agencies that can result in the same boat being stopped multiple times a day, Schumer is pressing the Coast Guard to take a lead role in improving coordination between patrolling agencies. Schumer’s call also follows July’s deadly boating accident on the Hudson in which four people were killed.

Rather than stopping the same boats over and over again while potentially missing dangerous vessels that threaten other boaters or national security assets like nuclear power plants or bridges, Schumer believes that these agencies should work together to devise a system that keeps better track of which boats have been previously screened. Boating advocates from throughout the Hudson Valley discussed possible plans to resurrect a voluntary screening system that allows boats to receive a sticker, visible to any patrolling agents, at the beginning of each season signifying that their boat complies with all standard safety requirements.

“Rather than screen one boat six times, we should screen six boats one time. By streamlining our inspection process, we can provide a better experience for recreational boats and free up security resources to protect nuclear power plants and bridges, and ensure that the river is safe,” said Schumer. “Responsible recreational boaters should be free to enjoy the Hudson River without being stopped over and over again. We need the Coast Guard to take the lead and work with state and local authorities to come up with a system that protects our security without choking off all the fun of boating on the river. It’s not just a matter of summertime fun, but of protecting an industry that is critical to the Hudson Valley economy.”

Schumer was joined by area boaters, the Presidents of the Hudson River Boat and Yacht Club Association, Gabe Capobianchi, President of the Hudson Valley Marine Trades Association, Lex Filipowski, founder of Freedom To Go Boating, John Vargo, Editor of Boating on the Hudson Magazine, Mahopac Marina Owner Charlie Melchner and Scott Croft of the Boat Owners Association of the United States, the Marine Division of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and members of the Cold Spring Boat Club.

“The quality-of-life issues surrounding boating our important to me as a business owner and recreational boater and I applaud Senator Schumer for calling for action – boating isn’t only fun, its jobs, business and investment in our communities,” said Mahopac Marina Owner Charlie Melchner. “By people using their boats in the Hudson Valley lakes and rivers, it keeps people employed, keeps products flowing to customers and increases the demand for services from hundreds of small businesses throughout the region. Ensuring customers and their families enjoy their time on our waters and experience a hassle free day of boating means repeat tourists and customers spending more time and more money in the Hudson Valley. This all leads to more jobs and economic development in the many towns enjoying water access – and every single customer is important in these trying economic times.”

“Boaters are discouraged from using their boats because of the police intrusiveness, people have sold their boats because of it and there is a negative economic impact on the businesses all along the Hudson River who rely on an active and thriving boating community,” said Freedom to go Boating founder Lex Filipowski. “I support both safety and security of our nation’s waterways but we need to create a sensible solution that balances safety and security, as well as assures our continued freedoms. It's taken 5 years, but thanks to Senator Schumer we finally have a solid direction to stop the abuses that have been occurring on the Hudson River, as well as on other waterways throughout our great country.”

Today, boating advocates from throughout the Hudson Valley proposed expanding an existing inspection system in order to reduce the number of stoppages of Hudson Valley boaters. The Coast Guard Auxillary unit currently offers annual inspections that determine basic safety of boats. If a boat is deemed safe to use, based on the security of the hull, sufficient number of life guards, and other inspection points, the boat receives a sticker for that year in the same way that an annual car that has been inspected receives their sticker. However, not all of the nearly two dozen agencies with jurisdiction over the Hudson choose to recognize that sticker as evidence that the boat is safe. If entities with authority over the Hudson River including state agencies and local sheriffs’ departments recognized the stickers, it could significantly reduce the number of unnecessary stoppages. Law enforcement would, of course still be permitted to stop boats without inspection stickers or those boats with stickers who were behaving dangerously, but the stickers could serve as a signal that a boat was structurally safe.

“I strongly encourage every agency with authority over the Hudson to discuss this proposal with the Coast Guard,” continued Schumer. “This is exactly the kind of system we need: one in which all of the law enforcement agencies are communicating with each other so that we avoid overlap and unnecessary stoppages, and allow law enforcement to focus on real security risks.

Schumer has sent a personal letter to Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp after a series of media reports documented concerns over coordination between federal agencies, which has resulted in recreational boaters being stopped multiple times by different agencies on the same day. According to the New York Times, approximately two dozen agencies have jurisdictional responsibility over boating on the Hudson River, including local sheriffs’ departments, state agencies, and the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard already uses a PDA system that links up various patrolling boats so that officers know which boats have been screened and cleared, and those that have not. However, state and local agencies do not have a system by which they can keep easy tabs on which boats have been screened, and there appears to be insufficient information sharing between all three levels of local law enforcement. The annual inspection sticker system could potentially fill that void. Schumer noted that not only will the use of a widely recognized inspection sticker minimize hassle for boaters, but would free up law enforcement officials, and allow their positive influence to be spread more widely throughout the community 

The deadly accident in July that claimed the lives of four individuals on the Hudson River provided a stark reminder about the importance of sufficient patrolling of the Hudson River. Schumer is seeking to improve coordination between local, state, and federal agencies so that patrol boats can spend their time checking more boats and protecting key national security assets like nuclear power plants. He believes the Coast Guard should take a lead role in developing a system to improve information sharing so that agencies stop checking the same boat multiple times on the same day, freeing up more time to expand their watch for potentially dangerous behavior. Better information sharing, and a system that clearly identifies which boats have been inspected to ensure that they are following all laws would improve boater safety, while also allowing boaters more time to enjoy the river. Schumer believes the Coast Guard should explore all possible systems, from electronic information sharing to visual signals to be displayed on boats, to accomplish this goal.

The text of Schumer’s letter to Commandant Papp appears below:

Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr.
Commandant
U.S. Coast Guard
2100 2nd Street, SW
Washington, DC

Dear Commandant Papp:

I write to draw your attention to an issue affecting the residents of Hudson Valley, New York.

For years, boaters on the Hudson River have enjoyed taking their boats out onto the Hudson River to spend time with their families, fish, or just enjoy the great outdoors. In these challenging times, this recreational activity is a cherished one for families in New York.

Unfortunately, this pastime is becoming less enjoyable for boaters. In the past few years, boaters say they have noticed an increase in river traffic, not from additional recreational craft, but from escalated police patrols. Hudson River patrol frequency data from 2011 indicates that approximately twenty-four different public safety agencies are patrolling the Hudson River. Vessel inspection data from 2010 shows that public safety agencies have inspected more than 1,500 vessels, with many vessels being stopped multiple times the same day by various patrols.

However, a recent and deadly accident on the Hudson provided us with a stark reminder that patrolling authorities must remain vigilant. Boating patrols are clearly appropriate and necessary, to protect other recreational boaters as well as nuclear power plants and other facilities that are critical to our national security. We must move forward with a smart, comprehensive strategy that results in sufficient, but not overbearing, boater security on the Hudson.

While safety should be our top priority and our security should never be compromised, it is also important to preserve the rights of responsible boaters to enjoy the Hudson River. Therefore, at this time I ask the Coast Guard to help facilitate better coordination between all of the authorities – Federal, State, and Local – who patrol the Hudson River. The Coast Guard has already shown leadership in this area, by utilizing a PDA-based system to track which boats have been inspected and which have not. This allows the Coast Guard to make sure that the boats they need to screen have been screened, but that other boaters who have already been deemed safe are not unnecessarily stopped multiple times while enjoying an afternoon on the river.

I encourage the Coast Guard to take a leading role in developing a system in coordination with state and local authorities with the same goal in mind. Better coordination will help minimize repeated stops that are deemed to be unnecessary and enhance public safety on our waterways, and I respectfully urge you to reach out to state and local patrolling agencies to develop this coordinating public safety system as soon as possible.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue. For additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me or aide, John Jones, at 202-224-6542.

                                  

     Sincerely,                            

     Charles E. Schumer

###