American Boat and Yacht Council:
The Marine Standard Bearer

Tucked away in the old Eastport neighborhood of "America's Sailing Capital," the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) develops and updates the safety standards for boat building and repair. Established 52 years ago in Amityville, NY, the not-for-profit membership organization spent 14 years in Edgewater before moving to its present Third Street location.

"ABYC, with the authority of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), develops consensus-based standards," said Skip Burdon, ABYC President/CEO. "The USCG formally endorsed ABYC's voluntary standards and ABYC as a standard-writing organization."

A standard is defined as a practice or a product which is widely recognized or employed, especially because of its excellence. In the marine industry, ABYC accepts as its mission the development of quality technical practices and engineering standards for the design, construction, maintenance and repair of small craft with reference to their safety.

"Everything we do relates to boating safety," Burdon continued. "Standards are developed for safety needs. There must be a demonstrated need for a new standard (to be created). Having ABYC standards integrates the industry - like the Bible for safety-related issues."

The organization was "originally conceived for small crafts, for recreational boats," Burdon said. "Now, the USCG and the U.S. Navy are using ABYC standards for their smaller craft." Also using the standards are small commercial builders, state governments, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to Burdon, ABYC has two goals: "To create a pleasant boating experience and to mitigate liability and risk." For example, if a new boat complies with ABYC standards, "the consumer can be assured that the boat is being built to a certain level of safety standards."

Serving not only as an influence on the domestic marine industry, ABYC is also the official representative of the United States on international standards groups. The International Standard Organization (ISO) uses ABYC as a basis for marine standards.

Among ABYC's 4,000 members are boat builders, boat owners, naval architects, surveyors, boat yards, insurance companies, law firms, trade associations, marinas, dealerships, government agencies, educational institutions and equipment and accessory manufacturers. Boat builders, repair yards, and marine surveyors are the biggest users of the ABYC standards.

For the boat owner, a working knowledge of the standards can help in either completing do-it-yourself tasks in a compliant fashion, or ensuring that others do the work according to these standards. "ABYC standards are a framework to guide all repairs," said Scott Tinkler, Port Annapolis General Manager. "We have ABYC techs and we subscribe to ABYC standards."

The organization was focused on the industry for the first 48 of its 52 years, Burdon noted. "Recently, we are reaching out to the consumer to give them a baseline of knowledge about their boats' systems." For example, ABYC now participates in the annual boat shows here in Annapolis.

Two ABYC courses designed for boat owners are Basic Diesel and Basic Electricity. The former provides participants with the information needed to understand the needs of their engines, and the latter teaches the basics needed to perform simple repairs, troubleshooting, and maintenance of their boats' electrical systems.

Caroline Chetelat, ABYC Communication & Marketing Director, pointed out that her organization certifies the technicians who do the repairs, the surveys and boat construction. Certification courses available for marine technicians include these topics: Electrical, Refrigeration & Air Conditioning, Diesel Engine & Support Systems, Gasoline Engine & Support Systems, Marine Corrosion, Composite Boat Building and Marine Systems.

A major benefit of membership is free technical assistance from experienced ABYC staff. Members also receive regular updates on the work of the technical committees on new and revised standards. ABYC publishes Standards & Technical Information Reports for Small Craft, and carries a variety of other useful industry publications to enhance and improve the boating experience.

"There is a critical shortage of technicians in our industry," Burdon said about a growing concern, emphasizing that "you can make a perfectly good living building and maintaining boats." Though there are certification programs in professional vocational schools, he said, "There is no apprentice-type program in the United States for (marine) technicians," although this is starting to change.

In an effort to generate more ABYC-certified technicians, the Council develops curriculum for high school programs, and advocates embedding ABYC standards into already existing college marine technology courses. Burdon suggests more ABYC involvement in Annapolis area schools and boating groups. "We want to make the Eastport location as accessible as possible to residents."

"ABYC's voluntary standards are much broader and deeper than federal regulations," said Dick Blackman, an engineer with the Product Assurance Division of the U.S. Coast Guard's Office of Boating Safety. This makes boats safer without creating more federal expense.

"They are collaborative standards, developed by a panel of experts," he added. "They have come to be considered as industry standards, which makes them slightly less voluntary. The Office of Boating Safety sits on ABYC technical committees."

Marine surveyor Jack Hornor has been in the industry since 1971. He's had a bird's-eye view of the evolution of standards over the years. "They are a lot more detailed and (there are) a lot more of them," said the Naval Architect & Principal Surveyor for Marine Survey & Design Co. in Davidsonville.

The role of the marine surveyor is similar to that of a home inspector, he explained, except in this case, the object of the inspection is a boat, not a house. An inspection involves evaluating the conditions and value of the craft. "The marine surveyor assures that the boat is built to standards," he said. "We use ABYC standards-our Bible."

"We inspect boats for insurance companies both before and after an event," he said. An "event" refers to an accident or other incident that causes damage to a vessel. A related function is the practice of "loss and damage surveys for insurance companies," where the surveyor evaluates the damage to determine "how and why it happened."

Hornor said that before loaning money to a prospective buyer, "banks typically require marine surveyors to make inspections for used boats." He said ABYC has a certification process for marine surveyors, though no formal licensing is required.

"In the United States, all consumer products are built to industry standards," said Tom Hale, Director of Customer Care for boat builder Zodiac of North America. "The (boating) industry abides by standards, which ensure use of the best knowledge. If you build boats to standard, you will have a safe boat. All the electrical systems will work. The batteries will charge."

Hale is responsible for making sure that all Zodiac products comply with ABYC standards. He also participates in ABYC technical committees to review and update existing standards and to add new standards when necessary. He runs tests on his boats to advise on new standards, and he provides technical input.

Because of his participation in the ABYC standards process, Hale knows ahead of time when new standards are going to be implemented. This allows Zodiac to prepare for changes in advance. "New technologies and new techniques" create the need to continually review standards.

"People join ABYC to participate in the development process," Burdon said. They participate in technical committees that are formed to evaluate and create standards as needed. "We have regular reviews of standards and communication with manufacturers and the U.S. Coast Guard about issues in boating" to determine if we need new standards.

"Revisions and updates to standards occur on an ongoing basis," Chetelat said, referring to the various tech committees and industry professionals continually analyzing the many aspects of boating systems.

"Our standards are the minimum standards-the minimum threshold-that the industry thinks is appropriate for safety on water for systems on boats," Burdon added. "We don't develop standards for problems that don't exist. We don't have a ton of standards. All ABYC standards are based on real need."


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