Law enforcement agencies anticipate a surge of boat operators navigating under the influence of drugs or alcohol over the Labor Day weekend and plans to step up patrols of Long Island waterways.
"There's going to be more law enforcement out there," State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) said at a news conference Wednesday in Glen Cove. "Nassau County is going to be stepping it up. Glen Cove is going to be stepping it up. And every law enforcement agency across Long Island is going to be doing the same thing."
Boating while intoxicated can have deadly consequences, said Gina Lieneck of Deer Park, whose 11-year-old daughter Brianna was killed in a boating collision in 2005.
The Lienecks were headed home from Fire Island when their boat was struck by a heavier vessel at a 90-degree angle. The larger boat went over the Lienecks', according to law enforcement. Gina, her husband Frank and daughter Danyelle were seriously injured but recovered, as did a teenage family friend. Brianna, nicknamed “Breezy” by her schoolmates, died.
Charges of boating while intoxicated initially were levied against the operator of the other vessel but later were dropped.
"I was out there on the waters," said Gina Lieneck. "I know how dangerous it can be when you are uneducated; when you are drinking. Please be considerate of the lives around when you are out on our waterways."
Gaughran has sponsored legislation in Albany that would make a felony of boating while drunk when children are aboard, and another that would suspend an automobile driver’s license upon conviction of drunken boating.
Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed Brianna’s Law, which requires any powerboat operator older than 10 to take an eight-hour watercraft safety course.
Statewide, there were 17 fatal boating accidents last year, leaving 19 people dead, including six fatalities in Suffolk and one in Nassau, according to the state’s 2018 Recreational Boating Report. Long Island law enforcement agencies made 58 arrests for boating while intoxicated last year, almost exclusively in Suffolk.
Statewide in 2018, alcohol was blamed in 28 crashes, driver inattention was linked to 86 crashes, and speed was the cause in 23 others, the report said.
Thus far in 2019, Suffolk police have made two boating while intoxicated arrests, and responded to eight accidents with injuries and one fatality. In Nassau, police have yet to make a boating while intoxicated arrest but have responded to 11 accidents with injuries and one fatality.
"It's pretty drummed into all of us that driving while intoxicated is wrong," said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. "It's against the law. The same goes for out on the water."
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said boating while intoxicated was "an entirely preventable crime." She urged boat operators not to speed through crowded waterways, to pack enough life vests and not to be distracted by other passengers.
"So don't be stupid," Singas said. "Be smart. Make sure you enjoy this holiday weekend but do so safely."
Larry Weiss of Plainview, the Long Island spokesman for the U.S. Power Squadron, a national boating safety group, said he was overwhelmed by the number of reckless boaters, including those drinking, speeding or bow riding without a fixed seat.
"There are three things you can't legislate and they are courtesy, caution and commonsense," said Weiss, who also serves as a boating safety instructor. "And that's what we need to instill in the boating public today."