Officials get tougher on drunken boating

Islip officials say they are stepping up boating enforcement on the Great South Bay. Their announcement follows a fatal drunk driving arrest last weekend. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (June 26, 2012)

Long Island officials announced plans Tuesday to ratchet up anti-drunken-boating enforcement this summer following a death on the water and three boating-while-intoxicated arrests last weekend.

The stepped-up patrols -- officials say boaters should see more police boats on the waters as early as this weekend -- come as many flock to the area's waterways during the busy summer season.

"It's a huge problem," said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Camilo Rodriguez, who's based on Fire Island. "Driving a boat while intoxicated -- it pretty much breaks down the safety on the waterways. Boats don't have brakes, you have to be a lot more vigilant. It's extremely dangerous."

Between 2000 and 2011, Nassau County police have charged 44 people with BWI, while police in Suffolk County have arrested 102 during the same period. Suffolk has 71,000 registered recreational boats, which is more than double Nassau's 32,500.

A combination of factors -- speed, inexperience, boats that can go up to 80 mph -- are causing more accidents on the waters of Long Island's South Shore, a handful of longtime boaters said Tuesday. Throw alcohol into the mix, and it's a recipe for disaster, they said.

The potential danger has driven some from boating.

At the Bay Shore Marina Tuesday, T.J. Sorice, 42, of West Islip, said he avoids taking his children out on weekends and at night. "It's gotten worse every year," he said. "We don't go out anymore. It's gotten so bad."

Nassau union officials decried recent cuts to the county's marine bureau. Suffolk union officials did not respond to request for comment.

"There's over 200 miles of shoreline to patrol, but in the case of big emergencies, all we have is two boats left out there," said James Carver, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association.

Inspector Kenneth Lack, Nassau police's chief spokesman, said the Marine Bureau's manpower is within historical norms. "This unit is scalable and staffing needs can be adjusted during peak times, such as weekends or holidays," he said.

Across the Island, from Southold to Hempstead, officials say they are constantly on the lookout for BWI offenders during routine stops, in addition to setting up water traffic stops.

Bay constables in Babylon rely on Suffolk police and the Coast Guard to make BWI arrests. The force's chief role, said town spokesman Tim Ruggeri, is to "educate, inform and assist."

Comparatively, in Hempstead, bay constables are trained to recognize the signs of an intoxicated boater and issue field sobriety tests. Blood-alcohol limits are similar to those for motorists.

Andrew DeMartin, commissioner of public safety in North Hempstead -- where officials typically rely on Nassau Police to make arrests -- said this year the town is expanding patrols to overnights on weekends.

On Saturday, Christopher Mannino, 39, of West Islip, was thrown into the waters off Captree Island and killed when his fishing boat was broadsided by a powerboat driven by Brian Andreski, 26, of Dix Hills. Andreski was charged with BWI.

On Sunday, two others were charged with boating while intoxicated near Ocean Beach.

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci said Tuesday the town will increase patrols. "Unlike driving a car, there are no anti-lock brakes on boats, no air bags on boats," he said.

With Stacey Altherr, Aisha Al-Muslim, Jennifer Barrios, Denise M. Bonilla, Sophia Chang, Laura Figueroa, Mitchell Freedman, Mackenzie Issler, Chau Lam and Emily Ngo

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