New York waters could become safer if the state passes a mandatory boating education law, based on the accident records in more than two dozen states that have adopted the requirement over the last 35 years.
In the 26 states requiring some or all adults to take a safety class before operating a motorized boat, the number of accidents declined an average of 6 percent between 2007 and 2011, U.S. Coast Guard statistics show.
Alabama passed its mandatory education law in 1994, a year after three children were killed in boating accidents in one season. Connecticut enacted legislation in 1993 requiring operators of all motorized vessels to pass a course in response to an outcry over unsafe operation of personal watercraft.
"An educated boater is a safer boater," said Pamela Dillon, education director of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, which has created a model law adopted by many states.
Walter Taylor, recreational boating safety specialist for the U.S. Coast Guard in Boston, said "the statistics show that people who take a boating education course are safer."
Coast Guard data show only 11 percent of thousands of boating deaths nationwide last year occurred on vessels where the operator had taken a course.
Following Maryland's leadThe pace of states requiring courses has been accelerating since Maryland became the first in 1987. Seven states, including New Jersey, have laws requiring all adult motorboat operators to complete a course. Nineteen others, including Maryland, require adult boaters under a specified age or operating a motorboat larger than a specified size to take a course.
New York and many other states mandate that all personal watercraft operators or youths who want to operate a motorized boat alone pass a course. Four states don't require a course.
Of the states requiring mandatory education, accidents dropped 33 percent in Delaware, 31 percent in Connecticut and 30 percent in Michigan, Coast Guard statistics show. In New York, the numbers dipped less than 4 percent.
In Connecticut, state boating law administrator Eleanor Mariani said the course requirement was phased in over five years, starting with the youngest adults. The state, nonprofits and commercial schools offer the courses, with the fine for boating without a certificate of course completion set at $120.
In New Jersey, Sgt. Richard Brown of the State Police Marine Services Bureau said the education law was passed in 1988 and phased in for different age groups over 21 years. "We saw a substantial drop in boating accidents as well as injuries," he said. In recent years, the gains have been less dramatic, dipping from 136 to 119 between 2007 and 2011.
While trade groups voice concerns that a required course could dissuade people from getting into boating, they still favor mandatory education. "Education is the best way to get a boater comfortable with their vessel, as well as prevent boating accidents," said Lauren Dunn of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Conrad Kreuter, owner of an East Moriches boat dealership and president of the Empire State Marine Trades Association, said "obviously, all the marina owners and the people who sell boats want to have safe boating."
Chris Squeri, executive director of the New York Marine Trades Association, which represents dealers in western Long Island, said his group supports the legislation even though "you can't legislate common sense." He said the course requirement would not apply to those with unpowered craft that do not have to be registered. "Almost 50 percent of the deaths are on nonregistered vessels," he said.