Activities of the Coast Guard Related to Recreational Boating

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-11-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                                   WASHINGTON, D.C.   20548

CIVIL DIVISION                                    O2 9        1971

        Dear Mr. Heffelfinger:

             Thank you for your letter of September 17, 1971, with enclosures
        containing the Coast Guard's comments on our draft report entitled
        Review of Selected Activities of the Coast Guard Related to Recreational
        Boating. While the draft report was with the Department for review,
        the Congress passed the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 (Public Law
        92-75, approved August 10, 1971), which should have a major effect on
        the Coast Guard's administration of the recreational boating program.
        We have concluded, therefore, that reporting to the Congress on pro-
        gram weaknesses which existed prior to the new legislation would not
        be timely.

             Our analysis of Coast Guard comments shows, however, that two
        areas discussed in the draft remain in need of strengthening by
        administrative action.

        Assessment and Collection of Fines

             Coast Guard has followed a practice of usually not fining violators
        of boating safety requirements. Although Coast Guard had issued penalty
        assessment guidelines, they were not binding on district commanders.
        The lenient manner in which the district commanders administered the
        guidelines resulted in about 47,900 of 57,400 violation cases handled
        during 1968, 1969 and 1970 being closed without penalty.

             Coast Guard indicated in its comments that the new legislation will
        permit the Coast Guard to simplify its penalty assessment program and
        that it is drafting revised regulations for this purpose. We note, how-
        ever, that interim instructions, Commandant Notice 5904, dated October 12,
        1971, provide that district commanders will continue to determine whether
        or not to assess penalties for violations. In our opinion, a uniform
        system under which penalties are assessed which bear a realistic relation-
        ship to the nature of violations, is needed to promote improved boating

        Charges for Services

             Because Coast Guard followed a practice of usually not charging
        recreational boaters for goods and services provided to them, we sug-
        gested that Coast Guard revise its regulations to define the circum-
        stances under which charges for services should be made. Our suggestion

                                 50TH ANNIVERSARY 1921-1971
was based, in part, on Coast Guard records which showed that during one
year it provided assistance in about 18,000 cases where it determined
there was no immediate or foreseeable danger to life or property, but
charged for the assistance provided in only 93 cases, 81 of which occurred
in one district.

     Coast Guard commented that each request for assistance is either a
distress or a potential distress case and proposed to make no changes in
its regulations or practices. We recognize Coast Guards' responsibility
for safety of life and property, and we agree that charges for services
should not be imposed in such a way as to discourage the use of facili-
ties and services necessary for safety. However, considering the high
volume of cases which are not classified as distress but where Coast
Guard provides fuel, supplies, and other assistance at no charge, we
remain of the view that Coast Guard should revise its policies toward
giving greater recognition to the general Government policy of charging
for services rendered to specific groups.

     We appreciate the cooperation and courtesies extended to us by
Department officials during our review. We would appreciate your advice
on any actions the Coast Guard may take concerning the matters discussed
in this letter.

                                         Sincerely yours,

                                         Richard W. Kelley
                                         Assistant Director

Mr. William S. Heffelfinger
Assistant Secretary for Administration
Department of Transportation