New boating safety law 'has no teeth,' critics say
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill Friday requiring powerboat operators to pass a safety course, but some advocates are already working to get a tougher law passed next year.
Many boating groups and officials praised the state law, passed after several well-publicized fatal accidents on Long Island and upstate waters last year.
But critics say the marine safety law doesn't go far enough soon enough.
They note that because it will cover only those 18 years old and younger when it takes effect in May, it will be decades before it covers all power boaters.
The State Legislature passed the law in June, nearly a year after an accident that drew national attention: the drowning of three children in Oyster Bay the night of July Fourth when a cabin cruiser capsized.
Paul Gaines, whose daughter Victoria died in that accident, called the law "a very small step in the right direction."
"It's a shame that our neighboring states have much more comprehensive laws," he said.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. David Carlucci of Rockland County and Assemb. Sandy Galef of Westchester, both Democrats. It requires operators born on or after May 1, 1996, to have a certificate showing completion of a course. First-time violators will face fines ranging from $100 to $250.
The state law supersedes a tougher measure approved by Suffolk County last fall that would have taken effect Nov. 1. It required powerboat operators of any age to have taken a safety course. New York is the 21st state to make boating-safety training mandatory. Seven states, including Connecticut and New Jersey, have more stringent laws, similar to Suffolk's.
The New York law gives the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation the option of letting people take the course online in addition to classrooms. It also allows people to rent a boat for up to 60 days without taking a course.
Galef, who had been pushing similar legislation for years, said she would like to see all boaters required to take a safety course.
But she noted that when New Jersey did so, requiring all boaters to take a course immediately, "the process didn't work" because there were not enough people to teach the classes.
She said she agreed to the gradual phase-in after discussions with the parks agency, which used a similar gradual implementation scheme that worked well when the legislature required all water scooter operators to take a safety class.
But that doesn't satisfy Huntington senior harbormaster Harry Acker, who said, "The bill really has no teeth and will do very little to improve boating safety."
Acker said lawmakers should consider toughening the education requirement for downstate boaters on tidal waters without changing the law for upstate river and lake boaters to minimize opposition from upstate legislators.
Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), whose tougher mandatory education bill stalled in Albany, said he may try again next year to require anyone who buys a boat in the future, regardless of age, to take a safety course.