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."