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Coast Guard begins boating season checks

Coast Guard officers perform a safety check on

Coast Guard officers perform a safety check on a boat near the Jones Beach Inlet neat Freeport. (May 27, 2013) Credit: Newsday /Ed Betz

After David Turner and four crew members climbed aboard an aluminum 47-foot motor lifeboat Monday at the Coast Guard Jones Beach Station, he announced "Cast off!" and steered into the channel.

It was the first nice on-the-water day of the holiday weekend that serves as the unofficial kickoff of the boating season, so the petty officer second-class was leading a midday patrol to check for required safety equipment and papers as well as intoxicated mariners.

Turner didn't have to go far before spotting his first target for a safety boarding -- an anchored 30-foot Grady-White fishing boat. "You're not allowed to anchor in a navigation channel," he noted.

As they came alongside, a Coast Guard boarding officer, Joseph Gerbino, said: "Good morning! How are you guys doing?"

He asked the owner if he had been boarded in the last year. That would have resulted in an abbreviated check. But since the owner -- who declined to give his name because "I'm supposed to be working today" -- hadn't been checked previously, Gerbino examined his life jackets, flares and other safety equipment, and the boat's paperwork. The process takes about a half-hour, even with an electronic device to record the information.

With everything in order, Gerbino gave the owner a printout of the boarding results, a verbal warning not to anchor in a channel and thanked him for his cooperation.

Turner headed out of Jones Inlet into the ocean. He explained that boardings are usually done from smaller, more maneuverable boats, but federal sequestration budget cuts have limited the use of those boats and some routine Coast Guard enforcement and education efforts.

Making his way past several dozen boats fishing or sailing in the inlet, Turner explained that "this is lighter than last year. It's still a little bit chilly."

With no obvious violations -- intoxicated boaters usually materialize later in the day or at night -- Turner selected a 40-foot sport fisherman for boarding.

The three men aboard Wantagh-based Bronco II reeled in their fishing lines and Gerbino said, "We're going to come aboard." He shook hands with the owners, brothers Gregg and Gary Sidoti, and Gary's son, Gary Jr., who were on their maiden voyage for the season.

As Turner said is typical with 95 percent of the boaters they board, Gregg Sidoti stated he didn't mind the interruption of their pursuit of fluke.

"They should check all the boats," he said. "A lot of people don't even know the rules on the water."

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