ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) Chairman and Founder Richard Schwartz passed away Wednesday after a short illness. He was 85.
Two years ago Schwartz announced his retirement from a 47-year run as the leader of the over half million member boating association, and until his passing remained Chairman of the BoatUS Board of Directors as well as Chairman of the BoatUS National Advisory Council.
The creation of the recreational boating organization began with a day on the water in the early 1960’s. Schwartz was invited aboard a friend’s boat and, soon after departing the dock, the vessel’s owner was given a ticket for improper engine compartment ventilation – which Schwartz viewed as clearly unfair as the owner had no responsibility for the boat’s construction. A Princeton and Yale Law School graduate and young anti-trust attorney at the time, Schwartz asked his boating friends if there was anyone fighting for their interests – and the answer was no.
With that incident, BoatUS was born with a mission of “service, savings and representation.” Just a few years later, Schwartz’s Capitol Hill testimony resulted in the watershed Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 which gave the U.S. Coast Guard the power to hold manufacturers accountable for certain safety standards – including engine compartment ventilation – and created the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety.
With grace, grit and determination, Schwartz went head-first after the problems affecting recreational boaters, often persuasively leading the opposition to draw its own like-minded conclusion, and sometimes taking a more direct approach with testimony laced with his characteristic, “That’s outrageous!”
Schwartz was the first to fight for legislation on behalf of boaters, and his efforts at shaping national boating policy helped secure passage of the Recreational Boating Safety and Facilities Improvement Act of 1979 – also known as the Biaggi Bill – which affirmed that taxes and fees paid by boaters should support boating programs. He later was a vocal opponent to user fees and the highly unpopular luxury tax (1992) and the diesel fuel tax (1997), both of which were repealed. In 1984, Schwartz was widely credited in leading the passage of the federal Wallop/Breaux Trust Fund Amendment, today part of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund that now returns over $600 million annually to federal and state boating and fishing programs.
Taking advantage of America’s post-war boom in recreational boating, Schwartz led an organization that was an early pioneer in discount marine retailing, starting with a single product – a floating flashlight – eventually opening a nationwide chain of 62 BoatUS retail stores. He also made BoatUS a major influence on the national boating safety stage with the development of the 501(c)3 nonprofit BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water, which runs innovative programs ranging from the free Online Boating Safety Course to the only nationwide Life Jacket Loaner Program for Kids and EPIRB rental programs.
When Congress directed the U.S. Coast Guard to stop providing routine on-the-water assistance in the 1980s, Schwartz created the largest on-the-water towing service in the nation, the red boats of BoatUS Towing Services that include the TowBoatUS and Vessel Assist towing fleets.
Schwartz created the only Consumer Protection Bureau for boaters to seek redress with manufacturers, suppliers or businesses as well as a Dispute Mediation Program. BoatUS Reports, the association’s early member newsletter, eventually grew to become BoatUS Magazine, the largest boating magazine in the country with over half a million circulation.
The BoatUS Marine Insurance program, started in 1967, offered the first recreational boat policy in clear, understandable language rather than the unintelligible, centuries-old, commercial ship language from Lloyd’s of London. Schwartz wrote a primer on what a boat policy should have in plain English, which today has been adopted industry-wide. Long before there was publicly available data on the causes of insurance claims, BoatUS developed the only recreational boat Damage Avoidance program and publication to help BoatUS members avoid claims and injuries, Seaworthy. BoatUS insurance programs now total over $8 billion in hull value.
Ironically, in the early years Schwartz didn’t own a boat. However, he grew his fleet of watercraft to include a favored 22-foot Chris Craft rumble seat runabout and 42-foot catamaran deck boat for family runs to the local crab shack. He is survived by his loving wife, Beth Newburger Schwartz, seven children and 16 grandchildren.
Schwartz helped found and then later served on the National Safe Boating Council and has received a wide range of awards, including: the Council’s Hall of Fame Award (1995); the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ Annual Award (1983) and Lifetime Achievement Award (1999); the US Coast Guard’s Distinguished Public Service Commendation (2000); the US Power Squadron’s Raymond A. Finlay Sea Scout Service Award (2005); and the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Charles S. Chapman Award (2006). In 2007, he was the national spokesman for the US Coast Guard’s Auxiliary Vessel Safety Check program and was also awarded Honorary Commodore status.
Said Schwartz at his 2013 retirement, “We’ve become the largest boat owners organization in the US and fought major boating battles along the way, making life better, and safer for boaters and all the while creating the services that make the boating experience better. Boating should be a pleasure – not a hassle. I am proud to have led this organization.”
“Richard had the foresight that recreational boaters needed an advocate, they needed services to enjoy the water, so he create an organization dedicated to helping America’s boat owners enjoy their cherished time on the water,” said BoatUS President Margaret Podlich. “He was an inquisitive, innovative and an energetic leader who could get the very best out of every one of his staff, and always insisted that boaters interests be protected. No one did more for America’s recreational boaters than Richard Schwartz.”