Safety comes first, seasoned LI boaters say

John Tag, right, of North Valley Stream, Frank John Tag, right, of North Valley Stream, Frank Isola, of Merrick, and Hank Truglio, left, of Floral Park, talk with Newsday at Freeport Marina about the July Fourth tragedy off Cove Neck in Oyster Bay which claimed the lives of three children after the boat they were in capsized. (July 7, 2012) Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

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AJ Pellati, a gas station attendant at Seaborn Marina in Bay Shore, said in his three years there he has seen a few close calls, with inexperienced boaters nearly crashing into the dock or other boats.

"When people come to fill up, you can just tell by the way they drive -- they come in sideways or go full speed into the side of the dock," Pellati, 18, of West Islip, said Saturday. "When I finally tie them up they'll say, 'This is my first time driving the boat,' and it's like, 'I can tell.' "

Two separate fatal accidents in the last 15 days have veteran Long Island boaters thinking about danger on the water, and what should be done to promote safety.

John Tag, 70, a recreational fisherman from North Valley Stream who spent the morning at the Freeport dock where his 23-foot boat is moored, said he won't leave the dock on summer weekends and holidays because of the heavy traffic.

"I'm retired, and you couldn't get me to go out there today if you gave me $1,000," he said.

"There are guys out there who drink too much when they're boating, and I think they get very reckless," Tag said. "They think that they're infallible. They cut through the water as fast as the boat can go. It's just dangerous."

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Tag and fishing buddies Frank Isola, 68, of Merrick, and Hank Truglia, of East Williston, said they took safety courses years ago before they bought their boats, and passing such a course should be mandatory.

"I think we should have licenses -- all you need now is the dollars to buy the boat," Tag said. "You don't even need common sense, because half of them out there don't have it."

On their vessels, the three men said life vests are always on board, alcohol is banned, and they won't take more than five people at a time.

Bob Grossman, 48, of West Islip, said he doesn't let the behavior of others deter him from taking his family out on their 30-foot fishing boat on the weekends, but he keeps a watchful eye on other vessels.

"You always try to be defensive when you're out there, and you always have to watch out for others," said Grossman, who has a captain's license from the U.S. Coast Guard. "There are a lot of people out there that just don't know what they're doing to begin with, and when you add other variables to it, tragedy happens."

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On the North Shore at an Oyster Bay marina, many boaters were still reeling three days after a 34-foot boat carrying 27 people capsized, killing three children.

"To find three babies is unthinkable," said John Bunbas, 51, of Oyster Bay, who was taking his 20-foot Key Largo out for a tranquil day of fishing. But he said the accident hasn't made him more nervous about being on the water. Bunbas said he takes care not to overcrowd his boat, and avoids the bay traffic attracted by July Fourth fireworks.

"It used to be a couple hundred boats, but now, there are thousands," Bunbas said.

With Kery Murakami

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