Cuomo signs law requiring motorboat safety course

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill Friday that eventually would req uire the operators of all powered boats to pass a safety course in the aftermath of highly publicized fatal accidents last year on Long Island and upstate.

"New York State has some of the best recreational and thriving commercial waterways in the country, and it is our responsibility to ensure they remain safe for all boat operators and passengers," Cuomo said in a statement.

"This legislation will make sure that those who operate any kind of boat have the necessary training and experience, and they are aware of the risks and proper protocol for handling their vessels," he said.

The Legislature approved the bill in June and it arrived at the governor's office last week. The deadline for him to sign or veto the measure was Saturday.

Lawmakers acted nearly a year after an accident that attracted national attention and galvanized boating safety groups: the drowning of three children in Oyster Bay on July Fourth when a cabin cruiser capsized after a fireworks display.

The bill sponsored by David Carlucci, a Rockland County Democrat, and Assemb. Sandy Galef, a Democrat from Westchester, takes effect next May.

It requires boat operators born on or after May 1, 1996, to have a certificate showing completion of an eight-hour safety course. The bill will initially cover anyone 18 or younger, while older boaters would be exempt. First-time violators would face fines of $100 to $250.

The state law supersedes a tougher measure approved by Suffolk County last fall. That law, which would have taken effect Nov. 1, required all powerboat operators of any age to have taken a safety course or face fines starting at $250.

New York is the 21st state to make boating safety training mandatory. Seven states, including Connecticut and New Jersey, have more stringent laws like Suffolk's.

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The courses are given by the state Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historical Preservation, U.S. Power Squadrons and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

After consultation with industry and boating safety groups, the bill was amended to give the state parks agency, which would enforce the law, the option of letting people take the course online. Courses range in price from free for online versions to about $150 for classroom courses.

The revised bill also included language that allows people to rent a boat for as many as 60 days without taking a course, at the request of tourism industry representatives.

Carlucci said "this new law will enable New York State to finally protect its waterways and save countless lives. After years of watching Albany special interests and their industry allies battle common sense reforms, we were able to finally pass the most comprehensive boating safety law this state has ever seen."

Previous state law only required operators of personal watercraft to obtain a boating safety certificate or be accompanied on the vessel by a person over 18 who holds a safety certificate.

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Galef said: "My heart goes out to the families of those injured and killed in recent tragedies on the Hudson River, the Long Island Sound and elsewhere. Thankfully, with the signing of this bill into law, we will start to see the end of boating operators with no training endangering themselves, those on the boat with them, and other boaters."

Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, whose tougher education bill did not get to the floor, said: "Individuals should learn basic safety procedures, navigation and the rules of the water before operating a powerful motor vehicle which can kill or seriously injure someone. Enacting this law is a step in the right direction which will make our waterways safer for everyone."

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