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US builders dodge disability access bullet

By IBI Magazine

Recreational boats and small passenger vessels will be excluded from provisions that were pending in the new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a far-reaching set of guidelines that could have radically changed the design of both types of vessels. In earlier policy drafts, according to a statement from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), the Access Board announced its intention to prepare ADA guidelines for passenger vessels of all sizes, including "six-pack" charter boats.

"NMMA provided guidance to the Access Board on the many differences among inspected passenger vessels, uninspected small six-pack boats and recreational boats," said Monita Fontaine, vice president of government relations at NMMA. "Our manufacturers build high quality boats for private owners' use, not commercial duty. It is important to distinguish between the two in order to help the board focus its efforts on achieving accessibility for the disabled on vessels that serve as a public accommodation, such as large cruise ships and dinner cruise boats."

In 2004, the Access Board published draft building guidelines that would have applied to large cruise ships and the full range of smaller passenger vessels. NMMA stressed the differences between commercial and recreational vessels, and the negative economic impact blanket regulations written for large commercial vessels would have on the recreational boating industry.

The Access Board recently released a revised draft, published on July 7, with ADA guidelines that will now only apply to passenger vessels that carry 150 or more passengers, certain tenders (more than 60 or more passengers), and all sizes of ferries. The board announced that it plans to prepare guidelines for water taxis and other small passenger vessels only after it has completed the current rulemaking.

In NMMA's view, noted the statement, the small vessel accessibility guidelines will be much more effective if the Access Board develops them with a mind toward safety, uses the current regulatory structure for the marine industry and focuses on the vessels that carry the most passengers for hire.

(28 July 2006)

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