By CAPT. BOB CAREY | Guest Columnist
The Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, is a prime example of the economic investment that recreational boating and fishing bring to Virginia. However, this tournament and the entire recreational boating industry could be at risk if a new speed limit recently proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration goes into effect.
The proposal, which would expand current coastal speed limits for boats larger than 65 feet to include smaller vessels, would extend the time to reach many key fishing waters off the coast and could mean the end of the Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament and others like it up and down the east coast. In Virginia, recreational boating has an annual economic impact of $4.4 billion and supports more than 16,000 jobs. However, the consequences of this proposal could be far worse than lost economic opportunity: It could put boaters’ safety at risk.
NOAA’s proposed speed limit would require boats as small as 35 feet to abide by a 10-knot speed limit, which is roughly the equivalent of 11 miles an hour on land. This is dangerously slow for most recreational boats for families, especially in choppy waters off the coast of Virginia and the broader Atlantic seaboard.
When I served as an emergency preparedness liaison officer in the U.S. Navy, I worked closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and emergency and disaster response teams in multiple states. I learned from experience that safety must always come first on the water. But traveling at NOAA’s proposed reduced speed in the open ocean could make smaller boats more likely to swamp or capsize, increasing the potential for life-threatening risks for the crew and passengers aboard and forcing the Coast Guard to dedicate scarce resources to rescue those onboard.