Beyond laws, regulations, safe boating requires education
The drowning deaths of three children in Oyster Bay last year rightfully put a spotlight on boating safety.
But it will take more than laws and regulations to keep boaters and their passengers safe on the water.
That much became clear during a forum at Huntington Town Hall last August when members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Neptune Power Squadron and other boating and marine groups made a series of eye-opening presentations weeks after the drownings last year.
They suggested that boat passengers consider questions like:
Do I know where the life jackets are?
Are there are enough?
Which one fits best, and how do I quickly get a jacket on myself or my children?
At one point, an instructor pulled two members from the audience and had them select and put on life jackets while a film of a sinking boat was projected onto a screen in the background.
Long before the volunteers had found and properly donned life jackets, the boat behind them was under water.
Did you know that 1 gallon of water weighs 8 pounds? That's one reason why sinking boats -- taking on hundreds of gallons of water per second -- can go under so quickly.
And what about operating a boat or the vessel's radio? What would you do if your host captain and crew suddenly fell ill?
The audience also learned something about the science of boating -- including how weight and its distribution potentially impact a boat's operation and safety. Last week, the Nassau County district attorney's office concluded that overcrowding was the primary cause of last year's boating accident.
Many of us who don't own boats likely wouldn't consider asking about how to operate a radio or how many passengers the vessel should be carrying.
But the deaths of Harlie Treanor, 11, Victoria Gaines, 7, and David Aureliano, 12, ought to begin changing that.
After the tragedy, Suffolk County passed a law mandating that adult operators of power boats pass a safety course. The New York State Legislature two weeks ago passed a measure that would supersede the county law and require only those born after 1996 to take a course. The bill is awaiting action by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Most safety organizations would like to see a tougher law along the lines of Suffolk's. Others advocate tougher boating while intoxicated laws and changes in regulations that would set weight limits on larger power boats.
However, the president of the Empire State Marine Trades Association, Chris Squeri, opposes mandatory education but favors stricter BWI laws. Squeri said the owner and the operator of the Kandi Won, which capsized and sank in Oyster Bay last July 4, had taken safety courses so the new Suffolk law or the state law would not have made a difference. The case did not involve accusations of BWI.
The Town of Huntington -- which borders waters in which the children drowned -- passed a measure that allows imposition of a 5-mph speed zone during events that draw heavy boat traffic.
Meanwhile, grant money awarded to the Bay Constable Benevolent Association is going toward the purchase of underwater rescue gear that will be donated to Hempstead, North Hempstead, Oyster Bay and Huntington to speed recovery of those trapped in overturned or sunken boats.
Each effort -- and that includes training boat operators and educating their passengers -- should help make enjoying Long Island waters safer.