Richard Schwartz: The Boater's Advocate

On a day in 1963 when the weather was right for boating, Richard Schwartz discovered something very wrong with the boating industry. The young anti-trust lawyer had headed out on the Chesapeake looking forward to a day on a friend's new boat. But not far from the dock, they were boarded by a Coast Guard patrol. Richard's friend was cited; his boat had an inadequate engine-compartment ventilation system. Young Richard was outraged.

"It turned out that boatbuilders had no liability for meeting government safety regulations," he said. "And the Coast Guard couldn't make manufacturers comply. So what was the Coast Guard doing about it? They were going after the boat owners! Outrageous!"

Schwartz soon discovered that recreational boaters had no organization to represent them. So in 1966, he founded the Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) to do just that. The fledging organization gained momentum on Capitol Hill, and in 1971 its first big victory came when President Nixon signed the Federal Boat Safety Act into law. That landmark legislation, which Schwartz helped write, gave the Coast Guard authority to regulate boatbuilding and create the Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety.

Schwartz knew that standing up for boaters on Capitol Hill wasn't enough, and over the next five decades, he steadily expanded the benefits and services BoatUS offered its members. Early on, he added boat insurance, a chain of marine-supply stores, a consumer-protection department, and later a nonprofit boating-safety foundation. When Congress passed a law forbidding the Coast Guard to tow disabled recreational boats, Schwartz created a network of towing-assistance vessels to come to the aid of members coast-to-coast. Today, everything offered to boaters through BoatUS is the result of Schwartz's vision — and a fateful Coast Guard boarding more than 50 years ago. Schwartz died in 2015, at 85. 

— Published: April/May 2016

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