Feb 18, 2020

Aren't Inspections the Coast Guard's Job?

Unlike for cars or airplanes, there are relatively few federal regulations regarding the construction of boats.

The Coast Guard has rules regarding flotation and stability, plus engine-ventilation requirements for gas inboards, but these have little to do with how a boat is built and more to do with meeting minimal safety requirements. As a matter of fact, if your boat measures longer than 20 feet and sports diesel power, there are virtually no federal regulations that apply to its construction.

The federal government doesn't dictate how far away a steering wheel should be from a throttle lever, or how much of the view through a windshield can be obscured by supports, or any of the dozens of other safety considerations. Boat-building is largely self-regulated.

To ensure that boating remains safe and enjoyable — and to make it unnecessary for government to step in — the boat builders had to come up with an effective way to police them-selves at a high standard.

Standards + Certification

Boats are paradoxical vehicles in that, largely in pursuit of pleasure and at considerable expense, we buy them in order to drive them into a challenging environment. We take for granted that much of the responsibility for getting safely home lies on our shoulders and on our practice of good seamanship, and we put our trust in our vessels that they won't let us down when we need them.

The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) strives to make sure that a boat's construction is not at fault if something does not go according to our plan out there. "

In 2003, the NMMA and ABYC joined forces when the NMMA decided to start enforcing ABYC standards through their certification process. Prior to that, the NMMA relied on their own standards, similar to the ABYC's. Now, NMMA's boatbuilder members are required to participate in the certification process. Thanks to their efforts, more than 180 boatbuilders now build to the standards, and NMMA reports that around 85 percent of the boats sold in the U.S. today are certified.

Top To Bottom

The certification process starts with designating someone at the boat building plant as the point person for the venture — a significant role. That person is responsible for knowing all 58 of the standards, inside and out, and for educating the builder's workforce how to comply.

The NMMA makes this easier by hosting annual training seminars on the standards, taught by NMMA and ABYC staff, the independent inspectors that travel to each plant, and other industry experts. At the end, there's an open-book test that challenges the builder's rep to apply the standard to real-world boat building examples. "The inspectors have been authoring the exams," says Carrier, an independent inspector hired by the NMMA to inspect boats for certification. "Test takers must dig into the standards and think."

The NMMA compiles a list of those that meet the requirements, deems them "type-accepted," and allows builders to use such components without further testing.

Boating Benefits

Builders that are not NMMA members may still build to ABYC standards, but they are not inspected, or certified. Adey says many low-volume builders do their best to comply and build to the standards. Smaller builders do so knowing that the ABYC standards exceed the minimum requirements of the federal government.

Used-boat buyers can look for the "NMMA-Certified using ABYC standards" logo on the capacity plate of boats measuring 26 feet or less, or look for a "Yacht Certified" plate, typically metal and permanently affixed, if the boat is longer than 26 feet. This indicates the boat was certified to the standards in effect at the time of construction; however, any repairs or changes made by a prior owner may or may not have been made according to ABYC recommendations.