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Kandi Won tragedy in Oyster Bay drives efforts to improve boating safety

FBI divers and Nassau County police used air

FBI divers and Nassau County police used air bags to raise the Kandi Won which sank on the night of July Fourth in Oyster Bay. (July 11, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Two years after a cabin cruiser capsized following a July Fourth fireworks display in Oyster Bay, drowning three children, the accident continues to drive efforts to improve boating safety.

The sinking of the Kandi Won propelled passage of a Suffolk County law requiring all boaters to take a safety course. That law was superseded last year by a less stringent state law requiring any boater 19 or younger to take a class.

Today, the tragedy is being cited by safety advocates and legislators striving to amend the state law to make it more like the Suffolk legislation, although action on the tougher bill isn't expected until next year.

On another front, efforts in both houses of Congress to set capacity limits for larger recreational boats like the Kandi Won remain stalled in committees.

The accident is also the impetus for ongoing planning by the American Boat and Yacht Council, the trade group that sets capacity limits for vessels, to establish limits for flying bridges on cabin cruisers. The Nassau County district attorney's office report on the capsizing blamed overcrowding -- particularly in the flying bridge -- as the cause.

The council now requires ratings only on boats up to 26 feet. President John Adey expects the group to approve the capacity limits next July, a move that should also guide owners of older boats.

"It will make people think about it," he said.

Advocates say Kandi Won is still driving discussions about possible legislation to improve safety on the water, as well as raising the consciousness of mariners about safety procedures.

When the 34-foot Silverton capsized, it spilled most of the dozen adults and 15 children and teenagers onboard into the water. The three who died -- cousins David Aureliano, 12, of Kings Park; Harlie Treanor, 11, of Huntington Station, and family friend Victoria Gaines, 7, of Huntington -- were trapped in the cabin with David's parents, who managed to escape.

"In the boating community, it does come up and people do think about it," said Daniel Flinn of Massapequa, Long Island district commander for the United States Power Squadrons national boating safety group. "It's a way to get into discussions about loading your boat, and instructing people on your boat where things are located and who's got to be wearing a lifejacket and the responsibility of the skipper."

Flinn and other local safety advocates say the new state law does not cover enough boaters fast enough. They want a more rapid phase-in.

Advocates, including some of the parents of the children who died on the Kandi Won, have worked with Assemb. Andrew P. Raia (R-East Northport) to draft a bill that would phase in the law to cover all boaters within six years. The requirement, however, would apply only to Long Island, New York City and the lower Hudson River to avoid expected opposition from upstate boaters and legislators.

Raia said he decided to hand the bill over to Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) to improve the chance of passage in the Democrat-controlled chamber.

"It makes perfect sense, and it should be law," Lavine said.

The bill came together in May and was introduced then -- too late for action in this session, he said. It will be reintroduced in January.

In Congress, a bill Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) introduced in spring would require that all boats less than 45 feet long have a specified maximum weight and limit on the number of individuals allowed aboard. The new standards -- designed to cover the vast majority of recreational vessels, including sailboats -- would take effect in January 2016 and apply only to new boats.

The Coast Guard currently sets capacity limits only for boats less than 20 feet long.

Israel's bill would also establish limits for how many people could safely be on a flying bridge. There were no passenger or weight limits set by the government or the manufacturer for the Kandi Won.

"This is a common-sense measure, and even in the current hyperpartisan environment, this legislation should be a no brainer," Israel said.

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