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Boating Safety Course Would Be Mandated Under County Bill

Boat operators would need to complete safety course or face fines under proposal from Legislator Steve Stern.

A new bill to be introduced before the Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday would require all boat operators to complete a boating safety course.

Under the Suffolk Safer Waterways Act, sponsored by Legis. Steve Stern, D-Dix Hills, boaters would need to display a safety course certificate while boating or face fines.

"A day on the water should be one of pleasure, not one that ends in tragedy, but too often that's exactly what happens," Stern said at a press conference at Tanner Park in Copiague on Monday afternoon.

The legislation comes after a deadly summer on Long Island's shores.

Christopher Mannino, of West Islip, was following a crash under the Robert Moses Causeway in June. A Dix Hills man has been charged with boating while intoxicated in that case. And on July 4 three children when a boat carrying more than two dozen people capsized after a fireworks show near Oyster Bay.

"How many more tragedies must we have in our community?" Stern asked, surrounded by boating safety advocates and other officials. "How many more families will be devastated by the loss of a loved one? When do we say enough is enough?"

If Stern's proposal, which he called "common sense" and "long overdue," is passed by the legislature and signed into law, boaters would then have one year to take the required course, which would be available through several different organizations, including the Coast Guard.

Those who violate the law would face a fine of up $250 for a first offense and up to $500 for a second offense. Any further offenses would be classified as a misdemeanor with a possible fine of $1,000, as well as up to a year in prison.

"Unfortunately this is what it's come to in Suffolk County," Babylon Town Councilman Lindsay Henry said. "There's too much reckless behavior on the water, and though there are many many people who know what they're doing, there are just as many that don't."

State Sen. Charles Fuschillo, R-Merrick, has similar legislation at the state level calling for mandated safety courses, as well as stiffer penalties for boating under the influence.

For people such as Gina Lieneck, whose 11-year-old daughter Brianna was killed in a boat crash in the Great South Bay in 2005, it matters little who sponsors a law as long as something gets done.

"People need to have knowledge when they go out onto the water," said Lieneck, of Deer Park, who was severely injured in the crash that killed her daughter. "You shouldn't be able to just go out and buy a boat, and then the next day put it in the water and not know anything."

Lieneck said the operator of the boat that hit the Bayliner her family was on did not know how to properly use safety flares or operate the radio onboard to call for help. She said she was hopeful the new legislation would force boaters to learn the rules of the water.

"It doesn't get easier as time goes on," Lieneck said of the seven years since the deadly crash. "It gets worse. So if we can educate people, and they have some knowledge, then maybe we can save a life."

FYI August 10, 2012 at 04:00 PM
REPLY TO TOM GILLEN. You still have to prove or illustrate that requiring people to take a course will prevent them from acting irresponsible or stupidly. We have DWI offenders that take courses EVERY time they receive another DWI ticket. OH, I recognize alcoholism is a disease but perhaps stupidity, lack of personal responsibility, lack of accountability and all the other things we try to instill in people must come from within. Required new courses will not do squat for those that choose to ignore the information proffered. You just can't teach stupid. People will still do what they want so you better find something better than a new course for this problem. Face the fact that every one of these "accidents" on the water were preventable by common sense. They were all "experienced boaters". Yeah, right.
FYI August 10, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Again, you cannot teach responsibility with a course. It's up to the individual boater. Anyone with half a brain will want to take a course in preparing to operate a boat. It's the ones without the half a brain that if forced, will either learn nothing or choose to act stupidly out there. Increased enforcement that hits the ignorant and non-compliant in the wallet will be more effective.
FYI August 10, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Now that's an idea worth investigating. Institute a written boating test that would have to be passed prior to receiving permission to operate a boat. No course requirement but make the test comprehensive enough where those who haven't either studied on their own, taken a course or had sufficient prior on the water experience would not be likely to pass.
FYI August 10, 2012 at 04:28 PM
No course is required for an adult to get a driver's license. You need to study the manual and first pass a written exam. Why not allow boaters the option to take a written exam and leave it up to the individual to either take a course, read a book or gain prior firsthand boating knowledge to pass that test? Knowledge does not need to be received in only a sit down course.
FYI August 10, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Tony... According to those same statistics, the primary overwhelming contributing factor to deaths on the water in 2011 was alcohol. Eight out of every ten boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length. For the ENTIRE United States in 2011, 93 deaths occurred in Bays, Inlets, Marinas, Sounds, Harbors, Channels, Canals, Sloughs, Coves which includes our waters. 641 deaths were in Lakes, Ponds, Reservoirs, Dams, Gravel Pits Rivers, Streams, Creeks, Swamps and Bayous. For the period 2007-2011, 14 years, the total accident numbers have decreased from 8047 to 4058. Number of deaths has decreased from 821 to 758, but has remained relatively level over the years. So can we conclude that if we eliminated DWI, banned all boats less than 21', and restricted boating to only coastal areas we could beat the problem? Personal responsibility is part of character development. Some people will never get it. A mandatory course won't do it. DWI and DWB remain our biggest problems to solve. My thinking is still requiring a test which includes important boating information in order to pilot a boat. Heavy fines, strict and more consistent enforcement of existing laws and acceptance that there will always be idiots everywhere. Be prepared.

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