Flanked by two mothers who lost daughters in boating accidents, County Executive Steve Bellone Thursday signed legislation that requires everyone who drives a motorboat registered in Suffolk to complete a safety course.
Bellone and other officials and boating safety advocates said they hope the law, the first in the state, will spur New York lawmakers to enact a statewide requirement.
"This historic boating safety legislation . . . is designed to prevent the kind of tragedies we have seen this summer and, unfortunately, in too many summers past," Bellone said. "It is now time for New York State to act so there is uniformity."
State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) has introduced a bill establishing statewide mandatory education that he hopes will be acted on early next year. He called the Suffolk law "a tremendous boost for my legislation."
The Suffolk requirement will take effect one year after the legislation is filed in Albany, probably in October 2013, so boaters will have until the end of next year's boating season to take a course.
After that, licensed boaters who lack a safety certificate when stopped by law enforcement officers would face a $250 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second and $1,000 and up to a year in jail for subsequent violations.
County Legis. Steve Stern (D-Huntington) introduced the measure after several fatal boating accidents this summer.
As Bellone signed the bill at the edge of the Connetquot River, he was joined by Lisa Gaines of Huntington, whose daughter Victoria, 7, was one of three children killed when a cabin cruiser capsized in Oyster Bay on the Fourth of July, and Gina Lieneck of Deer Park, whose daughter Brianna, 11, was killed in a 2005 collision on the Great South Bay.
"We would like to move this up the ladder to the state and federal level," Gaines said afterward.
Said Lieneck: "Today is the first step in ensuring the safety of all boaters."
Stern estimated 75,000 to 100,000 Suffolk boaters would need to take a course over the next year and said there should be enough classes for them. The law doesn't apply to nonmotorized vessels, such as sailboats.
"This is common-sense legislation," he said. "I know it will prevent tragedies."
Lawrence Postel, district commander for U.S. Power Squadrons, a national boating safety group that offers courses, said Thursday, "We are going to ramp up."
The Coast Guard Auxiliary also offers courses, which generally cost about $50.