The Administration Must Withdraw Its Proposed Vessel Speed Regulation

NOAA Should Use Technology to Protect the North Atlantic Right Whale

As the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) considers NOAA’s misguided vessel speed rule, the $230 billion recreational boating industry supports the advancement of a better way to manage the critically endangered right whale. Boatbuilders and its robust supplier base in the United States—of which roughly 93 percent are small businesses—continue to advocate for the withdrawal of the rule in favor of the advanced marine technologies available today.

The proposed rule, which would require small recreational boats to travel at speeds of 10 knots along much of the Atlantic coast for up to seven months of the year, is ill-conceived, dangerous to boaters, economically disastrous, and ineffective at achieving its goal of protecting the North Atlantic right whale (NARW).

Since the rule was proposed nearly two years ago, the recreational boating and fishing industry has worked tirelessly to alert NOAA to the flaws in the rule and proposes a technology-based approach to protecting marine mammals without putting boater safety at risk and devastating coastal economies.

NARWs are one of the world’s most endangered large whale species and advanced marine technologies stand to deliver the most effective, measurable reductions to vessel strike risk. NOAA must accelerate efforts to work with all key stakeholders in a meaningful, collaborative way to realize a higher level of protection that marine technologies offer to NARW and all marine mammals.

Technology, Not an Archaic Speed Rule, Is the Answer

A blanket speed restriction is not the most effective way to reduce the risk of vessel strikes on the North Atlantic right whale.

NOAA proposed the expansion of this rule without any engagement from the boating or marine technology industry. Ironically, more than 1.5 years after the rule was proposed, NOAA hosted a technology workshop March 5–7 (2024) to hear from stakeholders about what technologies exist today to help detect and prevent vessel strikes of the North Atlantic right whale.

However, because the rule moved to OMB during the week of the workshop, this only further signaled to the recreational boating and fishing community that the rule does not reflect the input of the industry that is most highly impacted.

As conservationists, the boating industry deeply cares about protecting the North Atlantic right whale and all marine life, and a task force of marine and technology experts exists to identify, test, and deploy technology that can better protect marine life. The Whale and Vessel Safety (WAVS) Taskforce frequently publishes white papers and reports on strategies to mitigate vessel strikes:

The WAVS Taskforce members are using their decades of collective knowledge and expertise to inform NOAA and policymakers on the technologies that are available today for implementation and deployment. The Taskforce is especially focused on technologies that are useful for boats as they operate normally (i.e. on plane).

In October 2023, the Taskforce shared a white paper with NOAA that provides an overview of the technology that’s currently available for deployment today.

The WAVS Taskforce is focused on five key areas, known as the Vessel Strike Risk Reduction Chain:

  • Detection: Using various technologies to detect the presence of whales and other marine mammals, including sonar, radar, camera & AI, crowdsourced observation, etc.
  • Aggregation: Collecting data for a central clearing house. Analyzing data to reduce noise, duplication, and other artifacts.
  • Dissemination: Sending the data out for stakeholder receipt in an efficient and timely manner.
  • Integration: Leveraging disseminated data to create an on-board experience aimed to influence operation and decision making.
  • Risk reduction: Boaters use the display data to make informed decisions and take appropriate action to reduce vessel strike risk.

Sophisticated technology that could be implemented immediately exists today, including radio frequency transmission and whale collection data aggregation.

There are also various technologies currently in development, including 3D sonar mapping, infrared imagery detection and innovative marine radar algorithms.

The combination of these technologies enables mariners to detect and monitor whales more efficiently and take proactive measures to help prevent strikes.

Given the recent technology summit hosted by NOAA, and Congress urging NOAA in its FY 2024 spending bill to further engage and collaborate with industry experts and federal agencies, it is paramount that NOAA take advantage of both the sophisticated and simple technologies that exist today to protect the North Atlantic right whale and boaters, rather than antiquated blanket closures of public waters.

How the Industry Is Educating Elected Officials and Regulators:

  • Thousands of comments opposing the rule were submitted to NOAA, including comments by NMMA
  • Recreational boating industry representatives, include NMMA President and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer, testified before Congress in June 2023 in opposition of the rule and in support of technology that already exists to better protect marine mammals. 
  • NMMA hosted Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries Janet Coit at the Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show in February to show her and the NOAA staff the technologies that exist today. 
  • NMMA and its industry partners have hosted multiple briefings for members of Congress and congressional staff, including a Congressional Boating Caucus briefing in November and a Marine Technology Showcase in April on Capitol Hill to demonstrate existing vessel strike mitigation technologies.
  • NMMA sent a letter to NOAA on May 15 opposing the rule and asking for the docket to be reopened, and President and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer met with OMB on May 16 to express the industry’s opposition. 

Unfortunately, NOAA failed to consider the recreational boating industry’s concerns and proposed solutions and continues to move forward with the ill-conceived rule.

Reactions From the Recreational Boating and Fishing Community on the Proposed Rule:

As the proposal moves through the final stage of the federal rulemaking process, charter boat captains and boating experts are continuing to make their voices heard in the media.

In a letter to the editor in The Washington Post on May 30, Callie Hoyt, NMMA vice president of government relations, writes:  

“The May 11 Climate Lab analysis, ‘Bishop vanished. His species can still be saved.’ omits the critical role technology can play in protecting the endangered North Atlantic right whale population. Boaters are lovers of marine life who want to see our saltwater and freshwater life flourish. We also want to ensure boaters remain safe on the water, and we want local businesses that depend on boating to continue to thrive. That is why the recreational boating and fishing industries have invested so heavily in technological advancements that protect marine life, boater safety and coastal economies.” 

Speaking to The Carolina Journal in May, Nags Head, NC charter boat captain Greg Mayer, who was featured on multiple seasons of the hit National Geographic TV show “Wicked Tuna,” told the outlet that his customers are already concerned about the length of time fishing trips would take due to the decreased speeds:  

“Mayer currently runs 150–200 trips a year, traveling 35–50 miles offshore at 20–23 knots, each trip, for a 10-hour charter. If the whale rule took effect, that 10-hour trip would turn into 14 hours, taking 25–30% of his business with it, and adding costs to each trip.”

In a May article written in the Asbury Park Press, Point Pleasant, NJ charter boat captain Fred Gamboa and director of government affairs and sustainability for Viking Yachts John Depersenaire encouraged NOAA to go back to the drawing board and work with the industry to find a more effective, technology-based plan for protecting the right whale: "As it is, they're basing it all on one tool—vessel speed—and it doesn't acknowledge all the different vessel capabilities," said Depersenaire.  

Speaking to USA Today in April, NMMA President and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer said the rule would be an “economic catastrophe” for coastal communities and explained that "You don't have to do a blanket approach across the entire Atlantic to protect this species. Technology is the answer to this problem."

South Carolina Boating and Fishing Alliance CEO Gettys Brannon explained the ineffectiveness of the rule to WCSC TV in April, saying “When you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than hitting one of the whales, in our opinion this rule is an incredible bureaucratic overreach.”

In an April letter to the editors of The Falmouth Enterprise, Massachusetts Marine Trades Association executive director Randall Lyons wrote about the economic impacts of the rule: “The expanded vessel speed rule would be devastating for Massachusetts’ economy as a whole—not just a select few charter boat and ferry companies. This rule would put more than 17,000 jobs and 1,000 businesses in Massachusetts at risk—charter boat and ferry businesses, yes, but also hotels, fisheries, restaurants, bait and tackle shops, marinas and any business connected to the coastal tourism industry.”

In an April opinion piece published in The Carolina Journal, Carolina Beach, NC charter boat captain Dave Tilley illuminated the serious safety concerns posed by the rule, writing “Even considering all of the problems this rule would pose for businesses, my biggest concern is that it would make boating less safe. Most of the small boats that would be impacted by this rule are not designed to operate at such low speeds, particularly during high winds and choppy waters. Without the necessary flexibility that boaters need to navigate rough conditions, their boats are at significant risk of capsizing—particularly worrisome given that many of these boats are family-owned.”

In a February op-ed in RealClearScience, Rear Adm. (ret.) Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., a former acting and Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), highlights some of the technology available today for NOAA to use to help protect the North Atlantic right whale, saying:

“NOAA could deploy and operate a similar system off the Eastern Seaboard, today. To rapidly scale up such a monitoring effort for right whales, NOAA could also collaborate with others in the U.S. and Canada who already own the types of gliders being used in the PIAQUO project. Going even further, NOAA could partner with the private sector to develop a right whale alert app and integrate it with the monitoring system, just as NOAA is doing today in Alaskan waters and the U.S. Coast Guard is doing in Puget Sound with input from human observers.

“An additional input could be commercial very high-resolution satellite imagery edge-processed on orbit with machine learning for near-real-time detection. Vessel operators would then be able to download the app and use it to avoid right whale ship strikes in the same way they leverage ship routing software to avoid hazardous weather.

“Now that this marine mammal is on the verge of extinction, NOAA needs to leverage the innovative advances in marine technology being made by the private sector.”

In a November 2023 briefing to members and staff of the Congressional Boating Caucus, Captain Mike Kennedy, Director of Recreation at Sea Island Company in Georgia, said the following:

“NOAA’s proposal must be rejected. I am the first to say that we need to protect our oceans and marine wildlife, but we need a solution backed in science that will produce true results, and save the endangered North Atlantic right whale,” said Captain Kennedy. “If this proposal is implemented, I will immediately feel the impact to my business. The 10-knot speed restriction is a closure. Running 10 knots in our offshore waters is not safe in any sea condition and would cause any small offshore boat 35 feet or longer to be moored for up to 5 months of the year.”

In the Savannah Business Journal, the Savannah Maritime Association had this to say about the rule in a September 2023 letter to the editor:

“In one of the nation’s busiest seaports, it is nonsensical to think the regulations NOAA is proposing will not cause significant and dangerous consequences for the fishing boats, harbor pilots and recreational vessels operating in and out of the port. Fishing charters and harbor pilots navigating choppy waters and traffic at 10 knots is unsafe and will restrict how they operate. Beyond the safety implications, the speed limits will greatly increase the amount of time needed to conduct normal business operations, if not halting them altogether.”

In a September 2023 op-ed in The Virginia-Pilot, Captain Bob Carey, a retired emergency preparedness liaison officer with the U.S. Navy from Bethesda, MD, raises concerns over the vessel speed rule, writing:

“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,” said Capt. Carey. “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.”

Writing in MarineLink, Clay Diamond, the Executive Director and General Counsel of the American Pilots’ Association (APA), and Cary Davis, the President and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), raise a number of concerns about the proposed rule, saying in their September 2023 op-ed that:

“Shockingly, NOAA’s proposal includes virtually no analysis of the economic impacts the changes would have on East Coast ports and the billions of dollars in commerce they sustain. NOAA fails to acknowledge the enormous economic impacts its proposal will have on the supply chain. Beyond a lack of economic analysis, NOAA’s own data does not support such a dramatic alteration of the existing speed regulations. During an August 2022 webinar, NOAA confirmed that it is unaware of a single confirmed instance of a NARW strike by a pilot boat, nor by a piloted vessel in a [Federal Navigation Challenge] FNC.

“Pilotage, at its core, is about safety and protecting the marine environment. Similarly, port authorities seek to ensure maritime commerce efficiently flows in an environmentally friendly way. As professionals who make their living on or near the water, pilots and ports have a deep concern for the health of the marine environment. As such, AAPA and APA support NOAA’s efforts to protect the NARW but urge the agency to take a more targeted and technology-based approach in these efforts.”


The recreational boating and fishing community needs the voices of everyone impacted by this rule to speak out against it. Protect boater safety, coastal communities, and marine mammals by writing to Members of Congress here.


2023 Policy Brochure

May 15, 2024 NMMA letter to NOAA requesting the reopening of the docket on the vessel speed rule
Press Release: Vessel Speed Restrictions will Cripple Coastal Communities, Fail to Protect Right Whales
NMMA Comments on Vessel Speed Rule
Recreational Boating and Fishing Industry Comments to NOAA
Letter: Marine Industry CEOs Call for Immediate Pause to NOAA’s Rule
Understanding NOAA’s Proposed Seasonal Speed Zones for Most Vessels 35-65 feet
One Pager: Industry supports protecting right whales, but current NMFS proposal is misguided
OpEd: NOAA Must Press Pause on its Vessel Speed Restrictions