Between the Waves Podcast: Golden Nuggets of the National Defense Bill of 2021

By Taylor Matsko posted 03-17-2021 10:51 AM

Between the Waves Podcast
Golden Nuggets of the National Defense Bill of 2021, Episode 18
*This is a transcript of the "Golden Nuggets of the National Defense Bill of 2021" episode of NASBLA's Podcast, Between the Waves, from March 15, 2021.
Between the Waves
It was December 23, 2020, and the headline read, “Trump Vetoes the National Defense Bill, but Congress Has the Votes to Override It”. Little did our community of boating professionals know at the time, the large impacts such a bill would have for us moving forward. On today's episode we will discuss some of the hidden gems of the National Defense Bill that have a direct impact on the recreational boating safety community.

This is Between the Waves, an audio series to discuss the topics important to today’s water safety professional. Here’s your host from the great state of Texas, Cody Jones.

In the weeks following the late December veto and the subsequent override, news began to trickle out about some of the little-known provisions in the bill that directly related to recreational boating safety.

Tucked away on page 2,814 of the bill was a section titled “Engine Cutoff Switches, Use Requirements”. As I read through this section, it was clear that Title 46 of the U.S. Code was amended to incorporate a mandatory wear requirement of engine cut-off devices on all recreational crafts equipped and traveling above displacement speed.

While this language was very similar to Kali’s Law -- a Texas based law for mandatory wear that just passed a year before -- it had one difference. It exempted the wearing of an engine cut-off device if inside an enclosed cabin.

The thing that perplexes me on the need for this specific exemption and the thing that I find most troubling with people's understanding is that it is thought that the driver must go overboard for an ECOS to be activated.

I wonder how many times, an operator or passenger could have been saved, if an ECOS was employed and the operator was merely thrown from the helm inside the boat, rather than going overboard? Don't get me wrong. I'm glad the government took action. But I feel as though a needless exemption may have crept in at the 23rd hour.

Again, kudos for the addition of this law, like ECOS provisions tucked neatly into page 2,816 of this bill is also an equivalency provision that now gives the Secretary, likely by way of the appropriate Coast Guard staff, the authority to accept substitutions for associated equipment performance, or other safety standards for recreational vessels, if the substitute provides an equivalent level of safety.

This provision is really a golden nugget to handle the arcane, and archaic provisions within the federal code that often plague our discussions and decision-making, about a way forward on new technology and equipment. I look forward to seeing how the Coast Guard goes about using this authority, and hope much thought is put into how the process will unfold.

Lastly, a number of additional sections speak to unique situations, such as waivers for requirements on uninspected passenger vessels operating within the waters of Alaska, to extensions on some federal certifications and licenses, to creating a violation for pointing a laser pointer at a vessel.

All in all, much good came from a bill that was on little to no one's radar in our community. Even though it garnered such interest from so many others.

For those that would like to read the bill for yourself. You can Google ‘HR 6395, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021’. Happy reading! Until next time, stay safe.


Listen to this episode of the NASBLA podcast on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.