When we purchase something, anything really, most of us take its safety for granted. There must be laws that govern what we buy and take into account all of the stuff that could happen when we use a product, right?

A catastrophic boat fire can easily be caused by a fuel leak, improper installation of electrical equipment or using non-marine parts and accessories.


Whether it's trying to put two different thread types together or using a standard gate valve instead of a proper UL listed valve, not much in this photo meets ABYC standards.

Boats are a perfect example. So who’s working behind the scenes to make sure the boats we buy not only do what they’re supposed to do but also don’t blow up, shock us, sink, poison our child, or otherwise cause harm?

The answer is: we do. We are the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC), and when it comes to boats, we wrote the book — 73 of them in fact. These standards fill in the areas federal law does not. ABYC is the group watching out for your safety through our members and certified technicians.

The federal laws governing boats and boating safety apply mostly to inboard, gasoline-powered boats, setting minimum safety standards for fuel, electrical, flotation and capacity for any boat less than 20 feet. That’s it! So what laws apply to a sailboat with a diesel auxiliary? Or a 22-foot outboard-powered center console? You guessed it — none. Or almost none. The Hull Identification Number on the transom and the navigation lights are both regulated by the Feds, but that’s another discussion.

Before you run away screaming to buy an RV, understand this thin veneer of federal oversight applies to most manufactured products in the U.S., including the chair you are sitting in, your toaster, your lawn tractor, etc. Hence the need for supplementing regulation, which is where we come in.

When you buy your next boat, we want you to focus on the fun choices: style, color, seating arrangement or engine size. As long as you choose a boat or accessory built to the ABYC Standards, you can leave the safety and reliability to us.

And after you choose a safe boat, you’ll want it repaired that way too. That’s why the ABYC certifies technicians in various disciplines to keep your boat running right. We call it “Boating Safety, Built In.”

So let’s ask again: Who is looking out for your safety? The answer is the 3,000 members and 5,000 certified technicians of the ABYC. You use the boat, we’ll make it safer.

John Adey is the President of the American Boat and Yacht Council and lives in Annapolis, MD.