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Slogging to Windward

May 2001

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Much like the appearance of the Crocus in spring or the Swallows yearly return to Capistrano, the periodic old chestnut promoted by SNAME comes puppy footing in.  You can think of it as project: "IF IT AIN'T BROKE, BREAK IT!” – The crying need for PE certification for those who design small boats.

In other words:  Anybody who designs or draws plans for small watercraft, even an eight-foot rowing dinghy, should be a certified Professional Engineer (preferably a SNAME member too, I guess) by the state in which he draws the dinghy.  The caveat being; anyone not knuckling under to the dictates of SNAME AND the government by designing a dinghy for someone else to build, can be subject to prosecution (and persecution) under the laws and regulations of the state.

SNAME (Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers - is the wanna-be all encompassing Marine Industry steering group fundamentally dedicated to self-preservation (as are most professional groups). Beyond staying in business and thusly providing a cushy existence for their officials and home office staff, SNAME seems to believe that more restriction and nepotism is what's needed here in the "land of the free and home of the brave"--this despite the fact that little solid evidence exists for such an assumption.

Lest you think that I'm operating from a subjective position, couched in misinformation, let me point out that for several years while in training, I WAS a student member of SNAME.  Frankly, I found it's influence and assistance as applied to small craft design of little value.  Moreover, the meetings and symposia were watching-the-paint-dry boring and like the other "professional engineering society type organizations" I have been involved with over my career, SNAME is more or less ineffectual.

So, the reason for this column and for the interest in the subject is that in recent issues, WoodenBoat Magazine has published material both about this PE push on SNAME's part, and also commentary by an apparently self-appointed SNAME spokesman named Andy Davis, a student member.

If you haven't read these issues, I strongly suggest that you get up to speed by doing so, and then reread this column.

Certainly Davis has a right to his opinion, but he's been given creditability and quoted in WoodenBoat Magazine as referring to small craft designers not PE Certified (and I assume not SNAME members) as "lunatics and amateurs"!

Interesting that Davis has such a view of the men and women who, for the last couple centuries, have been successfully designing the majority of boats which have been doing a good, safe workmanlike job of plying waterways of the world.  Worse, he's advocating excluding about 95% of all small craft designers practicing today and/or recent historical greats--people like Bob Perry, Bill Garden, George Calkins, Ed Monk, Ted Brewer, Sam Crocker, The Herreshoff Family, Phil Bolger, Jean-Marie Finot, Tom Wylie, Norman Cross, Winthrop Warner, Weston Farmer, Colin Archer, John Hanna, Charlie Mower, Jack Giles, John Illingworth, Dick Newick, Olin Stevens, Frank Kinney, Bruce Bingham, Bruce Farr, Bruce King, Ken Hankinson et al, et al, et al.  These are designers I can think of off the top of my head.  Give me a few more minutes and I could fill a page or two.  Nevertheless, these are the LUNATICS AND AMATEURS to which the well-known and respected Andy Davis is referring--the vast majority of whom are not PE's and not SNAME dues payers.

What Davis and SNAME are really advocating is:  "Let's make throwing the baby out with the bathwater a public policy.  Let's ignore talent, creativity, interest and enthusiastic ability in favor of an ingrown Old Boys Network--a private club.  Let's justify it by a simpering, insincere, unnecessary appeal to the public good in the destructive, current oppressive vein of "protecting everybody against everything".  Let's give the lawmakers an excuse to expand the bureaucracy".  The purpose of all this?  Power and Control for the boys in the band, plain and simple.

Beneath contempt. 

Why do I say this so strongly?  

It’s because there is no need to take such a proposition seriously.  There is no reason to change the traditional system, which is also the current system.  The system works fine. I know it would probably come as a surprise to SNAME/Davis that even a few of the small craft designers operating today have figured out how to work a Personal Computer--amazing, huh?

One other thing; Chuck Paine, Graduate Engineer and world class small craft designer has pointed out that far from improving the picture and helping the economics of the U.S. Marine Industry, what SNAME is promoting would bring about damage to the business we currently enjoy by saying:  "If this ISN’T a world wide standard--and believe me, Hong Kong ain't gonna do this--then new construction will go immediately to another country."

On a less grandiose scale, you can also bet that eventually, Melvin Gohard of Yellowknife, Ohio will have to consult with SNAME and Big Brother before he starts building a plywood boat for his kids in his garage—unless boatbuilding in your garage or backyard has been made illegal in the meantime.


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