Disabled Charters Inc.
A California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation
10011 Salmon Creek Road
Redding, Ca. 96003-8213
Phone (530) 223-9276
Office of Technical and Information Services
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111
Public Comment On
Access-Board Revised Draft Passenger Vessel Accessibility Guidelines
and Supplementary Information
Dated July 7, 2006
a. Back Ground Information
My name is Jess W. Hoopes, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Disabled Charters Inc a California based “Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation”. Our national mission is to provide the disabled with recreational marine activities such as offshore fishing, whale watching, and sight seeing. All disabled are included in our program, the individual and crew’s safety permitting, whether they are developmentally, wheel chair bound or veteran disabled. There is no commercial charter fee charged to our clients. We strongly advocate for disabled rights and stress full access, and are currently working with Congress to address some of the issues surrounding disabled recreation opportunities, and access to small “Charter Fishing” or “Sight Seeing” vessels through out the United States. We will limit our discussion and comments to the smaller charter (70 feet or less) vessels so important to the overall psychological well being of millions of Americans, disabled or not. First, my background includes an extensive Structural and Environmental Civil Engineering background from California State University, Chico, which yields some expertise in Strengths and Properties of Materials, Structural Analysis, Fluid Mechanics and Hydraulics, not to mention Finite Element Analysis. I am a disabled Navy Vietnam combat veteran. I have worked as a ship builder in San Diego, have a background in commercial fishing, have a boat builder’s designation from the U.S. Coast Guard, and have owned and operated a marine repair facility. Boats and Ships are not a unknown quantity to Disabled Charters Inc or me. I am also the father of a 15-year-old son who is severely handicapped, Autism, and Downs Syndrome, and for the most part wheel chair bound, therefore I do have some level of expertise with the severely disabled.
b. Scope of Disabled Needs.
Handicapped individuals are a diverse group, what assists one may not assist others. Some are hearing or sight impaired, some cannot walk or need a various amount help with mobility. Other individuals are developmentally or psychologically disabled. Accordingly, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 2.7 million American’s are wheel chair bound, with another 9.2 million needing assistance of cane, walker or crutches for mobility assistance, who would benefit from the regulations the Access Board is attempting to promulgate. To place this in true perspective, one must determine what portion of that population can and will need full unobstructed access to commercial charter boats of under 70 feet. Estimates range from 20% to 23% being psychologically and physically able enough use a commercial fishing charter on their own, with an additional 30 to 38% with someone else being there to provide specialized care and assistance to them, not counting Veteran PTSD disabled. Therefore, the largest disabled population likely to need access to the small vessel commercial charter is not the wheel chair disabled, but the mentally or psychologically disabled.
c. Disabled Charters Inc Operation.
Because of the excessive cost of new ADA compliant vessels, it has always been Disabled Charters plan to provide service to our clients using the following methodology.
1. Used or Donated Vessels.
Disabled Charters plan for provision of services was developed around using inexpensive or donated used vessels such as, but not limited to a 45 foot Uniflite convertible or Sport fisherman type of vessel. Using these vessels we can accommodate 70% of the disabled population, including veterans without special adaptive equipment. Further, as we intended to use these vessels in their “As Constructed” condition, capital outlay for modification was zero, which then allows financial planning and construction of new ADA vessels. As an additional incentive for using “Used Boats”, we could not get a single liability insurance carrier to rate or quote coverage on a vessel modified for ADA compliance while in the waters of any ocean, bay or estuary. Simply put, we provide services exclusively to the disabled and therefore the risk exposure is too great for them to write insurance on.
2. New ADA Compliant Vessels.
Disabled Charters plan has always included development and acquisition of ADA compliant charter boats, whose numbers would be dictated by the need established in any one area. We discovered early on that boats under 65 feet in length, did not have sufficient saloon or cockpit area to accommodate wheel chair disabled as specified by the ADA. Where head facilities demand a specific foot print within either the cabin or some place on the main deck, and if on main deck it would then reduce the fishing area available for a client. Therefore, it is preferable to place head facilities win on of three corners of the saloon, the other corner being open to the pilothouse. Additional space is also required for a changing/shower room, because some disabled have bowel or incontinent problems which during the course of a 5 hour trip could leave the individual with some serious medical problems if left un-cleaned. This space also requires s specific foot print within the saloon.
3. Self Insurance.
Because Disabled Charters Inc. accommodates only disabled clientele, we have been unable to secure any liability insurance what ever. This could also happen to the existing charter fleet, where carriers refuse to insure additional exposures based upon vessel modifications to accommodate the disabled. Therefore, under the provisions of 46 CFR 540 et. seq., companies would either have to self insure, or quit business, as we have experienced, and are in the process of developing a self insurance plan and funding it.
d. The Do Nothing Option.
In any genuine analysis involving alternatives there is always a very viable alternative, “Do Nothing”. It would seem prudent to look at all of the potential financial consequences and harm which could brought about by well intentioned poorly crafted or ambiguous regulations through out the small vessel charter fleet. It is much better to use a mutually arrived at plan that has success built in, than arbitrary imposition of regulations that do not get you where you want to be, and destroys and industry in the process.
e. As to the Term and Definition of “Technically Infeasable”
A shining example of what was previously states is the term “Technically Infeasable”, nothing in this draft is so ambiguous or invites litigation so blatantly as does this terminology.
Who decides that a vessel alteration is “ Technically Infeasable”,
the Coast Guard, the Access Board, the Operator, or is this definition looking at the Courts to decide just who makes the ruling and how. I guarantee it will cost the Charter Industry millions to answer the question in Court, because the Access Board has failed to do so, and some lawyer will press the issue in court.
2. Engineering Costs.
Even if the definition were not so ambiguous, the language compels the vessel owner/operator to obtain a certification from a licensed Marine Architect that compliance is not possible, just to try and protect themselves from less than honorable lawyers. The cost of having a vessel evaluated for compliance problem assessment could reach $50,000 or more, depending on the boat in question. If the manufacturer is still in business the cost may be less, however U.S. firms such as Uniflite, Trojan and others are no longer in business, therefore a Marine Architect would have to take measurements, and run calculations to determine the basic design characteristics in order to give the certification.
3. Undesirable Costs Liability
Even if points 1 an 2 did not exist, less than honorable lawyers would have a picnic with this definition and terminology, because it is subject to the individual’s opinion of “Infeasable”, not codified. They would literally sue the charter industry, including nonprofits, into oblivion for any perceived slight of any applicable regulation in order to force a monetary out of Court settlement with insurers. The industry is totally defenseless where even if they win in court, they still loose because of legal costs. It is a no win situation for anyone other than bogus attorneys.
4. Loss of Liability Insurance.
46 CFR Section 540 et.seq. Expressly prescribes the financial responsibilities and insurance requirements of federal law for passenger vessels. Given the history and propensity of litigation with regard to the application of the ADA in buildings and stationary facilities, no less can be expected for vessels. If vessel owners experience the high rate of suite because of the ADA application to the marine charter industry, insurers will likely drop coverage for a significant portion of the market, specifically the small operator who cannot alter his or her boat to meet the ADA. If that occurs, the operator is out of business.
5. DO Not Leave “Infeasibility” subject to Interpretation.
The most destructive thing that the Access Board could possibly do is leave any regulation or standards open to interpretation. Everyone in the charter industry, including nonprofits will suffer the consequences, if a court has to clarify or interpret a regulation or standard possibly giving it different meaning than intended.
f. Opposition to Application of Chapter 12.
We at Disabled Charters Inc oppose application of the specifications of sections C & T of Chapter 12, no matter how well intentioned to the small vessel (70 Feet or less) charter fleet of America for several reasons.
1. No Uniform Standards.
We oppose the adoption of these guidelines due in part to the lack of uniform vessel modification standards, as they would apply to the structural and stability characteristics of the vessel being modified. Simply put, there is no “Uniform Building Code” in place that tells boat yards how to cut and move a fiberglass bulkhead and join or re-join pieces modified. Just leaving modifications to a boat yard, who may or may not be competent to make ADA modifications is extremely dangerous without standards of retrofit. Modified boats have been known to break apart if modifications are not preformed correctly.
Unlike ADA application to buildings and other fixed facilities, boats are not fixed structure covered by the “Uniform Building Code”. Get the stability or floatation wrong and it will roll over, maybe somebody will die. Change the flexure of the interior structure, maybe setting up large stress concentrations at re-attachment or modification points, where the vessel simply breaks apart at sea. Therefore, every operator would have to spend substantial revenues on re-engineering to ADA standards.
3. Why 70 Feet as Cutoff.
All current small passenger charter vessels under 70 feet should be “Specifically Exempted”, now and future from Chapter 12, or any other regulation which mandates alteration to meet ADA. Almost all vessels used for the Charter industry began life as something else in the private leisure market, such as a style of vessel called a “Sport fisherman” or a commercial troller or seine. These boats while large do not lend themselves to the structural modification the ADA would require without huge amounts of money being expended. We have found that boats suitable for modification are at least 70 feet in length because they have both the necessary beam, but also deck and saloon space needed for amenities without incurring stability problems.
(i) Wheel Chair Weight.
Consideration of modification rules on small vessels must include the large weight components electric wheel chairs place on the moment calculations for stability. At roughly 400 lbs. each it does not take many to place even a 70-foot boat in trouble.
(ii) Lifting Equipment.
Where lifting equipment is mandated to fulfill the ADA, vessels smaller that 70 feet are without question no able to handle the additional weight on one side or the other combined with additional wheel chair weights. Changing rooms and mandated headspaces may also require lifting and showering equipment.
4. Cost to Commercial Entities.
(i) Down Time.
With a commercial entity, operating time is money. The down time required for re-engineering and modification of an existing vessel would be a death knoll to most small operations who only have one or two boats. Down time for modification would not be measured in days, or even weeks, but months in most cases due to yard scheduling and work loads.
(ii) Modification Costs.
We have explored this very question and have learned that remodel could cost between $75,000 and $250,000 for a boat that when new 15 or 20 years ago sold for 2.5 million dollars.
(iii) New or Replacement Vessel.
We have quotes for non-ADA compliant vessels and from the same manufacturer cost to alter to meet the ADA. A new 65 foot non-ADA compliant vessel, “Sea Ranger”, cost the National Park Service $750,000 as a custom built vessel. Using the unaltered Hull and Superstructure moulds for this vessel, when the interior and decks are altered to meet the ADA will cost Disabled Charters Inc. 1.65 Million dollars. More than double the costs a non-ADA boat would run.
5. Normal Maintenance.
Normal vessel annual maintenance or repair which includes but is not limited to the following should not trigger any retrofit:
(i) Bottom cleaning and re-paining.
(ii) Hull repair where needed.
(iii) Mechanical, Electrical and Electronics repair and update.
(iv) Electrolysis Anode Replacement.
(v) Through hull fittings or sonar transducer Replacement.
(vi) Rudder or Propeller shaft Repair
(vii) Shaft Packing or seal replacement
(viii) Propeller Replacement
Let 501(c)(3) organizations, such as Disabled Charters Inc, provide needed services to the wheel chair disabled, since it is those individuals that require modifying vessels to accommodate. Their right to services would not be impinged upon where as ADA compliant vessels would be available in most popular ports, just not from the charter fleet unless they chose to purchase a new boat.
If you have questions or want clarification on anything in this statement, please feel free to write the above address or call the phone number provided, we will be more than happy to speak with you.
Jess W. Hoopes, Chairman.