MR. LINDEN: Hello. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much for affording us this opportunity to testify by telephone. I apologize that we were not able to arrange to come out there in person. Unfortunately, ASTA is a very small organization that represents very small boat owners, either for profit or nonprofit. But it is absolutely our intention to see you when you come to Washington.
By way of introduction, my name is Lou Linden and I am representing the American Sail Training Association in this endeavor. The mission of the American Sail Training Association is to encourage character building through sail training and to promote sail training to the American public and support education under sail.
Many ASTA member vessels, in addition to their sail training activities, carry passengers, primarily in the short-term excursion trade. For most vessels, these commercial activities provide the most important revenue stream that underwrites their sail training activities. ASTA was a member of the Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee and in small passenger vessel subcommittee. In the interest of full disclosure, I represented ASTA in that regard and was chairman of that subcommittee.
In 1999 we surveyed our membership regarding the provision of access to all people. Of the 197 vessels in the ASTA fleet at that time, 81 replied, which was a 41 percent rate of return. The vessels ranged from open boats to attraction vessels, such as the Star of India that you might see in San Diego; Star of India being over a thousand tons.
Their operations fall under one or more of three headings: Passenger carriage, usually excursions under three hours, sail training, and dockside attractions. The sample carried about ten times as many passengers as sail trainees. That was about 336,000 passengers as opposed to 36,000 sail trainees, in 1998. The disparity is reduced somewhat when you take into account the duration of stay because, of course, sail training people generally stay on board longer than your excursion passengers.
Approximately four times more dockside attraction visitors boarded ASTA ships than passengers, although only about 10 percent -- I'm sorry, ten respondents, not 10 percent, are either Coast Guard certified as attraction vessels or operate in that mode. Of the whole sample, the average vessel tonnage is 102 gross tons with a median of 66 gross tons. And the average length on deck is 76 feet.
Almost half, 49 percent, of the respondents are certified as Subchapter T passenger vessels and 26 are uninspected passenger vessels under Subchapter C. Just under 18 percent of the sample are foreign flag vessels, and of course, we now know that foreign flag vessels are subject to the Act when they're in the United States.
The balance of the survey sample were either attraction vessels or sailing school vessels. Sailing school vessels carry six or more sail trainees or instructors and are sail-powered and have to be operated by nonprofit organizations for the purpose of sail training. They're not classified as passenger vessels by the Coast Guard. Several ASTA vessels have dual certification under Subchapter T and the Sailing School Vessel Act.
Our testimony today is only going to address sailing vessels, and that's for two reasons. The first is obviously that the operation of sailing vessels is ASTA's area of expertise. Secondly, sailing vessels present perhaps the most difficult scenarios for handicap access, and almost anything that can be accomplished on a sailing vessel can be done more easily on a comparably sized motor vessel.
I would like to briefly address the options that are set out in the advanced notice of proposed rule-making dealing with small passenger vessels. In our view, Option 's major premise is correct. The vast majority of large vessel rules can't be practically applied to small vessels. As written, the exceptions will swallow the rules. The laws of physics and the impact of physical scale are largely responsible for this, although operational requirements adversely affect the applicability of other rules.
Option 1's major failing is process related and is shared by the other options to greater or lesser degree. Both the threshold requirement of not operationally or structurally feasible and the compliance standard to the maximum extent practical are in and of themselves imprecise. Like beauty and contact lenses, they're pretty much in the eye of the beholder.
This unguided exercise is invitation to litigation and design distortion, and I would really point out that the controversies in these issues will not be about whether to put an elevator in a Boston whaler. The controversies that will abound will be questions of detailed dimension and design. What's more difficult for us is that builders and designers will have no way of determining whether they're in compliance prior to a complaint being adjudicated after the vessel is completed.
The economic input that results from that, the impact of litigation or even the threat of litigation, can and will be disastrous for the small businesses that operate these vessels and especially for the small nonprofits. And I would point out that almost all of ASTA's vessels are run by small nonprofits.
Smaller vessels are more subject to design distortion by imposing requirements unrelated to the vessel's physical design and operational functioning than large vessels are.
Ships within these classes are astoundingly diverse in their size and in their configurations and in their operations. This diversity makes it impractical and probably undesirable to make specific rules for each type and size of vessel and operation. By the same token, no set of physical standards will be relevant to all the vessels in this class.
Our Holy Grail, if you will, is a clear, simple set of rules with this universal application as practical that can be prospectively relied upon by designers, builders, operators and passengers.
I think that several thousand years of human history pretty well informs us that it's exceedingly unlikely that we will attain this object of our desires a hundred percent.
The PVAAC attempted to create a rule that could be applied across the physically and operationally diverse class. And of the four options that are set up by the AMPRM, ASTA's clear preference is for the adoption of Option 2 in that it provides predictability without sacrificing the necessary flexibility.
Most of the provisions of the draft Passenger Vessels Accessibility Guidelines, PVAG, are totally irrelevant to small passenger vessels. Large passenger vessels operate either as cruise ships, ferries, or gaming vessels. In most cases, accommodations are more akin to resort hotels or huge buses than small sailing vessels. Much of PVAG applies rules for terrestrial structures and accommodations into the contexts of vessels.
In terms of the physical dimensions and functioning, cruise ships are much closer to resort hotels than they are to sailing vessels. And I know that all of my friends in the cruise ship business who are in the room right now are cringing when I say this. But unfortunately, from our point of view it's just absolutely true.
Sailing vessels, small sailing vessels, have no areas of refuge, elevators or even stairways. C and T sailing vessels have no nightclubs, no stores, no saunas or public address systems. And cursory examination, the scoping requirements of PVAG provides a laundry list of things that are never available on small sailing vessels: Water slides, boxing rings, diving boards, escalators, performance areas, drinking fountains, ATMs, fitting and locker rooms, vending machines. We have none of that.
The lack of relevance is really and truly the result of the programmatic differences between the two classes of vessels as well as size and scale. In truth and in fact, cruise ships are resort hotels, and ferries are giant buses, and gaming boats are casinos, and dinner boats are floating restaurants. Now, I am not saying that you shouldn't be taking into account the aspects of vessels, because vessels are different from terrestrial structures. Even huge cruise ships are subject to the vagaries of the laws of physics and the impact of the weather and the sea. But compared to a 70-foot sailing vessel, they're very much more amendable to the scores of efforts that the Access Board has made in terrestrial structures in the past.
And I also need to point out once again that the vast majority of small sailing vessels carrying passengers for hire are in the short day-excursion trade. Very seldom do we have passengers on board for more than three hours.
Looking at Option 2, which is, as I said, our preference, the Small Passenger Vessel Subcommittee of the PVAAC created a regime of accessibility standards that we attempted to tailor to the unique aspects of small sailing vessels and small motor vessels. The recognition of the irrelevancies that I just mentioned a moment ago really led to the form and substance of Chapter 12 and Option 2. This product, though not perfect -- and as the reporter of this product, I will be the first to admit it's not perfect -- was thrashed out in what I think can only be characterized as a very spirited debate over a two-year period by disability and industry representatives. It provides a much more structured approach than the other three options. And as a result, it yields more predictable results than the other options. It provides a substantial amount of flexibility within the regime so as to encourage technical innovation.
We think it's important to note that the option takes into account to some extent the differences within the continuum of small sailing vessels because the size range within existing Subchapter C and T vessels is a factor of at least ten, which is to say that the largest is ten times larger than the smallest.
Option 3 has serious drawbacks for us. For years ASTA members have been providing services to persons with disability without the guidance of standards for hardware. In the survey that we mentioned, 51 ASTA member vessels reported carrying 2,913 disabled passengers in the years 1998 and 1999 with an apparent 100 percent satisfaction rate and no injuries.
MR. [GARY] TALBOT [BOARD MEMBER]: Excuse me, Lou, sorry to interrupt you. I am going to have to ask you to kind of wrap this up for us, please.
MR. LINDEN: Okay. Basically as I said, our preference is clearly for Option Number 2 because it provides predictability and it makes allowances for the nature of our vessels and the nature of our programs. Really with Option 3 I think what happens is that Option 3 will result in going through another expensive and extensive process of developing general performance requirements when we know that the need is being satisfied now.
As for Option 4, just let me say that there's no magic number of passengers. Acceptance so far of that number reflects the overall size of the vessel. The draft regime for large vessels begin to break down as the accommodations look less like motel rooms. Coast Guard's classification scheme reflects both the physical and the market realities, and while we'll be the first people to admit that any line drawn is to some extent arbitrary, we think that junking the C and T Coast Guard subdivisions as class markers in this endeavor would really not serve either the operators or the passengers.
So having said that, I look forward to seeing you when you return to our nation's capital, and of course, we will be submitting extensive written comments at the end of the comment period.
And once again, thank you for this opportunity.
MR. TALBOT: Thank you very much, Lou.
MR. LINDEN: If anybody has any questions, I would be happy to address them.
MR. TALBOT: I think that's it for now. Thank you very much.
MR. LINDEN: All right. You all have had a hard day, I'm sure. Go have a good dinner and we'll see you when you come to Washington. Thanks.