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The History of BoatUS

A look back at more than five decades of significant BoatUS innovation and impact on boating.

BoatUS proudly remains the single source of exceptional service and savings. We are steadfast in our commitment to protect boaters and their rights, making boating more safe, affordable and accessible - whether helping to have a safe day on the water, ensuring that boating taxes go to boating programs, offering competitive boat insurance coverage that boaters need, or having the largest on water towing fleet in the nation. Take a look back with us, through more than five decades of significant impacts and innovation.

1963 – Princeton University and Yale Law School graduate Richard Schwartz heads out on the Chesapeake Bay with a friend who had just bought a new boat. The boat is quickly boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard, who cites the boat owner for having a faulty engine-compartment ventilation system. Schwartz is stunned to discover that boat manufacturers have no liability for meeting government safety regulations, and the U.S. Coast Guard has no jurisdiction over the manufacturers to make sure they build safe boats – so the Coast Guard was going after boat owners. Schwartz asks his boating friends if there was anyone fighting for their interests – and the answer was no.


Dick Ellison joins Schwartz and they launch Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) based on a vision of service, savings and representation for the nation's boat owners.


1967 – "We'll get you, Schwartz!" These angry words were threatened by a boat manufacturing industry lobbyist in a heated Capitol Hill hearing on boating safety and consumer rights. In his testimony, Schwartz angered some in the room by telling lawmakers that boat owners were being unfairly targeted and ticketed by the U.S. Coast Guard.

1967- BoatUS also begins to offer the first recreational boat insurance policies in plain English, instead of using the old, often indecipherable Lloyd's of London language, marking the beginning of consumer-friendly boat insurance innovations BoatUS will provide its Members.

1970 – The BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau was launched to bridge the gap between boaters and manufacturers or dealers.

1971 – The first significant federal victory comes to BoatUS when President Nixon signs the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 – which Schwartz helped to write – into law giving the U.S. Coast Guard authority to regulate boat manufacturers, enacting a defect law for newly manufactured boats, and creating the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety.


On March 28, Alexandria, VA Mayor Frank Mann cuts a ribbon across BoatUS' new national headquarters at 880 South Pickett Street and marks the opening of BoatUS' first official retail store.


1982 - 1992 – BoatUS leads the successful fight to repeal the Federal Boat "User Fee" Tax, saving recreational boaters up to $600 annually.

1983 – The first BoatUS Catastrophe Team is established to assist following the disastrous landfall of Hurricane Alicia. Comprised of expert marine surveyors, claims adjusters and heavy equipment operators, in subsequent years the team becomes the "gold standard" for service to insured boaters after storm-related disasters.


After much lobbying by BoatUS, Congress passes legislation establishing the federal Wallop/Breaux Trust Fund. The practical "user pay, user benefits" program uses federal boat fuel and fishing tackle taxes to protect natural resources and enhance recreational fishing and boating opportunities and is now called the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund.


1985 – BoatUS launches the Boat Finance and Documentation program.

1986 – Offering just 12 letter colors and seven font styles, the BoatUS Graphics Department is created to offer affordable boat lettering and graphics.

1987 – After futile attempts at fighting Federal budget cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary for non-emergency towing service, BoatUS, through a network of locally owned and operated licensees, begins providing options to all Members for on water assistance including towing, fuel drop off, battery jumpstarts and soft ungrounding services.

1990's – BoatUS is instrumental in eliminating the federal tax on diesel fuel used in recreational boats and also successfully lobbies to eliminate the FCC VHF radio marine radio license requirement for recreational boats less than 65 feet operating in US waters.

1992 – The non-profit BoatUS Foundation completes an extensive inflatable life jacket study that eventually leads to U.S. Coast Guard approval of inflatable devices.

1995 - The BoatUS Cooperating Marina Program is created to give Members exclusive discounts at marinas and other boating related businesses such as tackle shops and guide services. Today, BoatUS Members continue to receive discounts at over 1,000 locations nationwide.


1996 – In its 30th anniversary year, the Association replaces the tabloid-form newsletter, BOAT/U.S. Reports, with a full-color BoatUS Magazine.


1998 – BoatUS launches the Trailer Assist & Towing program offering 24-hour dispatch of roadside assistance for trailer boaters since most auto clubs won't tow boat trailers.


BoatUS acquires Vessel Assist Association of America, the largest on water towing fleet on the Pacific Coast. The move adds 100 towboats in 26 ports from San Diego to British Columbia, and a new West Coast 24-hour dispatch center connected to a coastal mountaintop high-site VHF communications system.


2003 – The BoatUS Product Division – a 900+ page catalog, 62 retail Marine Centers and wholesale operation - is sold to West Marine.

2007 – Boat America Corporation, the stock company that provides the services to BoatUS., is sold by an ESOP to a Berkshire Hathaway owned subsidiary, National Indemnity Company.


BoatUS hand delivers over 15,000 comments from concerned boaters to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) demanding that the agency not go forward in its plans to allow a private company, LightSquared, build up to 40,000 ground stations for a new nationwide broadband wireless telephone network. These stations put the future reliability of the Global Positioning System (GPS) system across the United States – and the ability of mariners to safely navigate – at risk. The plans fail to win government support.


2012 – Over 65,000 recreational boats are damaged or lost when Superstorm Sandy strikes the Northeast, making it the single-largest industry loss to recreational boats since the Association began keeping track in 1966. The BoatUS "CAT" Team salvages thousands of boats from the NY-NJ region as far north as Maine and inland to Michigan.

2015 – BoatUS is transferred to GEICO, another Berkshire Hathaway company, to better align for growth. BoatUS Marine Insurance creates a much-needed specialized insurance policy for peer-to-peer rental networks. On February 13, BoatUS Founder Richard Schwartz crosses the bar at the age of 85.


When recreational boats break down, run aground or need a little help getting back to the launch ramp or boat slip, the red response boats of Vessel Assist have been there to lend assistance. Now the 24-hour on water towing and assistance service has a new name: TowBoatUS. The move to rename Vessel Assist to TowBoatUS – with locations in CA, AZ, OR, WA, HI and British Columbia, Canada – recognizes TowBoatUS standing as North America’s largest provider of on water assistance with over 300 locations and 600 towing response vessels. Other than the name change, boaters will still see the same familiar BoatUS buoy logo on the hull and our professional captains at the helm.


2017 – BoatUS Membership reaches 575,000 Members.

BoatUS Government Affairs continues generate significant grassroots support on major issues, such as the Renewable Fuel Standard and the increasing volume of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply, as well as restrictions on anchoring in Florida. More than 36,000 comments are generated by BoatUS Members and sent to the administration and Congress urging action to support recreational boaters.

Six years after introducing its first smartphone app, the fastest way for recreational boaters to call for on-water or on-road assistance, BoatUS launches the completely new BoatUS App that offers hurricane alerts just in time for peak storm season. The app also makes it easier to file a claim, update policy and Membership information, pay bills, and find discounts on fuel, transient slips, and marine services.


After 40 years of being located in Alexandria, Virginia, BoatUS makes plans to return to its roots in Springfield, Virginia, breaking ground for a new 65,000-square-foot association and corporate headquarters at 5323 Port Royal Road. It will be the first headquarters purpose-built for serving the more than half a million BoatUS Members and GEICO Marine Insurance customers and is located just one block from where BoatUS was headquartered in the early 1970s. Opening is slated for fall 2018.


The largest-ever BoatUS Catastrophe Response Team responds to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, with more than 63,000 recreational boats damaged or destroyed and having a combined dollar damage estimate of $655 million (boats only). These numbers are strikingly close to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which remains the single-largest industry loss with more than 65,000 boats damaged and more than $650 million in estimated losses.


Exactly one year after breaking ground, Boat Owners Association of The United States and GEICO Marine Insurance officially open the organization's new headquarters at 5323 Port Royal Road in Springfield. The newly constructed building (which can be seen from the region's famed I-495 Capital Beltway) is home to association and corporate headquarters with insurance policyholder and claims customer service, as well as nationwide 24/7 dispatch operations for recreational boat owners. "This new 65,000-square-foot building will help us grow for the next 50 years," said BoatUS CEO Kirk La after cutting the ribbon with a host of dignitaries.



The nonprofit BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water and a host of key partners including Freedom Boat Club give boaters the confidence, skills and much-needed practice behind the wheel with the official launch of the BoatUS Foundation On-Water Training Program. At locations across the country, specially-designed, three-hour courses taught by professional U.S. Coast Guard certified instructors help both beginners, experienced boaters, as well as ladies with a "Women Making Waves" course was launched.

2019 – BoatUS continues to make life better for boaters with an industry-first "Connect" feature on the BoatUS App that with the press of one "request a tow" button directly connects boaters summoning on-water assistance with the closest, local TowBoatUS towing captain. This innovation eliminates a time-consuming voice call to BoatUS' 24-hour nationwide dispatch centers, shaving minutes off the dispatch times.

 For an in-depth look at BoatUS' first 50 years, click here.