After fatal boat accident, a call for capacity limits

Paul and Lisa Gaines join Senator Charles E. Paul and Lisa Gaines join Senator Charles E. Schumer to call on the US Coast Guard to require capacity limits for recreational boats over 20 feet in length. Schumer's request comes after the tragic loss of three children, including their 7-year old daughter Victoria Gaines, when a 34-ft Silverton boat carrying 27 passengers capsized in Cove Neck immediately following a July 4th fireworks show. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Sen. Charles Schumer, reacting to the deaths of three children after a boat holding 27 people capsized in Oyster Bay on July Fourth, called on the Coast Guard to create a rule with passenger limits for boats longer than 20 feet like those for smaller ones.

"It doesn't make sense that we require capacity limits be posted for everything from ballrooms to classrooms, but not recreational vessels," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday.

Investigators have not determined the cause of the capsizing.

The parents of Victoria Gaines -- the 7-year-old killed along with the boat owner's daughter, Harlie Treanor, 11, and Harlie's cousin David Aureliano, 12 -- joined Schumer's call for the regulation. The rule would also require that when posted, capacity limits appear visible to both crew members and passengers.

The tragedy "never should have happened," Paul Gaines said at a news conference, his voice cracking as his wife held a framed photo of their daughter.

"We will try to change this bad into something good," Schumer said. "All of us are trying to prevent it from happening ever again."

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Since the capsizing -- and the June death of a West Islip man whose vessel was hit by a powerboat steered by a drunken boater -- New Yorkers have grown vigilant about water safety.

"Prior to this accident, it was a typical summer," said Alan Alterman, director of education at New York Boating Safety. "This is the first time that people have approached me and asked, 'How do I find my boat's capacity?' or 'Do I know the capacity of a boat that is 20 feet?' "

Philip Caroleo, who also teaches courses for the boating program, including one in Valley Stream Sunday, said enrollment has risen by about 15 percent since the Fourth of July accident. With 30 students, Sunday's Valley Stream class "was considerably larger" than in the past, he said. Another lecture, upstate in Groton, attracted 55 students, twice the size of any class there this summer.

"In light of recent tragedies, enforcement has been beefed up," said Caroleo, "and personal watercraft operators and boaters are more aware of the dangers out there in the water."

Ozzie Diaz, 22, of Franklin Square, attended the Valley Stream class with his uncle. He was stopped this spring for operating a water scooter without a license. "There's a lot of stuff I didn't know," Diaz said midway through the eight-hour course. "The accidents are what brought us here. You have to know the rules and regulations."

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George and Maryann Kritis of Garden City brought their son Nikolas, 14, and daughter Brittany, 18, to get certified. Maryann Kritis' parents live in West Islip near the canal where the Silver Bullet, the boat broadsided in June by the drunken boater, was docked.

"We're very conscious of boating safety," George said. "The only thing we can do as a parent is to pull our kids from the water, but it's a sin not to enjoy it."

With Igor Kossov

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