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LI boat sinking spurs group to set new upper deck weight limit

An aerial view of boats in the waters

An aerial view of boats in the waters off Long island's North Shore, near Centre Island, May 30, 2015. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Spurred by the capsizing of a cabin cruiser after a July Fourth fireworks show in Oyster Bay four years ago, a trade group that sets safety standards for boats is requiring builders to display a plaque specifying the maximum weight allowed on new boats’ upper decks starting next year.

The sinking of the Kandi Won, in which three children drowned, was the impetus for the American Boat & Yacht Council to establish the new capacity limits as part of the group’s annual updates of its standards, said Craig Scholten, the group’s technical vice president.

The Nassau County district attorney’s office, which investigated the capsizing, had said overcrowding — particularly on the flying bridge, a steering station atop the cabin — was the primary cause of the boating accident.

All new boats with upper decks — including flying bridges and tuna towers — manufactured after July 31, 2017, are required to display weight limits, Scholten said.

The new standard, however, does not apply to boats built before that date.

“There is nothing requiring boats currently for sale or in use to retrofit these plaques,” he said.

Boats with upper decks make up less than 10 percent of vessels sold each year in the United States, Scholten said.

The Kandi Won, with 27 people on board, was returning to Huntington amid hundreds of vessels after the July 4, 2012, fireworks display. There were four adults and three children up on the flying bridge. When the 34-foot Silverton cabin cruiser capsized, most of the adults and children onboard were thrown into the water. The three children 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 an interview last week, Victoria’s parents applauded the council for adding the new standard in July, but urged the group to go further and require boat manufacturers to display weight limits for the entire boat, not just the upper decks.

“A plaque reinforces those limitations to the captain and boat operator, and also allows the passengers to be aware of the weight limitations,” said Victoria’s father, Paul Gaines, who was not on board the Kandi Won when it capsized.

Victoria’s mother, Lisa Gaines, 49, of Huntington, who was on board, said there were too many people on the flying bridge and the boat.

“Positive change like this will continue to raise awareness for safety overall in boating,” she said.

After the accident, the council, headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland, had considered voluntarily increasing its threshold from the current 26 feet, but decided there were not enough accidents involving larger pleasure boats to warrant the change. The Coast Guard sets maximum capacities for boats smaller than 20 feet.

“It just doesn’t make sense that we require capacity limits be posted for everything from ballrooms to restaurants and classrooms, but not recreational vessels over 20 feet,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “That’s why I continue to reintroduce and push for this legislation — in the hopes of avoiding accidents and preventing needless tragedies on the water, like the one on Long Island when the Kandi Won capsized.”

The council’s most recent decision, published in July, is strictly voluntary, but the new standard is part of the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s certification program, Scholten said. Therefore, he said manufacturers will likely comply.

Ninety percent of boats sold in the United States are certified by the association, he said, and the other 10 percent are custom built.

If a boat manufacturer chooses not to display upper deck weight limits, the association could refuse the certification or yank it, Scholten said.

“So, if you want to protect yourself, as a manufacturer, against liability that goes with selling the product, it’s in your best interest to comply with the requirements,” Scholten said.

Robert Newsome, vice president of engineering standards for the association, based in Chicago, praised the council’s move to add upper deck capacity limits.

“We support ABYC’s effort because it enhances safety standards and goes above and beyond what is legally required by Coast Guard regulation,” Newsome said in an email.

Chris Squeri, executive director of New York Marine Trades Association, which represents more than 100 businesses on Long Island and in New York City, said his group supports the new standard.

“Anything common sense-wise to help boating safety is a good thing,” he said.

Proposed legislation that became law

2013: New York State passed law that requires only those born on or after May 1, 1996, to take a boating safety course. This law superseded the tougher Suffolk County law passed in 2012.

Some proposals that failed

2012: Sen. Chuck Schumer introduced a bill that would require the Coast Guard to set capacity limits for boats larger than 20 feet, the current federal threshold. The bill did not pass. A spokesman for Schumer said the senator had reintroduced the same legislation at each session, but it never made it out of committee.

2012: State Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) introduced a bill that would require, among others, capacity limits on larger pleasure craft. Adams resigned to become Brooklyn borough president.

2013: Huntington Town imposed temporary 5-mph speed zone on the water during events that draw heavy boating traffic.

2014: Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) introduced a bill that would require, among others, all boats less than 45 feet long to have a specified maximum weight and limit on the number of individuals allowed aboard.

2014: Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) drafted a bill that would phase in the state law to cover all boaters in six years. The bill, however, would have only applied to Long Island, NYC and lower Hudson River to avoid upstate opposition. Raia said he plans to reintroduce it in January.

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