Driving on your cell phone

By: American Sailing Association, Legislation, Safety

Cell phones and driving don’t mix–and that goes for driving a boat too. Recently USCG crew members were involved in two boating accidents due to the skipper’s use of a cell phone while operating the boat. And I’m not talking about kissing fenders; there were several serious injuries and one death as a result of these two accidents. If the vigilant Coast Guard is having these kind of problems texting while driving, I’m sure the rest of us are just as much at risk.

The USCG has already issued guidelines about cell phone usage, but the National Transportation Safety Board urges them to take it a step further. The NTSB issued two recommendations this week regarding the use of cell phones and other wireless devices aboard boats:
1. That the USCG should “develop and implement national and local policies that address the use of cellular telephones and other wireless devices aboard U.S. Coast Guard vessels,” and
2. That the USCG should “issue a safety advisory to the maritime industry that (1) promotes awareness of the risk posed by the use of cellular telephones and other wireless devices while operating vessels and (2) encourages the voluntary development of operational policies to address the risk.”

The problem is that cellular communications, especially in coastal boating areas, can function an excellent and readily available backup tool in the event of loss of radio communications. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t want to bring their cell phone sailing–especially considering all the navigation and weather apps available now. But if you get a phone call while sailing, do you have the discipline not to answer it? According to their release, “the NTSB believes that to reduce distraction and improve the operational safety of vessels, the use of cellular telephones and other wireless devices by individuals in safety-related positions should be strictly limited during vessel operations.”

“The use of wireless communications devices while operating vehicles in any mode of transportation poses an unacceptable distraction,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said. “State governments and federal regulators have been acting to combat these safety hazards and we urge the Coast Guard to do the same.”

Could we be moving towards no cell phones while boating law? SHOULD we be? How would you feel if you were ticketed for taking a call on your cell phone while driving your boat?