Office of Technical and Information Services
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F Street, Northwest
Washington, District of Columbia 20004-1111
To Whom It May Concern:
On behalf of the members of the National Marine Charter Association (NMCA), I would like to submit comments regarding the ADA Guidelines for Passenger Vessels; Small Passenger Vessels. The National Marine Charter Association (NMCA) is the premier association representing the entire charter industry. The National Transportation Safety Board has cited us as taking the lead in promoting the safe operation of charter vessels and work closely with the United States Coast Guard to facilitate industry accepted programs and regulations for the charter industry. The majority of our members’ businesses consist of a one vessel, family operated company. The very definition of a small business, and thus, the reason for our comments.
1. Vessel guidelines developed by the Access Board should not create a barrier to entry into the Charter Industry.
Much of the charter industry is comprised of family owned, single vessel businesses. Although their focuses may be different, the heartbeat of the business is profitability. It would seem that the proposed alterations and additions to all vessels, new or old, would greatly increase the operational costs to the industry in the short and long term. To achieve certain aspects of the proposed guidelines, all vessels would have to be surveyed to assure that the vessel is capable of being retrofitted. And as the vessel has been shown safe for the alterations to be made, the down time (off the water time) that would be needed will cost each member of the industry the cost of the changes and the money lost from missing that time under charter. This alone will cost each business a large sum of its monthly/ annual income and cause some to leave the industry. On the side of new boat production, research and development time for the design process will be increased, thus increasing the costs of new “task specific” charter vessels from design to production (as new methods may be needed to produce a safe end product). Upkeep of the additions will also become another avenue down which cash flow must be spent. Ultimately the money spent and lost will lower the level of profitability for business and bring the need for great capital investment just to join or stay afloat in the industry.
2. These vessel guidelines should apply only to “inspected” vessels since these boats carry the majority of passengers, thus modifications to them will have the greatest impact on access while avoiding an undue burden on many small charter operations.
The Access Board should focus its efforts on the vessel categories that carry the most passengers for hire. The Board should work diligently to complete the large vessel guidelines first and then turn its attention to the smaller vessel guidelines. However, because of the significant differences between large and small vessels in size, material, type, and purpose it is not appropriate to apply the large vessel guidelines to small vessels.
The Access Board asked for commenters to address the point at which a vessel’s size or passenger numbers render the draft guidelines infeasible. From our industry’s perspective, it is infeasible to apply any accessibility guidelines to uninspected vessels (fewer than 6 passengers for hire). Vessels of this type vary widely and are exceedingly difficult to modify without sacrificing major functions of the vessel. In contrast, applying the guidelines to inspected vessels will have the greatest impact on access without placing undue burden on many small charter operations. This is because these boats, of the smaller passenger vessels, carry the majority of passengers.
It is important for the Access Board to be clear that these guidelines do not apply to recreational boats or bareboat charters. A personal recreational boat like a personal car is not a “public accommodation” or “specified public transportation” under Title III of the ADA. However, to provide clarity and certainty to the many small businesses who manufacturer these products, this should be spelled out in the guidelines and implementing regulations.
In addition to noting that manufacturers of boats constructed as a recreational vessel are not covered by these guidelines, NMCA, along with the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), recommends that the Board include specific language that excludes vessels that are operated as recreational vessels. For example, a vessel that is documented (a “recreational endorsement”) or registered as a recreational vessel should be expressly excluded.
3. Any vessel guidelines developed by the Access Board shall not compromise the structural integrity of the vessel, as built to assure the safety of the both the vessel and the crew.
Regardless of mechanism of propulsion (i.e. sail or power) and size, the vessels in the charter industry are built with the same basic structural principles. Load calculations are made by the designer of the vessel to achieve a structurally sound vessel and the final product is built by the boat builder to the designer’s specifications. These calculations vary from supporting the structures above and around the bulkheads and stringers, supporting the maximum capacity of crew and passengers with their gear, supporting weight of all possible utilities (electrical system, engines, refrigeration, navigation equipment, deck hardware, etc.). In general, boats are designed to accept a certain amount of “non structural” equipment to keep the vessel properly ballasted and with the proper righting moment to essentially “keep the boat bottom side down and top side up.” Any small change in the vessel’s primary structure, into which many companionways, doorways, and walkways are integrated, could compromise a majority of the calculations made to provide for a safe vessel.
Aside from structural modifications made to accommodate the proposed guidelines, the slope of the area upon which the crew and passengers stand or sit can be a factor. Even in a situation where the sea state is at a flat or very relaxed level, the slope of the vessel/deck sole can change quickly, and under normal operation, exceed the 1:12 ratio called for in the final report of the Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee. Such changes in weight distribution will have a direct effect on the slope change and the duration of time the vessel takes to return to its “static floating position.”
4. NMCA encourages the Board to build upon the work started by the Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee.
The Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee in Chapter 12 of its 2000 Final Report recommends new construction access specifications for small passenger vessels. Many of these recommendations have merit. NMCA, along with NMMA, encourages the Board to build upon these recommendations in a collaborative process to develop more comprehensive guidelines for small vessels that take into account vessel safety, the variety of vessel types, and the number of passengers for hire a vessel is allowed to carry.
5. Much attention must be paid to the scalability of the requirements, as there is a great variance of vessel type and structure in the charter boat industry.
First and foremost, the vessels in the “small charter boat” category (150 or less passengers) cannot be compared structurally or even by adaptability to major cruise line ships (i.e. Disney, Carnival, etc.). A great many of NMCA members run businesses that use uninspected or USCG Subchapter T (and some C) vessels for charter purposes. These boats vary in size range from small flatboats, to large cabin cruisers, to small sailboats, to historic large sailing schooners. The majority of these have been converted to charter vessels from the recreational market to suit the charter boat regulations.
In this same vain, requirements for sailboats and powerboats that fall into the “small charter boat” category cannot be the same. As per NMCA’s testimony at the July 25th, 2005 public hearing and the comments above, structural capabilities and physical motion of the two types of vessels cannot be more different from each other. Without getting into great detail, the load disbursal and structural adaptivity of the two types are set up in much different ways. Whereas, the structural integrity of a bulkhead on a powerboat may not cause much modification to be made to the rest of the support structure, the same modification done to a similar size sailboat, could cause catastrophic damage when the vessel is in normal operation, and cause the vessel to be compromised.
Thank you for hearing the National Marine Charter Association’s comments and we would be pleased to work with the Access Board in the future to aid in providing maximum accessibility to charter vessels, while at the same time, allowing for easy entry to the industry and minimal changes to current operations.
Executive Director, NMCA
1600 Duke St. Suite 400
Alexandria, VA 22314