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Bill that would phase in mandatory boater training gets final approval

Boats in North Sea Harbor are seen from

Boats in North Sea Harbor are seen from the end of Conscience Point Road in Southampton. (June 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The state Legislature gave final approval Friday to a bill that eventually would require the operators of all powered boats to pass a safety course in the wake of highly publicized fatal accidents last summer on Long Island and upstate.

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that includes some revisions not included in the Assembly version approved last month. The Assembly passed the Senate version Friday, sending the measure to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

A spokeswoman said Cuomo is reviewing the legislation.

Passage of the legislation comes nearly a year after an accident that attracted national attention and galvanized boating safety groups: the drowning of three children in Oyster Bay on July Fourth when a cabin cruiser capsized after a fireworks display.

"It's a big step in the right direction," said Paul Gaines, whose daughter Victoria was killed in the July Fourth accident. "I do think it will make a difference."

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) and co-sponsored by Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), would require boat operators born on or after May 1, 1996, to have a certificate showing completion of a safety course. First-time violators would face fines of $100 to $250.

The bill would take effect next May, initially covering anyone 18 or younger. Older boaters would be exempt from the requirement.

The state measure would supersede a tougher law approved by Suffolk County last fall. That law, which takes effect Nov. 1, requires all powerboat operators to have taken a safety course or face fines starting at $250.

New York is poised to become the 21st state to make boating safety training mandatory. Seven states, including Connecticut and New Jersey, have more stringent laws like Suffolk's.

"It is common sense to make sure that individuals learn about basic boating safety, navigation and the rules of the water before they operate a boat," said Fuschillo, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

After consultation with industry and boating safety groups, the Senate amended the bill to give the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which would enforce the law, the option of letting people take the course online. Courses range in price from free for online versions to about $150 for classroom courses.

The revised bill also includes language that allows people to rent a boat for up to 60 days without taking a course, at the request of tourism industry representatives.

Despite the changes, Chris Squeri, president of the Empire State Marine Trades Association, which represents boating businesses, said, "Mandating education does not guarantee safer boating or less accidents or less fatalities." Citing two fatal boating accidents on Long Island last year, he said the operator in the Oyster Bay capsizing had taken a safety course and the operator in a South Shore collision was intoxicated.

Squeri said the legislation "does nothing to address the almost 50 percent of the fatalities, which are in nonmotorized, nonregistered vessels" not covered by the bill.

Larry Weiss, spokesman for the United States Power Squadrons boating safety organization on Long Island, was disappointed the measure wasn't stronger, saying "it will be decades" before most boaters are covered.


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