A Word With... Richard Schwartz
An attorney who realized in 1966 that recreational boaters had no organization to look after their legal interests, Richard Schwartz founded the Boat Owners Association of The United States—the nation’s first boaters’ advocacy group. Since then, BoatU.S. has been the driving force behind numerous programs and legislation that have made the waters safer and more enjoyable. PMY recently talked to Schwartz about his nearly 40 years as a boating advocate.
Q: Did you launch BoatU.S. because of any specific boating problems you had?
A: No, not at all. My boating activity was very limited. After I graduated from law school, I went to Washington and worked on the Hill for a while. I got to know some boaters on Chesapeake Bay and learned they had been fined by the Coast Guard for violations that should have been the boat manufacturer’s responsibility. It was clearly unjust, and I thought, “Isn’t there anyone who speaks for boaters?” No one did. That’s when I decided to get involved.
Q: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the last four decades?
A: Boating is much safer than it used to be. That’s the most important thing. We worked hard to get the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 enacted. I think that, more than anything else, has really helped recreational boaters.
Q: Is there one aspect about your career that you’ve enjoyed most?
A: I get the most satisfaction out of getting boating legislation passed. We’ve fought a lot of battles over the years, whether it was getting the boating user-fee tax revoked or overhauling the very concept of marine insurance. Like anyone, I enjoy seeing the fruits of our labor, seeing how boaters are better off because of our work.
Q: What’s the biggest issue facing boaters today?
A: I’d say it’s all the waterfronts that are vanishing. Marinas are disappearing everywhere. Not just in Florida, but in many states. Oceanfront condos are going up where boat facilities used to be. It’s a big problem, and it’s only going to get tougher.
Q: Have boaters themselves changed much since 1966?
A: Well, I don’t think young people are nearly as interested in boating as their parents. I took my grandkids out for a cruise, and all they did was play with their video games. They didn’t even notice the water. Many boaters I know say the same thing. In the old days, life was simpler, and boating was the ultimate simple pleasure. Today most young people are too busy, too distracted by their computers and technology to enjoy the water.
Who’s Got Your Back?
When you find yourself at odds with a boat dealer, marina, or repair yard, knowing who you can call for help is half the battle. In August BoatU.S. launched a free online service to provide boaters with all the consumer-affairs contacts they need, no matter where in the country they live.
For example, if your marina is overcharging you or if your dealer fails to deliver your new boat on time, you can log on to www.boatus.com/consumer, click on “State/Local Consumer Departments,” and find out exactly where to lodge an official complaint.
However, the recreational-boaters organization points out that many areas of the country lack adequate resources for boaters. “As we found in Florida, not every state or county will have a solution,” says Caroline Ajootian, director of the BoatU.S. Consumer Protection Bureau. “But you will know for sure in just minutes if someone can help.”
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