Blame the Congress. But YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Help Pass the DIVE BOAT Act
by Tom Ingram, President & CEO, Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA)
A 2023 change in the law regulating liability for small commercial passenger carrying vessels – especially those used in diving activities – has caused vessel liability insurance rates in the U.S. to skyrocket. As this cost is eventually passed along to business clients and diving consumers, diving is becoming less affordable. The industry needs the help of all divers and dive professionals to send a message to Congress to correct this issue.
The Small Passenger Vessel Act (SPVA) was enacted as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This Act dramatically changed the liability requirements for small commercial vessels – those carrying not more than 49 passengers on over-night domestic voyages and those carrying fewer than 150 passengers on any voyage that is not an overnight domestic voyage (day-boats).
The genesis of SPVA was the tragic 2019 Conception liveaboard boat fire that claimed more than 30 lives. Unfortunately, after going through several iterations, when passed the SPVA contained neither safety recommendations that would prevent future tragedies, nor assistance for the Conception families. Because the SPVA increases the statute of limitations for filing claims on any boat accident to two years (from the previous limitation of six months), it is having dramatic, unintended consequences as it disrupts insurance market risk-pricing models. This increased statute of limitations goes well beyond the typical one-year renewal cycle for vessel liability coverage, with the result that insurance has either become unavailable for vessels in these sizes, or the rates have risen substantially.
This liability penalty is especially unfair to the diving industry as the horrific accident on the Conception was a boating accident, and it appears that the crew may have violated US Coast Guard regulations. Fishing vessels and cruise ships have been excluded from the SPVA, while dive, snorkel, and tour boat businesses are seeing exponential increases in insurance premiums. The dramatic increase in costs, diverting hard-earned and limited resources from necessary boat maintenance, safety equipment, and staff training is making NO ONE safer.
Within weeks after enactment, DEMA received alarming information from the dive community: One operator in West Palm Beach, Florida reported a $160,000 increase in their store and vessel liability coverage. They are now paying nearly 10% of their annual cash receipts on insurance. Another reported a $25,000 increase for his two small day vessels – more than double what he paid last year. An operator in Hawaii reported a $40,000 insurance increase, and a dive and travel store with no vessels in Washington, D.C. reported a $40,000 increase. These insurance increases are having a dramatic impact on livelihood, especially in the face of inflation and rising economic uncertainty.
How Is DEMA Helping?
Working with insurance actuaries and federal lobbyists, DEMA has drafted legislation to change the law enacted earlier this year. The DIVE BOAT Act helps ensure that vessels operating safely and lawfully are not unduly burdened with the threat of unlimited liability for an incident that may have occurred two years prior. The DIVE BOAT Act will:
- Reduce the lookback period for claims from two years to one year for liveaboards (overnight vessels), which is more in line with how insurance premiums are assessed (up from the historic period of six months).
- Remove “day-boats” from the types of vessels subject to heightened liability standards – returning them to the same standards as all other vessel operations, e.g., sport fishing and tow boats.
DEMA believes these changes will ensure bad actors are held accountable, while significantly easing the burden of unfair cost increases for those who follow the rules.
DEMA has been working with members of Congress to provide business relief from these insurance costs and has been successful in obtaining bi-partisan support in the U.S. House for this legislation. BUT THE INDUSTRY MUST ALSO PARTICIPATE IF THIS LAW IS TO BE CHANGED.
What Steps Can You Take to Help Avoid These Cost Increases?
DEMA NEEDS YOUR HELP in generating awareness and support for The DIVE BOAT Act. There are several steps you can take:
- Share DEMA’s campaign messages and images with your social media followers, asking for their support of The DIVE BOAT Act. These messages and images are available in DEMA’s DIVE BOAT Act Campaign Resource Center.
- You can also write to your members of Congress directly using this link to DEMA’s legislative software: https://p2a.co/hz3lwzn. A pre-populated message is available, or you can customize your comments, which are easily sent directly to your policymaker.
Everyone in the U.S. involved with the recreational diving industry can participate in this ready-made campaign. More participation WILL make a difference in getting the DIVE BOAT Act across the legislative finish line. Don’t let the SPVA negatively impact EVERY dive business in the U.S.!
GUE 25 Anniversary Conference Round Up
Global Underwater Explorers held a conference to commemorate the organization’s 25th anniversary. Held at GUE headquarters in High Springs, Florida, where it was founded by a group of cave divers founded in 1998, the organization convened instructors and divers from all over the world to recall the people and diving technologies that shaped GUE, how they’ve changed over time, and how they’ll evolve in the future.
In addition to celebrating the occasion, GUE convened speakers to present on topics related to its three biggest priorities: Exploration, Education, Conservation.
Shipwreck explorer Mario Arena, for example, gave a presentation on the “Battle of Convoys in the Mediterranean,” his 16-year project discovering and documenting dozens of shipwrecks left behind by the three-year-long battle during World War II and how his team is bringing the wrecks back to life using new technologies.
Cave explorers Fred Devos, Julien Fortin, and Sam Meacham gave a presentation on their efforts to document Ox Bel Ha, the largest underwater cave system in Mexico, a project which is concurrently celebrating its 25th anniversary. The project started out with, as Meacham called it, “two chainsaws, a compressor, and a horse,” and has begun to resurvey 144 square miles of caves with advances in diving equipment. Advances as simple as upgrades to lightbulbs and batteries, for example, enable the explorers to see through new passages.
Bill Stone, a cave explorer and head of Stone Aerospace, discussed “Recent Advances in Machine Exploration,” chronically how he’s used machines to explore underwater caves farther than any human. Stone’s autonomous drone, called Sunfish, uses sonar mapping to produce 3D maps and models deeper than photogrammetry divers can dive.
Ulrik Juul Christensen, a founder and chairman of Bonaire’s Area9 Mastery Diving Research Center, is developing an adaptive learning education platform for GUE and has spent about as much time as the organization has been in existence building education technologies. Christensen’s talk, “Learning That Matters,” focused on how to create new systems to help educate learners at their own pace so that knowledge, and not speed, is the priority.
In a complementary presentation, Sean Talamas, a managing partner and executive coach at leadership development consulting firm, discussed “The Depth of Character: Cultivating Grit, and a Growth Mindset.” The presentation focused on research by Angela Duckworth suggesting success is not achieved through talent, but a combination of passion and persistence she called “grit.”
GUE Instructor Trainer Andrea Marassich gave a presentation on “Building Capacity for Extreme Explorations” about the Sa Conca e Locoli Cave Project in Sardinia, Italy. Learning, he suggested, happens when you go out of your comfort zone, but not all the way to what he called the “panic zone,” where you are overwhelmed to the point that you don’t learn but instead shut down and it becomes extremely dangerous.” “You need a mentor,” Marassich said. “Someone who knows you enough to push you when you need to be pushed and pull back when you need to pull back.”
These were just a few of the education- and exploration-focused presentations. Speakers also included Blue Green Expeditions Managing Partner Faith Ortins on how divers can support environmentally conscious destinations, Peter Gaertner on citizen science conducted in the Caves of Gulf of Orosei project, Daniel Ortego on the Marine Genome Project, and Neal W. Pollock on the physiological limitations of technology in diving.
Max Deco & Bubble Trouble entertained conference attendees at the Friday night social with a pre-dive playlist of classic rock. Band members: John Kendall vocals, Gary Franklin vocals, Bill Stone lead guitar, Andrew Dow guitar, Francesco Cameli bass, Michael Menduno bass, Jason Cook drums.
You can find the full conference photo album here.